Sunday’s Golden Globes took place on the day the Oscars were originally scheduled to be held this year, pre-pandemic. What was supposed to be the end of the awards season is now the beginning, with Oscar nominations still two weeks away and the ceremony itself an almost unfathomable two months in the future.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. likes to call the Globes “Hollywood’s best party,” but this year’s show (the polite, strained laughter, the odd reaction shots, the audio glitches) felt more like a wake. Following a Times investigation highlighting the HFPA’s ethical shortcomings and the lack of any Black members in the group, Hollywood guilds and Time’s Up began pushing for reforms. But when the ceremony went live, the presenters and winners mostly remained polite and on-point, perhaps out of respect to the work (let’s not make this awkward) or perhaps because no one in Hollywood is actually all that invested in harming the illusion that the awards presented during this self-congratulatory evening have no meaning beyond their promotional value.
You didn’t need to be the HFPA voter who’s a self-proclaimed expert in the art of face-reading to decipher the prevailing mood in all those virtual rooms: denial, mixed with a smidgen of self-loathing. “We all know awards shows are stupid,” co-host Tina Fey noted in her monologue with Amy Poehler, and the ensuing three hours did little to dispel that.
Dumpster fire or not, the 78th Golden Globes were the first televised event of a movie awards season marked by isolation, anxiety and, for some in the industry, outright apathy. Oscar voters have been sequestered in their homes navigating a streaming platform featuring 224 movies and battling shortened attention spans that thwart them from actually finishing any of them. (“I’ve started ‘Nomadland’ three times now,” one academy member recently told me, “but I can’t make it past Frances McDormand using that bucket for a toilet.”)
With the pandemic eliminating in-person film festivals, splashy premieres and glad-handing parties (moving forward, will they be known as elbow-bumping events?), the Globes is all academy members have right now, and you can imagine them, stuck watching this video call that would never end (has it?), feeling sad, a tad thrown and even a little happy at the sight of so many familiar faces. (In other words: We are all Jason Sudeikis.)
As Oscar voting begins on Friday, the ceremony may have also served as a reminder of all the great movies from the past year that should be seen and celebrated. You know, like Steve McQueen’s “Mangrove.” (I kid. And anxiously await its crowning along with the other “Small Axe” movies at the Emmys later this year.)
The Globes are mistakenly labeled by some as an Oscar bellwether; in fact, the group has honored the academy’s best picture winner just twice in the past five years — and that’s with two categories, drama and comedy/musical. So it would be wrong to put much weight in the wins for “Nomadland” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” though Sacha Baron Cohen did get in one of the night’s few jabs at the HFPA (“Thank you to the all-white Hollywood Foreign Press,” although it is not all-white) as well as a tribute to the “comedy genius” of Rudy Giuliani.
Still, the fact that “Nomadland” director Chloé Zhao won as well, continuing a streak that has encompassed dozens of critics groups, including the Los Angeles and New York film critics and the National Society of Film Critics, confirms the suspicion that both she and her poignant film stand as Oscar front-runners, no matter what that one squeamish voter thinks.
As for the acting winners, the late Chadwick Boseman locked down the lead actor Oscar the moment voters began seeing his electrifying performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and the way he conveyed August Wilson’s words and ideas about the obstacles Black people face in fighting for their place in the world. Accepting the Globe, Taylor Simone Ledward, his wife, made us feel his loss acutely again.
Andra Day’s win for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” will probably prod more people to watch her turn as the legendary jazz singer in Lee Daniels’ flawed biopic, which began streaming Friday on Hulu. The lead actress category has several contenders — Carey Mulligan in “Promising Young Woman,” Viola Davis in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” McDormand in “Nomadland — in better movies. But sometimes at the Oscars, a performance can transcend the movie. (See Julianne Moore in “Still Alice.”)
Likewise, the the winners in the supporting categories — Jodie Foster in “The Mauritanian” and Daniel Kaluuya in “Judas and the Black Messiah” — come from late-arriving, tough-minded movies that voters haven’t widely seen. In the case of “The Mauritanian,” it’s the subject matter. Getting people to watch a movie about Guantanamo Bay isn’t an easy sell. Perhaps seeing Jodie Foster accept the award in her pajamas with her wife (also wearing pajamas) and dog (a pajama material kerchief) made for peak pandemic viewing.
Voters owe her some debt for that, even if, like everyone else in the room, she took the whole thing a little too seriously after all the controversy leading up to the ceremony. But then, that’s Hollywood. Some things never change — even when they should.