Do the Golden Globes Even Matter Anymore?

19 Dec

For better or worse, the Golden Globes are an important pit stop in the race for Oscar gold. PS: Am I the only one who remembers actually seeing, on at least one occasion, the globe part fall off the trophy during a winner’s acceptance speech?

Once upon a time, no less than Warren Beatty famously opined something to the effect that the Golden Globes were just for fun while the Oscars were all business. How’s that? Well, for much of its existence, the Golden Globes, an annual affair put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, just weren’t taken as seriously by Hollywood insiders because the H.F.P.A. always had the reputation of being a little, well, sketchy.  Oh sure, the official H.F.P.A. boldly proclaims:

The HFPA is currently celebrating its 68th anniversary in Hollywood. Today the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association represent some 55 countries with a combined readership of more than 250 million. Their publications include leading newspapers and magazines in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Latin America, ranging from the Daily Telegraph in England to Le Figaro in France, L’Espresso in Italy and Vogue in Germany as well as the China Times and the pan-Arabic magazine Kul Al Osra.

Per Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona: Diane Keaton (l) skipped much of the publicity blitz for 1986’s Crimes of the Heart while Jessica Lange (center) balked at posing for individual photos with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at a soiree arranged by the film’s producer Dino de Laurentiis. In contrast, Sissy Spacek was at the organization’s complete disposal, resulting in the lone Globe nomination among the trio. Coincidence?

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The problem is that the organization has been plagued for decades about what it means to be a member of the foreign press, exactly. Reportedly, some of these so-called “publications” are not especially esteemed in their countries of origin: tabloids and newsletters, but now likely blogs as well. Be that as it may, the organization has always craved the culture of celebrity, that is, access to famous movie and TV stars boosts the reputations of foreign reporters and helps boost their outlets’ profiles, and each year the group shows its appreciation to Hollywood by throwing a great big party and handing out awards; likewise, Hollywood returns the favor by playing along and then enjoying themselves at said party. Indeed, studio publicists have long been known to try to score points with members of the Hollywood Foreign Press by granting all kinds of access to high profile clients. Of course, both camps argue that such moves are just good business and in no way part of any attempt at quid pro quo, results frequently to the contrary.

On the other hand, in spite of their second rate status, the Golden Globes have always had a place in the Oscar race. How so? Well, one of the genius things about the Globes is that three of the major movie categories are subdivided into “Drama” and “Musical or Comedy” contests, which means that there are 10 nominees for Best Picture, 10 nominees for Best Actress, and 10 nominees for Best Actor. Of course, some of Oscar’s biggest fans and foes alike have been begging the Academy to likewise split its major categories. Those proponents believe that the aging Academy’s stuffy voting body is predisposed to recognize the work in  more dramatic films while relegating comedies, as Woody Allen once observed, to the children’s table.

Nobody would ever deny that Al Pacino was a legitimate Oscar contender for 1992’s Scent of a Woman; however, when the film won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama, over the likes of eventual Oscar winner Unforgiven as well as The Crying Game, Howards End, and A Few Good Men, insiders were taken aback. Shortly afterward, reports began surfacing that members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had been treated to a trip to New York that included a screening and a meet and greet with Pacino (Wiley and Bona 865). Coincidence?

Personally, I think expanding the Oscars’ categories would only diminish the value of the Oscar (as the much sneered return toward a Best Picture field of 10 proved); moreover, I full well believe, in spite of what the H.F.P.A.’s official history suggests, that the main reason the categories have been split into two distinct fields is to simply attract more big name stars into attending the party in the first place. Furthermore, the way films are categorized as either comedy or drama is entirely suspect. For example, Jim Carrey’s darkly comic turn in 1998’s The Truman Show was named Best Actor in a Drama (a stretch, that one), but then the very next year, Carrey won Best Actor in a Comedy for playing Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, a movie which was comic only in that its protagonist was a comedian. Michelle Pfeiffer won Best Actress in a Drama for 1989’s The Fabulous Baker Boys, a quasi-musical in which its female star’s most famous bit was lolling kittenishly around a piano in a slinky red dress while singing that old chestnut “Makin’ Whoopee.” The same year, Jessica Tandy won Best Actress in a Comedy for Driving Miss Daisy, a decades long chronicle of the relationship between a wealthy Jewish Southern matron and her African-American chauffeur. Their story encompasses bigotry, the Civil Right movement, and even a synagogue bombing. Funny stuff, right? The hallmarks of comedy.  Furthermore, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon both won Golden Globes in the musical or comedy division for their roles in 2005’s Walk the Line, the true love story between Johnny Cash and June Carter. Oh sure, the movie had wonderful concert sequences with Phoenix and Witherspoon providing their own almost eerily true-to-life vocals, but theirs was a love story that played out against a backdrop of adultery and substance abuse. Four short years later, Jeff Bridges played a washed up, alcoholic country and western singer on the comeback trail in Crazy Heart, and Bridges likewise sang a handful of songs throughout the film; he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama. See what I mean? The criteria are arbitrary. Actually, agents and studio personnel make the decisions about how to position their films for the consideration of the H.F.P.A., and those determinations are usually made by surveying the competition and looking for the clearest route to success.

