The Golden Globe nominations were announced Wednesday and, as every year, we now all have to reckon with the oft-forgotten truth that the organization, its picks and the show — normally the second biggest awards show of the season, which will air live on NBC on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 8:00 p.m. ET (a right for which the network paid a reported $60 million per year in an eight-year deal in 2018 despite falling ratings) — are a huge embarrassment to everyone involved.
This year, they’re actually worse than usual: the junky Netflix series “Emily in Paris” got nominations for best series and best actress, despite having been both praised and pilloried (depending on your taste) as fluff by pretty much everyone who watched it. “The Prom” also cleaned up, even garnering a nomination for James Corden, a straight man playing an offensively flamboyant gay character, which drew understandable criticism. Netflix, which produced both shows, got a whopping 42 nominations for its various products.
Meanwhile, Spike Lee’s masterly “Da 5 Bloods” got no nominations at all, despite featuring some of the best work of Delroy Lindo’s long and varied career. The widely acclaimed HBO-BBC show “I May Destroy You” was similarly snubbed. Coincidentally — or perhaps not — both have predominantly Black casts.
There are some good films on the list of nominees — I liked both “Mank” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” though it is difficult to understand how “Mank” in particular beat out other contenders — but other choices are downright bizarre. “Hamilton,” for instance, which was the filmed production of a Broadway musical, wasn’t even the best filmed production of a Broadway musical released last year.
This year certainly isn’t the first time the Globe nominees have been particularly ridiculous. Awards shows in general tend to be stodgy, with industry elders rewarding work that looks like work they’ve already seen rather than honoring the kind of work that ought to be seen more widely. But at least the Oscars can be relied upon to occasionally recognize good movies and even expand their horizons when absolutely necessary. The Globes just read as unhinged.
So what is so wrong with the Globes? Part of this is that the Golden Globes are administered by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a far smaller body of voters — just 89 — than the nearly 8,500-member Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And the HFPA is notoriously susceptible to flattery, photo-ops and free lunches, in part because it’s just easier and cheaper for studios to pay the tab for a paltry eight dozen people, including the actors in any given film they want to promote.
In 1982, for instance, Pia Zadora infamously won the now-defunct “New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture” award for her role in widely reviled incest drama “Butterfly.” The award was supposed to go to a debut star, but Zadora had already appeared in a movie — 1964’s “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” and she was up against Kathleen Turner’s now-classic turn in “Body Heat,” among others. But Zadora’s husband, debt-leverage buyout kingpin Meshulam Riklis (who had financed “Butterfly”), flew the members of the HFPA to his Riviera hotel in Las Vegas, supposedly to hear Zadora sing, and treated others to lunch and a private screening of the film at his mansion. Zadora then won the award on Jan. 30, 1982; the movie only debuted in theaters the following week.
It was hardly the last time the Globes got dinged for corruption. Denzel Washington observed that the prize could easily be bought while he was accepting a career achievement award at its ceremony in 2016. “Glory” producer Freddie Fields “invited me to the first Hollywood Foreign Press luncheon,” Washington told a chuckling audience at the ceremony. “He said, ‘They are gonna watch the movie. We are gonna feed them. They are gonna come over. You gonna take pictures with everybody. You are gonna hold the magazines, take the pictures, and you’re gonna win the award.’” And he did, in fact, win the Golden Globe that year. (No slight on Washington intended — he also won the Oscar.)
But even though it’s well known within Hollywood circles as a business affair rather than any reflection on one’s work, winning at the Globes tends to be a bigger deal than winning elsewhere, probably because of the ceremony itself. If a film wins Un Certain Regard at Cannes, it’s more meaningful as a recognition of your work, and the fact that you won may go on the jacket of the 4K disc when it hits stores, but having won probably won’t move as many copies.
Audiences, though, like to go see a movie that has racked up points — they feel like they ought to see something if it has three Oscars, 14 Golden Globes and a partridge in a pear tree. And part of the caché of the Globes to the average moviegoers is that they’ve seen the ceremony on network television — in this case, NBC — swooning to Tom Hiddleston in a tuxedo and listening to red carpet coverage in which everybody talks about the dresses for several days afterward.
The Globes, unlike the old-fashioned, theater-seated Oscars, are an opportunity for odd endorsements, for stars to get entertainingly high (or drunk) in public and for the occasionally genuinely moving speech that won’t get played off the stage in 45 seconds. The telecast, with the stars seated at catering rounds like guests at a wedding, gives the whole affair a feeling of genuineness — though plenty of anecdotes about the actual voting and schmoozing from decades past demonstrate very clearly that nothing could be further from the truth.
The show sells us a fiction about the stars and what movies and television shows are worth seeing — as determined by the exact people almost no American would ever listen to about which movies and television shows are worth seeing — and thus enables the HFPA to sell the multimillion-dollar rights to its show to the highest bidder.