By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Lincoln," the tale of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's battle to end slavery, ruled at the Golden Globe nominations on Thursday, while a very different movie take on slavery - "Django Unchained" - got a big boost in Hollywood's crowded awards season.
Steven Spielberg's portrayal of one of America's most revered presidents won a leading seven nominations, including best drama, best director, best screenplay and best actor for Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role.
But "Lincoln" faces stiff competition at the Golden Globes from Ben Affleck's Iran hostage drama "Argo" and Quentin Tarantino's dark and quirky slavery-era Western, "Django Unchained."
The best drama nominees were rounded out by thriller "Zero Dark Thirty" about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, with four mentions, and the shipwreck tale, "Life of Pi," with three.
The Golden Globe Awards, which will be given out by about 80 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) on January 13, are among the most widely watched honors programs leading up to the Oscars in February, although their ultimate choices for best movie rarely coincide.
'LINCOLN' SEEN AS OSCAR FRONTRUNNER
"Lincoln" is already regarded as an Oscar frontrunner after picking up multiple accolades from U.S. critics' groups and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
Producer Kathleen Kennedy said the film's portrayal of Lincoln's battles in Congress to get slavery abolished had struck a chord with Americans at a time of political gridlock in Washington.
"People have become frustrated with the political process, and the movie takes you on a journey that shows the democratic process is difficult but the end result is a very satisfying process...I think that's what people are excited about after watching 'Lincoln,'" Kennedy told Reuters on Thursday.
Tarantino's violent and sometimes comic "Django Unchained," starring Jamie Foxx, has fared less well - until now.
"This was a huge boost. 'Django Unchained' was very much SAG snubbed. But now they are really back in the game," Thelma Adams, contributing editor at Yahoo! Movies, told Reuters.
"It's very gratifying to get this many nominations from the HFPA for a film I worked so hard on and am so passionate about," Tarantino said in a statement.
Unlike the Academy Awards, the HFPA has separate categories for film dramas and comedies.
"Les Miserables," the movie version of the worldwide hit stage musical, earned four Golden Globe nominations in the comedy/musical category, as did "Silver Linings Playbook," about an unlikely romance between a man suffering from bipolar disorder and a young widow.
The stars of both films - Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway for "Les Miserables," and Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper for "Silver Linings Playbook," - will be among those competing for acting awards.
FROM STAGE TO SCREEN
"Les Mis" director, Tom Hooper, who failed to get a nomination for his work on the movie, acknowledged the challenge of translating the beloved musical to the big screen.
"Millions of people hold this musical so close to their heart. I had to make a film that honors that experience...and I needed to find a way to work, which is why I chose to do all live singing," Hooper told Reuters.
The HFPA also opened the door to smaller, sometimes overlooked movies and performances, while largely snubbing high profile contenders such as the James Bond film "Skyfall," which got just one mention, for Adele's best original song.
Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and admired British senior ensemble film, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," were both nominated in the best musical or comedy category.
"They are precious little films that now have to be taken seriously," said Tom O'Neil of awards website Goldderby.com.
In the acting race, Jessica Chastain's CIA agent in "Zero Dark Thirty" will square off against Helen Mirren in "Hitchcock," British actress Rachel Weisz in period drama, "The Deep Blue Sea," France's Marion Cotillard for "Rust and Bone," and Naomi Watts in tsunami survival tale "The Impossible."
Chastain said that aside from being a true-life thriller, "Zero Dark Thirty" also aimed at asking questions about society.
"To be involved in a movie that does that - the 9/11 hunt for Osama bin Laden pretty much defined this decade for us - and to be playing the woman who sacrificed so much to find him is such an honor," the actress told Reuters.
Day-Lewis's performance as Lincoln will compete against Denzel Washington's alcoholic airline pilot in "Flight," Richard Gere's role as a corrupt financial executive in "Arbitrage," John Hawkes as a severely disabled man in "The Sessions," and Joaquin Phoenix's drifter in the cult tale, "The Master."
The Golden Globes also honor the year's best TV shows. "Game Change," the HBO film about Sarah Palin's 2008 bid to become U.S. vice-president, led the nominations with five, followed by post-9/11 psychological thriller, "Homeland," with four.
(Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy and Eric Kelsey; Editing by Paul Simao and David Brunnstrom)