I have a confession to make: I have never watched the Golden Globes — or rather, until last night, I had never been witness to that bizarre spectacle where movie stars get plastered while receiving awards from the chummy cabal of foreign journos who help promote their films year round. But this year, while visiting Los Angeles for the month, I was intrigued to attend a couple of the afterparties at the Beverly Hilton and felt it was only right to watch the show first.
Friends have always insisted that the Globes are more fun than the Oscars. For one, there’s the open bar (this year, returning host Ricky Gervais made his roast-like remarks with a beer glass on hand all night). Better still, there’s the fact that the Globes don’t mean anything — or at least, nothing more than the quasi-consensus of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., a group of approximately 90 professional junketeers whose votes can (and have) been bought by dinners, keepsakes and hand-signed thank-you letters.
By the time last night’s show aired, the deadline for Oscar nominations had already passed, and yet, some of awards season’s savvier players have learned to game the system in such a way as to influence the Academy Awards — which, of course, are chosen by more than 5,000 film industry professionals.
My decision to watch this year was prompted in part by the fact that I’ve become friendly with a couple of HFPA members in the past year or so, and though they seem to live up to their buffet-grazing reputation, I can hardly plead the higher ground, having met them over the same free dinners. Upon examination, their job is essentially the reverse of mine, in that I divide my time between Paris and the international festival circuit, covering foreign films for a mostly-Hollywood readership, whereas they work primarily from Hollywood covering American movies for outlets all over the world. Amid all the deadlines and other day-job obligations, they must also make time to watch hundreds of films and TV shows for the sake of the Golden Globes — which calls for no small amount of dedication (and surely more than most Oscar voters dedicate to the cause).
There is still the matter of taste. This year, the HFPA’s pick for best foreign language film, “Son of Saul,” matches my own for 2015’s best film in any language. But the overlap pretty much ends there. The organization is famous for nominating movie stars, which slights newcomers, but leads to an overall sexier telecast. (Leonardo DiCarprio and Matt Damon inevitably draw better ratings than, say, “Son of Saul’s” Geza Rohrig, even if the latter is equally deserving.)
Compared to the Oscar show, the Globes run a relatively streamlined three hours. No unnecessary musical numbers, no lugubrious parade of lately departed stars, better writing all around (Andy Samberg’s “last award of the night” bit revealed what a great host he would be for the entire ceremony). Considering the fact that they come relatively early in the season, there’s genuine excitement in seeing what for some nominees represents their first win — as when Sylvester Stallone took supporting actor honors for “Creed,” marking the first time since 1977 that the group had nominated him (for “Rocky”).
But I still couldn’t shake the skepticism that inspired my unofficial Golden Globes boycott in the first place. To win a trophy from a group of 80-odd people, it takes how many votes: perhaps 17 or 18? I remember rolling my eyes in 2007 when they announced seven best picture nominees (instead of the usual five) in the drama category, and not knowing what to think when “The Descendants” was voted best of the six nominated dramas in 2011 (Alexander Payne’s tragi-coma-dy is a far funnier movie than “The Martian,” which won “musical or comedy” honors this year).
That drama-vs.-comedy distinction is easily the way in which the Globes most abuse their position in the awards scene, since so few people make musicals anymore, and “comedy” is so broadly defined that practically anything can qualify (one year, “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Love and Other Drugs” and “The Tourist” were all categorized as such, all of which seemed more serious than drama winner “The King’s Speech”).
But in finally actually watching the show, I realized something: Nobody in the room takes it as seriously as I have insisted on considering the Globes from the sidelines all these years. Certainly not Gervais, who likened HFPA president Theo Kingma’s remarks to an in memoriam segment last night and joked that the whole show ought not to run longer than half an hour. When Lady Gaga won her best actress award for TV’s “American Horror Story,” the cameras caught DiCaprio cracking up. And when DiCaprio won best actor in a dramatic film a bit later in the evening for “The Revenant,” nobody was surprised — he was the biggest star on the ballot, after all.