The Golden Globes Are No Longer Just Respectable. They Now Have (Gulp!) Good Taste

Casey Affleck Golden Globes Acceptance Speech
Paul Drinkwater/NBC

A lot of people still like to talk about the Golden Globes as if they were the less-serious, more-fun, loose-cannon, everyone-in-the-room-is-relaxed-because-they’ve-had-a-few-drinks alternative to the Academy Awards. Okay, that is what they are, and on some level always will be. At this point, however, consigning the Globes to that description may also be a neat way of staying in denial over just how much, in the last 10 years, the once tatty, second-tier Globes have attached themselves, like a big golden mosquito, to the Oscars and sucked up a healthy dose of their mystique.

The difference may come down to how much you weigh perception and reality. Anyone close to the industry — or in it — knows that there’s a universe of difference between the voting body for the Oscars (the 5,783-member Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences) and the one for the Golden Globes (the quirky, at times nearly cult-like-in-their-anonymity 90-member Hollywood Foreign Press Association). But to the overwhelming majority of viewers at home, the difference may be academic, or negligible, or downright non-existent.

Tonight, when you saw Casey Affleck, in his man-bun and thatchy beard, get up and give his totally classy and humane and measured acceptance speech, or when Emma Stone, in her acceptance speech, got up to deliver one of those outpourings that tingles with so much homespun sincerity and glistening gratefulness that you marvel at how exquisitely it reveals the beauty of the actress’ soul (even as you realize, in the back of your mind, that you’re seeing another piece of sublime acting)…or when Ryan Gosling, in his acceptance speech, struck the perfect balance of modesty and bravura…or when the whole way that “La La Land” began to dominate the night (beginning with the opening Jimmy Fallon sketch, which sealed the film’s freeway-jam musical number as an iconic sequence) became less a one-award-after-another coronation than a way of sharing with the audience everything that’s great and thrilling and paradigm-shifting about the movie…well, it would be accurate to say that this all felt like a warm-up to the Oscars, but it would also be accurate to say that it felt like a preview that carried close to the full excitement of what it was previewing. Watching tonight’s Golden Globes, and thinking ahead to the Academy Awards, even a lot of passionate moviegoers who loved all of these performances and films might be justified in thinking: What, really, is the difference?

In the past, a key difference has often been this: The same people didn’t win. The members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have their own priorities, which may include how much a famous actor or actress has ingratiated him or herself into their have-a-selfie-with-the-star schmoozefest circuit; the results have tended to reflect that. For decades, there was a sleazy but harmless back-scratching voodoo to how, exactly, one read the annual winners’ slate of the Golden Globes. But as the Globes have come up in the world (in terms of TV ratings, but also in terms of that hard-to-quantify yet all too real yardstick known as respectability), the HFPA members’ relationship to their awards has changed. After all, they’re only human. They used to crave a kind of elbow-rubbing celebrity access. Now they crave something more, something beyond mere respectability. Should we dare to call it…good taste?

Just look at tonight’s winners. (I agreed with most of the TV winners I was familiar with, from “Black-ish” to “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” but I’ll speak here only of the movie winners.) The accolades for Stone, Affleck, and Gosling. The nods to Damien Chazelle for his writing and directing of “La La Land,” and to Justin Hurwitz for his extraordinary score and great song (“City of Stars”). The win for Viola Davis, who gave a performance of searing majesty in “Fences,” and, even more boldly, the win for Isabelle Huppert, who would not have been my choice for Best Actress in a Dramatic Role, but whose subversively jaunty performance in “Elle” as a rape victim who has zero patience for victimhood has been so lionized by the film critics of two continents that I’d be betraying my profession if I didn’t salute the Golden Globes’ eagerness to honor the audacity of Huppert’s achievement. My point is not that the HFPA voters were right or wrong. It’s that in each and every case, they were tasteful and bold. This was not your hack-entertainment-journalist father’s Golden Globe Awards.

The sense that something disarmingly artistic was going on was only enhanced by the profound one-two punch of Viola Davis presenting the Cecil B. DeMille Award to Meryl Streep and Streep’s extraordinary speech paying tribute to the power of what acting really is. Davis’ beautiful words, in which she evoked the spiritual awe in which she held Streep (notably when she was on the set with her shooting “Doubt”), carried, to me, a liberating subtext: In this first year after the #OscarsSoWhite outcry, I felt like she was telling the world that art, in the deepest sense, knows no color. That in America, we are all each other’s idols.