Even so, despite their sometimes dubious history, the Golden Globes have long played an important role in shaping the Oscar race, and there are at least three good reasons why.

  1. When Academy members are already pressed to attend screenings and/or view DVDs at home, the Golden Globes provide a sort of shorthand by narrowing a large playing field into a relative few high profile candidates. In other words, the nominees function as a sort of de facto short list for Academy consideration, which can very well have a nice pay-off for performers in comic films.
  2. The Golden Globes are a party with dinner and drinks, lots and lots of drinks. The telecasts have been full of wacky moments that were the result of stars being fairly well inebriated. This boozing it up factor certainly makes schmoozing (i.e., campaigning for Oscar votes, if not jobs) seem much more like fun, per Warren Beatty, and less like work.
  3. There was a time when the Golden Globes were awarded just prior to the days when the Academy’s first-round ballots were due. This was when Oscar nominations were announced in February, and the awards themselves were not handed out until March. As the Globes are almost always in January, a good showing there  could have residual effect, alerting voters to a work that might be worth a second look.  These days, the window between the Globes and the the first Academy deadline is practically non-existent, but it might shape what happens before the Academy’s final ballot, especially if a winner gives a memorable speech, that is, memorable in a good way: witty and erudite, humble and poignant, or rousing and profound.

On the other hand, the Globes, despite their well publicized telecast and influence on Academy voters, are not a reliable indicator of Oscar outcome. A recent high profile oversight was when 2005’s eventual Academy winner Crash was all but ignored by the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press. With that in mind, what about this year’s slate of nominees?

  1. The H.F.P.A. managed to nominate 6 films for Best Motion Picture Drama without including The Tree of Life–and without nominating Terrence Malick as Best Director. I’m not surprised because Malick’s film is almost singularly and even peculiarly American. At the very least, it’s not flashy enough for the H.F.P.A.’s star-studded tastes, even with the likes of Brad Pitt in a major role.
  2. Steven Spielberg’s War Horse snags a Best Picture nod though Spielberg himself is not in the running for Best Director. Reportedly, the critics have been less enthusiastic about the film than originally anticipated though those reviews are yet to be published. My feeling is that the movie is about to be a smashing success, and, fueled by strong public approval, it will find just enough favor with the Academy to be a real contender.
  3. Curiously absent among the Golden Globe nominees is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock; directed by Stephen Daldry. There’s been a lot of secrecy surrounding the drama that plays out in the aftermath of 9/11, but those who have seen it are reportedly raving. Of course, the combined star power of Bullock and Hanks aside, director Daldry is a formidable talent who has made exactly three feature films and has been Oscar nominated as Best Director every time: Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours (2002), and The Reader (2008); the last two were also nominated for Best Picture. I’ll be frank: I find the trailer insufferable, but I’m willing to at least watch the darned thing.
  4. That Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris scored 4 nominations, including Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Best Screenplay, is quite the good thing. On the other hand, the Academy snubbed Allen as both writer and director  of 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona though that film actually won the Globe in the same category as his newest film. That noted, Penelope Cruz did in fact win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in the film, so it was not completely overlooked.
  5. Speaking of Midnight in Paris, the fact that the highly touted Corey Stoll-as Ernest Hemingway–is not among the Best Supporting Actor nominees, on the heels of also being overlooked for a Screen Actors Guild nod, is not encouraging. Too bad.
  6. Likewise, in contrast to the Screen Actors Guild, Nick Nolte (Warrior) and Armie Hammer (J. Edgar) are both out, but Albert Brooks (Drive) is back in the game. This whole race could turn into a showdown between Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Brooks. If Nolte–twice a Best Actor also ran, already–scores an Oscar nod, the race will be even more exciting.
  7. Alas, poor Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids): no Golden Globe nod for her. Can she still find favor with the Academy? Possibly. After all, some of the same people who voted for her on the first round SAG ballot will be voting for the Oscars. On the other hand, the Academy voters are a more select group, and they don’t include as many TV actors, a likely form of support for sitcom star McCarthy. Stay tuned.

