Golden Globes: The HFPA Surprises (Again), Carving Its Own Path Through Awards Season

Nominations for the 74th annual Golden Globe Awards have been unveiled, and as ever, members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. have their own ideas about the film awards race.

Let’s start with an early category announced Monday morning, best supporting actor. It wasn’t Michael Shannon that got the tip, on a wave of goodwill after last year’s “99 Homes” with perhaps the most lauded performance from “Nocturnal Animals,” but rather, co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the film’s twisted antagonist. Another surprise–with Hugh Grant out of the running in favor of lead placement, his “Florence Foster Jenkins” co-star Simon Helberg found purchase with the group instead.

Jonah Hill in comedy actor for “War Dogs,” Tom Ford as a dual nominee in director and screenplay for “Nocturnal Animals,” Iggy Pop’s title track for “Gold” — yes, the HFPA and their singular taste made for another interesting announcement. And that’s the right prism through which to view these nominations: a sui generis stop on the trail, not an Oscar bellwether.

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But while the Golden Globe nominations, selected by a group of about 90 international journalists, aren’t exactly harbingers, they’ve recently only been off of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ best picture category by an average of one in the drama motion picture field. Movies like “Carol,” “Foxcatcher,” “Rush” and “The Ides of March” have found HFPA favor where the Academy opted out. This year, though, all five nominees — “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight” — appear destined for Oscar recognition as well.

What the Globes unambiguously provide, however, is the single greatest signal boost of the awards season. The marketing potential inherent in a nomination or a win on a widely-watched network awards show can’t be overstated. The Broadcast Film Critics Assn. ceded that ground back to the HFPA by moving the Critics’ Choice Awards into December, so the Golden Globes are back to being the only major awards telecast to air during phase one Oscar balloting.

(Speaking of the BFCA, the rival critics organization got a jump on the HFPA by recognizing movies like “Deadpool” and star Ryan Reynolds last night. That’s probably mission accomplished for that group, which was also quick to award TV series like “The Crown” and “Westworld” for the first time.)

There was room for just about everyone at the table. Even box office bust “Rules Don’t Apply” got a mention, in the comedy actress category for star Lily Collins. HFPA whisperer Harvey Weinstein got “Sing Street” through in the comedy/musical best picture field. And Fox can’t get out of buying a “Hidden Figures” table at the ceremony now, what with Octavia Spencer and Pharrell picking up nominations and giving the film the slightest of footprints.

The biggest losers appear to be Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” and Clint Eastwood’s “Sully,” which were completely shut out. And not to sully (no pun intended) the nominations for “Nocturnal Animals,” but it’s worth mentioning that HFPA members had to decline an expensive gift of cologne from Ford. Giving gifts is standard operating procedure but given its history with perceived payola, the organization affixes a limit on value.

So which films are most likely to pick up that aforementioned signal boost? At present, “Moonlight” and “La La Land” are the best picture frontrunners (as well as the overall nominations leaders with six and seven notices, respectively). In best actor, drama, Casey Affleck will duke it out with Denzel Washington, as he likely will at the Oscars. But Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are probably good to go in the comedy/musical realm.

The drama actress category could provide intrigue, however. Amy Adams (“Arrival”), Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) and Ruth Negga (“Loving”) are all bubble contenders for Academy nominations right now; a Globe win gives them a lot more exposure. Ditto Jessica Chastain, who picked up her first notice of the year for “Miss Sloane.” And a victory for “Jackie’s” Natalie Portman would tighten the gap between her and Stone in the Oscar race.

At minimum, though, the ceremony will be what it always is: a great opportunity for Hollywood’s elite to get loaded in a ballroom and laugh knowingly at the pageantry — safe in the assumption that emcee Jimmy Fallon will go far easier on them than Ricky Gervais ever did.

The 74th annual Golden Globe Awards will be held Sunday, Jan. 8 on NBC.

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