Golden Globes: Surprises Abound as the HFPA Keeps the Season Interesting

'The Revenant' claimed top honors at the end of a night full of the unexpected.

From the moment Kate Winslet’s name was announced as the winner of the best supporting actress prize to kick off last night’s Golden Globe Awards, it was clear it would be a night of surprises. The “Steve Jobs” star made a point of noting how unexpected the honor was, mocked in some quarters because she always seems surprised to win bauble after bauble, but it really was an eyebrow-raiser to start the event, and eventually, the hits kept coming.

Most expected star power to reign in the other acting fields, with Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”), Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”) and Matt Damon (“The Martian”) all frontrunners in their respective categories. But one would have assumed the Jennifer Lawrence sugar high would have faded by now within the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., particularly as “Joy” — for which she won best actress in a comedy or musical — was a far cry from the critically adored David O. Russell hits that brought her two previous Globes. Alas…

Sam Smith winning the best song prize for a roundly criticized Bond tune left jaws agape, and when “The Revenant” helmer Alejandro G. Iñárritu was announced as the best director winner, things started to feel particularly erratic. It was an award most anticipated for Ridley Scott, and it may as well have signaled where the evening would go from there.

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All of that left an air of uncertainty as the envelope for best actress in a drama was unsealed. Would it be “Room” star Brie Larson, who has positively dominated the regional critics circuit, or would passion swing behind Saoirse Ronan, particularly with no other opportunity to honor “Brooklyn?” Larson triumphed in the end and looked like a million bucks, delivering a speech that brought the actress out of her shell a bit in front of a global audience.

But as far as sticking the landing with acceptance speeches in front of gigantic audiences with the second phase of an Oscar season looming goes, you have to give it up for DiCaprio. A standing ovation delayed his remarks a bit as he looked notably touched by the adulation. And he used his time to speak for a cause. “I want to share this award with all the first nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world,” he said. “It is time that we recognized your history and we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

DiCaprio’s campaign has felt preordained from the start. He’s an actor who has been right there on the cusp of an Oscar win for quite a while and things just haven’t gone his way. The sense of inevitability has entered dicey territory, however, as the campaign is at risk of becoming self-mockery. The “this was SUCH a difficult film to make” button has been pressed a bit too forcefully, while the various, arbitrary hardships DiCaprio went through on set have been met with plenty of cynicism throughout. Let’s ask the dolly grip if “The Revenant” was hard to make.

All of that is to say it was refreshing that DiCaprio didn’t lean into that too much in his acceptance, instead using his time to speak to an issue, even if it is one that has felt a bit crow-barred into the rhetoric around the film.

Iñárritu, meanwhile, is obviously hot off a circuit that found a ton of love for “Birdman” last season. But the HFPA, remember, did not recognize that film in the best picture and best director categories, honoring it for only best actor in a comedy or musical and best screenplay. They found their opportunity to rectify with “The Revenant,” to say the least. The film went on to barrel through to a dramatic (used both as a label and a descriptor) best picture win and send the Fox viewing party, already buzzed from “The Martian’s” triumph in the comedy or musical category, into ecstasy.

“What does it mean for the Oscars???” Very, very little. The Globes are a great opportunity to practice acceptance speeches, to shine in front of a global audience. As a PR event, they can allow you to lay some groundwork as you swing into the post-nominations phase of Oscar season. But no one is out voting for Oscars based on what the HFPA decided. What’s more, “The Revenant” and “The Martian” still have to survive the preferential ballot, and frankly, the latter probably has a better shot at that than the former. “Spotlight” took it on the chin, but it’s still very much a contender, particularly in this voting scheme. Ditto “The Big Short.”

So if you want to say a wide open Oscar season just became more so, as one pundit screeched in my ear last night, you absolutely can. But this is where we’ve been expecting from the beginning, in the midst of a scattered season spread incredibly thin with passion congregating behind multiple entries. The HFPA planted their flag last night. The BFCA will be next with the nationally televised Critics’ Choice Awards on Sunday.

Then, it’s on to the guild circuit, where the real answers tend to lie. Films like “The King’s Speech” and “Birdman” certainly didn’t look like winners to many until the industry started speaking up in the guilds, so just remember, we’re constantly in flux here.

Check out the full list of Golden Globes winners here.

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