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Golden Globes: HFPA Keeps the Oscar Race Interesting With Its Own Quirks

Every Golden Globes nominations announcement is replete with the unexpected. That’s because the nominations are determined by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., a group of roughly 90 international journalists with their own quirks and whims. Though this group has very little connection to the film industry, their choices are nevertheless often looked upon as Oscar harbingers because of little more than history — the Globes ceremony has been a nationally televised event for decades, and the longevity of that footprint is quite literally the only thing that keeps them relevant in the eyes of studios who clamor to be recognized by them.

Not that you can’t look at the HFPA’s annual picks as a fun alternative to the lockstep of Oscar season. The group has a tendency to turn over stones that otherwise might lay undisturbed (not to make it sound like a euphemism). What you can’t do is pull your hair out about this or that “snub” and think it amounts to much. There’s a mantra for this: “It’s the Golden Globes.” They can’t make or break the race.

So what can they do? They can provide a significant PR boost at a key time in the season. We’re still about a month away from ballots going out to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and after this morning’s announcement, a handful of things have landed on the radar that otherwise might have struggled to get there. The awards show itself, meanwhile, will air the day before those ballots arrive in January, providing a rich opportunity for winners to get some exposure at the last possible minute.

With that in mind, you can raise your eyebrow at, say, “The Favourite” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” helmers Yorgos Lanthimos and Barry Jenkins, respectively, getting rebuffed, or another critical darling, Ethan Hawke (“First Reformed”), falling off the lead actor lineup. Believe me, I’m bummed Nicholas Britell’s beautiful “Beale Street” score was passed over, and “Mary Poppins Returns” getting ignored in the original song category is a curious development indeed. But remember the mantra.

Who gets a signal boost? Perhaps the single most important nomination for any campaign today was Rosamund Pike’s lead actress bid for “A Private War.” Here is a film plugging away with a modest but focused campaign, with screenings hosted by the likes of filmmaker Michael Mann in the background, and whatever track was laid with the HFPA clearly paid off. Pike is a serious part of the mix now, if she wasn’t already (you never know what 9,000 Academy members might be thinking). The film was also recognized in the original song category, for Annie Lennox’s “Requiem for a Private War.”

Someone like “Boy Erased” lead actor Lucas Hedges also gets a burst of wind in his sails. The correlative Oscar race is not nearly as robust as lead actress, so looking like a significant player now is crucial. Hedges is having an incredible year all around, with another leading performance in “Ben Is Back” and perhaps his finest work coming in a smaller “Mid90s” role, not to mention an ongoing revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery” on Broadway opposite a returning (and exquisite, by the way) Elaine May.

One thing that stuck out to me was the love for Adam McKay’s “Vice,” which led the group’s nominations with six. I had a hunch the HFPA would take to it more than some outspoken critics who hated the bold Dick Cheney biopic and are champing at the bit for that review embargo to drop so they can cut loose with their zingers. But I wouldn’t have bet on it leading the pack. That’s significant for Annapurna’s campaign efforts.

The easiest category to predict was the top musical/comedy field, mostly because Fox and Warner Bros. opted to compete in drama with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born,” respectively. You can’t say for certain which films may have benefitted from that, but “Crazy Rich Asians” would be a good guess. The film was a box office sensation and remains an underdog hopeful in the top Oscar race. Now it has “best picture” bona fides to flaunt in marketing.

And again, that’s how you have to look at this annual announcement. It’s folly to debate the merits of what didn’t make the cut, or to disparage what did. It’s one big press release.

In that spirit, I’ll say I hope “Eighth Grade” star Elsie Fisher gets a boost with her musical/comedy actress mention. My fingers are crossed for John David Washington, that he might get a little more traction for “BlacKkKlansman.” I’m glad actress Claire Foy and composer Justin Hurwitz are there representing “First Man,” a film that deserved so much more this year. And I’m thrilled Melissa McCarthy is there for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” after egregious snubs at the Gotham and Spirit Awards.

But take it all in stride. At the end of the day, we’re talking about 90 people — who, by the way, are schmoozed up one side and down the other by specific handlers tapped by studios to engage them. So congrats to those shadow-lurkers this morning, too.

It’s the Golden Globes!

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