Streep answered that by making the brilliant and inspiring point that acting is the living definition of empathy — it literally places us in other people’s shoes — and that Donald Trump, whom she correctly pegged as an actor, is a failed actor because he uses the illusions he creates not to enhance empathy but to snuff it out. Streep had the best line of the night, cutting through decades of glib Hollywood-bashing (“Who is Hollywood, anyway, but a bunch of people from other places?”), and she made what may be the canniest (and least gratuitous) social-protest speech I have ever heard at an awards show. It was moving, provocative, sharper-than-thou. And we all witnessed it…at the Golden Globes.

What can the Academy Awards do for an encore? I’m no awards prognosticator, but in all likelihood the Oscars will probably feature a fairly high percentage of the same winners. I don’t necessarily expect that “Moonlight” will take the Best Picture prize from “La La Land,” yet its win for Best Dramatic Feature at the Globes certainly pushes its chances forward — and more to the point, what a stunning move on the HFPA’s part! Call it what you will: I call it supremely…tasteful. And it’s a sure sign that the Golden Globes have changed the game, mostly for themselves.

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  1. C. Cox says:

    Meryl Streep your only job is to entertain us. When you give your opinion you are no longer entertaining. Best to keep to the script.

  2. Laorhir says:

    Merly Streep Cecil B. DeMille life time achievement award and Trump basher. When will these celebrities stop inserting their political agendas, so conveniently at award ceremonies? It is getting old

  3. pipper donnie says:

    United States voted for Hillary. She won the popular vote. Our electoral college worked well with the Republican redistricting, redrawing our citizen’s voting preference in their favorite, never in the interest of what our founding father had in mind. so let say that you’re right about the golden globe and their liberal elitist’s view on “their” American cultural identity. what are you going to replace it with. GO AHEAD! DARE YOU! REPLACE IT WITH THE VIEW OF 1488ERS AND THE KKK as the authentic American ” white” American view of America!

  4. Bill B. says:

    La La Land is surely the Oscar favorite and it is a special film, but I also think that Moonlight has a very good chance at upsetting. I don’t see Stone or especially Gosling winning Oscars, but I’d sure hate to see Chazelle lose director as his work is a stunning achievement. Actress is totally a toss-up among a few, primarily Huppert or Portman, but I think despite the SAG snub that Bening might surprise. The Oscars sometimes have a ind of their own. Adams, Stone & Streep (who may have gained some votes last night though for the wrong reasons) are all interesting possibilities as well in this wide open field. Affleck is the night’s only lock. Supporting actor is strictly between Ali & Bridges, with the former formidable even if I do slightly prefer the latter. Supporting actress is between Davis & Williams though Harris is not a total toss. Quite a few good films this year.

  5. Through the years I have narrowed the award shows down to the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Now, only the Oscars; the Globes is just not fun anymore.

  6. Gleiberman, is this where you’re at now?! The absolute worst film critic around who gets it wrong 99% of the time is at Variety. Good for you, man. What happened, did EW suddenly acquire the credibility and insights that you know nothing about?!

  7. Dex says:

    Either you’re in “La La Land” (along with the schmoozing HFPA) or you were incapable of noticing the disconnect last night between the HFPA voters and the actual Academy members who leaped up and gave a loud standing O when “Moonlight” was named Best Picture. In fact, the entire place erupted. These are the people who will cast their votes for the Academy Award, not the HFPA members influenced by star-power and glitzy gifts.

  8. Joe says:

    LOL…the Golden Globes always have and will always be a joke to those in the industry. These celebs show up because the Golden Globes have become almost participation trophies, just about everyone attending walks away with an award.

  9. Hannah says:

    Dear Variety, why do you keep referring to Casey Affleck as classy, humane, measured – adjectives that seem incongruous with a man who sexually harassed his female colleagues? Please stop glossing over Casey’s horrendous treatment of women in the industry.

  10. Liza says:

    And mandoist needs to get over him/herself and realize that if one wants to address the USA, there are probably better places to do it than the comments section of Variety.

  11. Liza says:

    The GG are just like the AAs: self-congratulatory awards presented for a variety of reasons, only a few of which are artistic. The writer likes them this year because he likes the winners.

    Most viewers watch them to see the “stars,” the clothes, the hair and the couples.

    Personally, I much prefer Michael Caine’s self-deprecating speeches to all the self-righteous polemics. If I want to hear political speeches – left or right – I’ll tune in to a news program.

  12. mandoist says:

    Mr. Twitter needs to get used to the fact that what Streep said mirrors the MAJORITY’S VIEWS. His voters were the Lowest Common Denominators amongst us (and not the majority) who voted him into that respected office. Trump had better get used to the idea.

    This is only the beginning of unrest, disgust and reprimand of his character (or lack of it) in 2017. It ain’t gonna be no picnic for Trump — nor the USA — if the country allows him to continue his uneducated immature antics.

    Dear United States of America, the entire Globe is watching. Don’t let him belittle you further, or eventually ruin you.

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