Oscar buzz has been building for Gary Oldman’s performance as legendary George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy since the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in early September; however, Oldman has missed out on most of the big year-end awards. He was recently named Best Actor by the San Francisco Film Critics Association and is a nominee for a Satellite, a Golden Globe knock-off awarded by the International Press Association, a group founded by former members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Academy.

8. The clock seems to be running out for Gary Oldman to gain some traction for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s possible that strong grosses once the film finally opens will prompt interest for his film among voters, but this is an example of a studio sitting on a movie way too long. The buzz has been building since it first screened at film festivals during late summer, so the studio should have capitalized on that moment rather than wait till the year end assault.

The original poster for Young Adult aped the covers of novels like those that Theron’s Mavis Gary writes.

9. A highlight for me is the inclusion of Charlize Theron (Young Adult) among the nominees for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. Theron’s movie is not necessarily laugh out-loud funny, and it will be a hard sell with the majority of the American moviegoing public, but I think it’s a special piece of work, a real treat for those inclined to receive it with an open mind. Simply: Theron plays a writer of young adult fiction: Waverly Prep, a series, not unlike Sweet Valley High, that’s run its course. With her marriage on the skids and few romantic or professional prospects, the woman once voted “Best Hair” among her classmates makes a beeline back from the big city (Minneapolis, not New York, Chicago, or LA) to make one last–desperate–attempt to reunite with her former high school sweetheart–the one that got away–roughly 20 years after the fact.  To say Theron’s Mavis Gary is not  a nice person is a bit of an understatement, but everything about the performance  is pitch perfect.  It’s interesting to me that Theron, who won oh so many awards, including an Oscar, for radically altering her appearance to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster back in 2003, has found an arguably less sympathetic albeit slightly more glamorous character.  Of course, Theron received a second Oscar nomination for 2005’s North Country, but that true life story of female miners, while well done, seemed almost too easily pitched to Academy members.  Theron is working much harder here, and the results are frequently astonishing. Kudos to screenwriter Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for 2007’s Juno, for writing an original screenplay that does, indeed, possess some originality.

10. Theron’s biggest competition for the Golden Globe is likely Michelle Williams in the overrated My Week with Marilyn. That either performer’s film qualifies as a comedy is a bit of a leap, but  I digress. As I’ve already written, I like Williams as an actress (especially in 2010’s Blue Valentine), but her work as Marilyn Monroe falls flat for this MM fan. It’s not so much that Williams’ performance comes across as an impersonation, but that she seems more like a little girl playing dress-up than anything else. Of course, some fans will likely argue that Marilyn herself was a girl who played dress-up, and while there might be some truth to that, Marilyn’s best screen work was a lot richer than the woman played by Williams seems to suggest.  Williams is lucky right now because her film has all the backing of the Weinstein company, the relatively new outfit formed by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Back when the pair ran Miramax, they took Oscar campaigning, which is hardly a new phenomenon, to ludicrous extremes. They’ve been relatively restrained since starting their new company; however, with the well-earned success of last year’s The King’s Speech, they seem to be just as eager as ever to hype their product for awards consideration, a notion that sits rather well with the likes of the Hollywood Foreign Press, especially if that means granting voting members access to the likes of Williams as in olden days, happy Golden Globe days of yore…

Thanks for your consideration…

The Golden Globes air Sunday, January 15th, 2012 on NBC.

Source:

Wiley, Mason and Damien Bona. Inside Oscar. New York: Ballantine, 1996.

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