Seriousness is so overrated. In an apparent bid for gravitas, the year’s box-office busting, critic-charming musical, “A Star Is Born,” opted to compete in the Golden Globes drama category. That choice might have triggered a sense of inferiority in the jolly musical or comedy gang — but, no! The musical or comedy category is often the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s most interesting, and could boost such films as “Green Book” or “Mary Poppins Returns” or “Crazy Rich Asians” in the game of Oscar best picture thrones.
Recently, best picture winners “The Artist” (2011) and “Birdman” (2014) emerged from the musical or comedy grab bag (where the latter lost to Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). In 2002, “Chicago” heralded the comeback of the movie musical. It won the category and went on to win six Oscars including best picture.
Sometimes, the winners of the two top Golden Globes categories go head-to-head at the Oscars. Two years ago, in the memorable finish-line fumble at the Academy Awards, Globes musical or comedy trophy winner “La La Land” beat Globes drama winner “Moonlight” for the best picture Oscar for a matter of seconds, before the mistake was revealed and reversed. “Moonlight” won the day, but the ultimate contest was still notable as a final face-off between the Globes’ drama versus musical or comedy winners.
Historically, musical or comedy has been a glorious category, toasting the golden age of musicals and comedies. The category’s first year out of the gate, “An American in Paris” won and went on to scoop up the Oscar for best picture. “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady” and “The Sound of Music” did the same. Ditto “The Apartment” and “Shakespeare in Love” their respective years.
In 1976, “A Star Is Born” with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson won the Globe in this category — and 1964’s “Mary Poppins” was a Globe contender.
Sure, it’s also the category where for many of the HFPA’s historical oddities can be found. Naysayers cite “The Tourist,” a star-driven travesty that paired the chemistry-impaired Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and has come to symbolize a certain kind of Globes star-kissing, as just one example of strange choices in that category over the years.
“No one thought that movie was anything,” a source who wished to remain anonymous says. “They’ve betrayed that category time and again. ‘The Martian’: What, because of the potato poop? That was not a laugh riot. It was a sci-fi movie about somebody who could die on the planet. That’s the fun part of this: how they warp this category to such an extent that when there is a musical they aren’t in it.”
Going on the record for Armando Iannucci’s coal-black laugh riot “The Death of Stalin,” English producer Kevin Loader confesses that he’s never attended the Golden Globes ceremony. However, films he’s produced have gotten noms for actors Bill Murray for “Hyde Park on Hudson” and Maggie Smith for “The Lady in the Van” to the event. Both stars were nominated in what he calls the “non-dreary category.”
As Mark Twain once famously said, “Humor is tragedy, plus time.” Loader echoes that sentiment, observing that “comedy is undervalued in the awards season, particularly in the Academy and certainly at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. There’s a built-in bias toward drama.”
Loader continues: “I’ve made many dramas myself and there’s an assumption that comedy is somehow easier. In fact, it’s much harder to make a resonant funny comedy that lasts and connects, than it is to make a drama to surf the wave of that particular year.”
It’s Loader’s opinion that the great films that last are often comedies, going all the way back to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. “The golden age of Cukor seems as fresh as ever. Comedies continue to sparkle and the great challenge is to make one that lasts.”
While he’s hopeful about the prospects of “The Death of Stalin,” he recognizes the uphill struggle given the comedy’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival premiere in 2017 and a March release date. There’s a demand “for the shock of the new,” and, yet, there’s a glimmer of hope for Globes recognition.
“They are also judging TV — and Armando [Iannucci] has been recognized for ‘Veep.’ There’s more awareness of comedy talents coming from TV to movies. We’re living in an era where that wall between TV and features is porous. The HFPA is very aware of these comedy talents when they cross to movies.”
One of the poster children for the power of the Golden Globe musical or comedy category to boost a film into the magic best picture circle at the Oscars is “Little Miss Sunshine.” The 2006 antic comedy emerged like a bat in a VW van out of hell from the Sundance Film Festival. It went from Golden Globe to Oscar best-picture nominee, and along the way it won the Screen Actors Guild award for ensemble. At the finish line, it took home two Oscars, for original screenplay and supporting actor for Alan Arkin.
Big Beach’s Peter Saraf acknowledges that the sequence of awards in the season build to create critical mass. The Globes are one of the key pieces into “what validates a movie and launches it into the conversation.”
In 2007, the Oscars still had only five best picture nominees.
So that, according to Saraf, “the Globes had room for more pictures and that changed the equation and made it helpful for more movies. The comedy or musical category opens things up for a different kind of movie…The straight-ahead drama will always be taken more seriously in the awards consideration. The Golden Globes helps to enliven that conversation a little bit.”
By expanding the conversation, Saraf adds, “there’s a little bit of a populist sensibility in terms of the movies that they take into the fold. There’s a little less pomp and circumstance and a little more celebration.”
Of course, “Little Miss Sunshine” didn’t win either prize trophy — best picture or the Golden Globe for musical or comedy. However, by dint of its nomination, “Little Miss Sunshine” shone at all the awards from the WGA to the DGA to the Film Independent Spirits and the Oscars.
“Had we not been nominated for the Globes, would that have taken us out of the Oscar race?,” Saraf asks. “It’s hard to know but it certainly helped.”
There are many other elements at play and, when it comes to the Globes, pressing the flesh on the awards party circuit is critical — and may be a contributing factor to those oddities that pop up in the comedy or musical catchall.
One producer says confidentially: “They do like to have their pictures taken with the cast. Because we are busy making another film, we’re not on the awards circuit in that way.”
A filmmaker can spend four months of the year working the room like a political campaign — and still lose.
Either way, given the Golden Globes reputation as the more fun awards event in contrast to the serious Oscars, it’s fitting that the HFPA recognizes comedies and musicals. And with a compelling cluster of films on the horizon, including the crowd-pleaser “Green Book,” from Peter Farrelly, the bitter comedy “The Favourite,” from Yorgos Lanthimos, musical “Mary Poppins Returns,” from Rob Marshall, romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” from Jon M. Chu, Adam McKay’s satire “Vice” — and perhaps even Iannucci’s black comedy “The Death of Stalin” — it’s a strong year for the laughs-and-lyrics category.