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Surprise Golden Globes Nominations and Wins Rooted in Awards Race Reality

When we consider the Golden Globes, we often focus on the surprises: That time in 2011 when not only did the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. nominate “The Tourist” for best picture — musical or comedy, but also its star, Johnny Depp, for lead actor.

While the nominations can seem mercurial, the long view shows that the HFPA generally reflects more middle-brow Hollywood tastes without too much foreign flavor. And, peering over our shoulders to last year, they ushered “Moonlight” and “La La Land” — best picture drama and best picture — musical or comedy, respectively — off to the Oscars for the biggest finish line fumble in Academy history. One can say that the swamis at the HFPA virtually anticipated the climactic Academy Awards snafu.

The biggest shocker this year on the film side is that the HFPA didn’t catch the industry’s wave of female empowerment and nominate a single woman for director honors, which remained a bastion of masculinity, primarily white. This is particularly troubling when five female directors made critically acclaimed films: Dee Rees (“Mudbound”), Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”), Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”), Sofia Coppola (“Beguiled”) and Kathryn Bigelow (“Detroit”).

Giving the 75-year-old association the benefit of the doubt, perhaps this oversight was a time-lag issue. Certainly by next year, they will get with the program and hopefully will have even more female directors from which to choose. This is a learning curve and even the esteemed New York Film Critics Circle, which welcomed four new female members into the fold in 2017 and will honor legendary and lucid film critic Molly Haskell for lifetime achievement at its January awards dinner, added no new female members the prior year. We understand, men, it’s not easy letting go — of privilege.

The HFPA managed to acknowledge Hollywood’s sexual harassment plague by “overlooking” evergreen TV favorites Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”) and Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”). And, in a surprise maneuver, the HFPA nominated Spacey’s last-minute replacement, Christopher Plummer, for Ridley Scott’s revamped kidnap thriller “All the Money in the World.” (If that doesn’t put an exclamation point on the concept that eight-time nominee and one-time winner Spacey is persona non grata, what does?)

Occasionally, the out-of-left-field surprises highlight performances that have been overlooked in early prognostications. Consider last year when the HFPA nominated Aaron Taylor-Johnson for supporting actor, as opposed to his favored “Nocturnal Animals” co-star Michael Shannon. Topping off the surprise, Taylor-Johnson defeated eventual Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”). And, yet, while Taylor-Johnson apparently did a lot of personal wooing of HFPA members, the proof is in the performance: he was utterly transformed in Tom Ford’s neo-noir; an easy-going Brit playing a murderous Texas thug. So, good call, Globes.

Ditto this year’s lead comedy actor nom to Ansel Elgort. Trained as a dancer, and accessible as an actor, his underappreciated broken-boy performance drove the sweet summer hit “Baby Driver” to a global $227 million take. Elgort’s a surprise — and a welcome one.

Some choices leave us wondering what they were thinking, including Lasse Hallstrom’s limp “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” (remember that one?) that earned a best picture — comedy or musical in 2012, along with a nomination for its lead actress, Emily Blunt.

And what can we make of Scott’s “The Martian” being nominated — and winning! — in the best picture — musical or comedy category in 2016? Definitely not a musical, but is it a comedy?

It has a few laughs, true. By splitting the category into drama or musical/comedy, a lot of genre films get shoved into the latter, including Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” this year.

One common source of surprising nominations stems from the fact that association members can be loyal to a fault. They love whom they love — Depp, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence, to name a few. And they adore them even in an off year. (See above: Depp and “The Tourist.”) That also means that Streep has more than 30 nominations, including those for her lesser works such as “She-Devil” and the over-the-top “Death Becomes Her.” This year she was nominated for portraying publisher Katharine Graham in “The Post.” I’ll stand behind Streep’s “Mamma Mia!” nomination to the end! They also laid an honorary Cecil B. DeMille Award on her last year.

Movie stars that crossover to television also lead to surprises. Billy Bob Thornton received three nominations for his film work followed by two wins — for FX’s limited series “Fargo” in 2014 and the even more unexpected Amazon’s sleeper-drama “Goliath” last year. And then there’s Laura Dern, daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd who began her association with the HFPA as the Miss Golden Globe of 1982, and won three Golden Globes for her television work, including her short-lived series “Enlightened” in 2012. This year, she’s up again for “Big Little Lies.”

But the HFPA can also be fickle. On the TV side, this year NBC’s literal comeback comedy “Will & Grace” got nominations for best comedy series and lead actor for Eric McCormack, but none for co-stars Debra Messing (a six-time nominee), Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally.

Messing’s “missing” status makes sense. When it comes to TV, the HFPA lately has tended to prefer TV’s shiny new stars, such as “The Crown’s” Claire Foy in 2017, and a slew of women in the musical or comedy races. They include Rachel Bloom’s win for comedy actress for her out-of-the-box CW series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” in 2016, and one year earlier, another CW rookie star, “Jane the Virgin’s” Gina Rodriguez earned the same acclaim.

Sure, sometimes voters make puzzling choices mired in time and place, such as in 1987 when Aussie fever struck and “Crocodile Dundee” star Paul Hogan won comedy lead actor. His co-star Linda Kozlowski received a supporting actress nomination. But then “Crocodile Dundee” also got an Oscar nomination for original screenplay.

And, yet, overall, the Golden Globes have a history of nominees and winners, which tend, on average, to be less eccentric than the memorable exceptions. Leap back to the early years and scan the actress category where the nominees and winners are as classic as cashmere cardigans: there are Ingrid Bergman in 1944 for “Gaslight” and Olivia De Havilland in “The Heiress” in 1949. The following year, the nominees were Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard,” Bette Davis in “All About Eve” and Judy Holliday in “Born Yesterday?” Now that’s a “Sophie’s Choice.”

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