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The Golden Globes Polish Up Their New Respectability (Column)

It’s always a fun ritual to peruse the nominations for the Golden Globes, because you’re probably going to see a handful of eyebrow-raisers and maybe a jaw-dropper, the sort of “Oh, did they actually do that?” choices that make the Golden Globes the Golden Globes. That’s the theory, at any rate. But it may be an outmoded theory. This year, looking over the various nominees in the movie categories (I don’t pretend to keep up on television enough to earn a judgment call on those rosters), what you see in every slate, every choice, every quirk is a wall-to-wall-carpeting job of unimpeachably tasteful and hard-to-knock conventional wisdom. If you want to play Name That Ringer, it’s going to be a very short game.

But let’s play. Okay, I spotted one! In the Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy category, what is Cate Blanchett doing there? She’s nominated for “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” an earnest misfire of a Richard Linklater movie in which she played a dysfunctional architect suffering from a syndrome that I guess you’d call architect’s block. It keeps her from designing buildings and encourages her, instead, to spend her days acting out in the most reckless and annoying way possible. Blanchett’s acting was kind of annoying, too, so I guess you could say that she was staying true to the character, but really — there are much worthier performances that might have been nominated in this category, like the great up-and-coming star (mark my words) Jessie Buckley as an aspiring country singer in “Wild Rose.”

That said, Blanchett, who has been nominated for 10 Golden Globe awards and has won three, is a sublime actress and a hallowed member of the Golden Globes BFF club. The members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association love her. And favor her. Which is very old-school Globes.

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Tellingly, I don’t see a single other choice among this year’s movie nominees who is there for that sort of swoony indulgent HFPA Classic here’s-a-diva-we-just-adore reason. Sure, there are old favorites, but they’re all actors and actresses who have been avidly buzzed about this year — from Eddie Murphy, bringing it in “Dolemite Is My Name” like he hasn’t brought it since the ’80s, to Saoirse Ronan, who at 25 already has three Golden Globe nominations and has just nabbed her fourth for her performance as the eye of the sisterly storm in “Little Women.” As for snubs, there are worthy people who got left out, but I’m not sure there’s one obvious case where you can say: They really should have swapped X for Y. As a major fan of “Uncut Gems,” I would have loved to see Adam Sandler receive a nomination for his performance, yet I can’t argue with the HFPA’s decision to classify the movie as a drama; that’s what it deserves to be called. I wouldn’t argue that any of the Best Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama nominees should necessarily have been displaced (no, not even for Robert De Niro).

It boils down to a simple thing: In 2019, the Golden Globe film nominees look, more than ever, like an impeccably curated crystal-ball premonition of the Oscars. (I have a hunch De Niro could get overlooked there as well.) What’s more, if you had to define a single difference between the two award ceremonies, apart from the fabled fact that people can drink at the Globes (so it’s a looser, shaggier, altogether more amusing evening), it’s that the Globes have always had a shameless populist side — a tradition of nominating unabashed popcorn hits of the sort the Academy increasingly shuns. In recent years, I’ve been arguing that the Oscars should take a page from that philosophy. As one of the only critical fans of “The Greatest Showman,” for instance, I would have liked to see that rousing and globally beloved musical nominated for a best picture Oscar.

This year, however, even the populist impulse of the Globes has a more refined and polished bent. The big-tent movies they’ve nominated — “Joker,” “Knives Out” — really could end up as Oscar nominees. And I would argue that they should. (If “Joker,” my favorite film of the year, doesn’t get a best picture nod from the Academy, I’ll have much to say about it.) So even the megaplex-hit choices don’t come off, this year, as the Globes’ token version of the proposed Academy “blockbuster” category. On the contrary, they come off as the HFPA nudging the Oscars in the direction of how to thread the needle of art and commerce at the same time. That’s what these giant movie awards have always, theoretically, been about. But the Globes are now doing it with just as much finesse as the Oscars.

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