“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” an ode to the Golden Age of movies, and “1917,” a war epic that unspools in a single shot, were named best comedy and best drama at the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday. “Succession,” a corrosive look at a feuding, back-stabbing clan of media barons, was honored as best television drama, while “Fleabag,” the story of an emotionally troubled Londoner, was recognized as the top television comedy.
It was a three-hour broadcast stuffed with upsets and politically charged messages, as well as a ribald opening monologue and plenty of profanity-filled acceptance speeches that gave censors agita. It was also an evening in which cable television and traditional studios roared back to life. Heading into the telecast, the Globes were widely expected to serve as a coronation of sorts for Netflix, the streaming service that entered the evening with a leading 34 nominations. Instead, Netflix was virtually shut out, picking up only two prizes for Olivia Colman’s leading performance in “The Crown” and for Laura Dern’s supporting work in “Marriage Story.”
Other big winners included best foreign language honoree, “Parasite,” a twisty South Korean thriller that examines issues of income inequality; and “Chernobyl,” an unlikely water-cooler hit about a nuclear disaster, which was named best TV movie or mini-series.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was the big victor on the film front, earning three prizes, including awards for screenplay and for Brad Pitt’s supporting performance as a washed-up stunt man. “1917” had an unexpectedly strong showing. In addition to its drama win, it picked up a director prize for Sam Mendes, who had been expected to lose to the heavily favored Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) or Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”). “The Irishman,” a hugely expensive mob saga from Netflix, was completely shut out despite five nods.
In a night where the awards were pretty spread out, “Chernobyl,” “Fleabag” and “Succession” were all the most lauded television shows, earning two awards apiece. HBO, flying the flag for cable broadcasters, earned the most wins, with four, including prizes for “Chernobyl” and “Succession,” while two streaming upstarts, Hulu and Amazon, came in second, with two statues each; Hulu’s came for “Ramy” and “The Act,” while Amazon was recognized for “Fleabag.”
In one of a series of stunners, “Rocketman” star Taron Egerton messed up awards sages’ brackets with his victory as best actor in a musical over Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name”) and Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). Ramy Youssef scored a surprise win for his work in “Ramy,” the well-reviewed, but underseen show about a first-generation American Muslim in New Jersey. “I know you guys haven’t seen my show,” he joked. “Everyone is like, ‘Is this an editor?’” Youssef may not be a household name — yet — but he still managed to beat out such major stars as Michael Douglas (“The Kominsky Method”) and Bill Hader (“Barry”) to pick up his prize.
In another surprise, “Missing Link,” Laika’s stop-motion animated film that was a box office bomb, earned the award for best animated feature over blockbusters like “Toy Story 4” and “The Lion King.” Director and writer Chris Butler proclaimed himself “flabbergasted” while accepting the award, looking genuinely shocked instead of just engaging in false modesty.
Best actor in a drama winner Joaquin Phoenix became one of the rare performers recognized for a comic book movie, though the film in question, the dark and R-rated “Joker,” is dramatically different than the typical, inspirational superhero fare. Accepting the award, Phoenix dropped multiple f-bombs, but in a bit that made it past the censors, managed to thank his director Todd Phillips, saying, “I’m such a pain in the ass. I can’t believe you put up with me.”
Renée Zellweger was honored as best actress in a drama for her chameleonic transformation into troubled singer Judy Garland in “Judy,” while “The Farewell’s” Awkwafina picked up a best actress in a comedy prize for playing a young woman who fakes a wedding to please her dying grandmother. “If I fall upon hard times I can sell this, so that’s good,” Awkwafina joked.
“Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge added a Globe to a trophy case that’s already filled with Emmys, picking up a statue in the lead comedy actress category for her work in front of the camera. In a pair of wry speeches, she called her critically adored, comic look at a troubled woman in London, “a little scrap of a show” and also thanked President Barack Obama for putting the series on his best of the year list.
Brian Cox nabbed best actor in a TV drama for his portrayal of a Machiavellian CEO in “Succession.” His television alter-ego is believed to have been inspired by Rupert Murdoch. Russell Crowe was recognized for his portrayal of one of Murdoch’s top allies, Fox News founder Roger Ailes, in Showtime’s “The Loudest Voice.” However, Crowe wasn’t on hand to accept his honor as the best actor in a limited series or motion picture made for television, because he’s in Australia where his home is being threatened by the devastating bush fires. In a statement, Crowe said, “Make no mistake, the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate-change based.” Phoenix and presenters such as Cate Blanchett and Pierce Brosnan also expressed solidarity with the victims of the natural disaster.
Both Patricia Arquette, the winner of best supporting actress in a miniseries or TV movie for “The Act,” and Michelle Williams, recognized for her performance as best actress in a miniseries or TV movie, used their time at the microphone to implore people to vote. Arquette, discussing the mounting possibility of a war between the United States and Iran, urged viewers to make themselves heard at the ballot box, saying, “I beg of us all to give [our kids] a better world.” Williams gave a deeply personal defense of abortion rights. “I know my choices might look different than yours, but thank God or whomever you pray to that we live in a country founded on the principal that I am free to live by my faith and you are free to live by yours,” she said.
The Globes don’t command the respect that the Oscars do, but they can make for more compelling television. They’re a decidedly looser affair, one in which the booze flows freely and the crowd is littered with A-listers who seem to be enjoying the Champagne. It’s the kind of evening where winners can miss picking up their statue because of an ill-timed bathroom break, as Christine Lahti did at the 1988 ceremony.
Host Ricky Gervais’ opening monologue was a bleep-filled one, during which he poked fun at an often stone-faced crowd of moguls and movie stars, joking about everything from Joe Pesci’s resemblance to Baby Yoda to Hollywood’s flexible moral compass (sample joke: “If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent”). Gervais dropped at least one four-letter word and offered up a bit about Judi Dench getting into character for “Cats” by licking her nether regions that was heavily censored. Portions of the audience appeared to be unamused.
The Globes are voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., a group of roughly 90 journalists, who have been criticized for being too insular and clubby. In contrast, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, boasts more than 7,000 voting members who work in the film business, and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which awards the Emmys, has more than 18,000 members.
The annual ceremony is an essential awards season stop for movie studios, but it is not always an accurate bellwether for future Oscars success. In 2017, for instance, the Globes went with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” for best picture, drama, over eventual Academy Award victor “The Shape of Water.” And in 2015, “The Revenant” beat out “Spotlight” at the Globes only to lose to the newspaper drama at the Oscars. Last year’s winners did align, with “Green Book” nabbing the best drama prize en route to its Oscar night triumph.
Gervais didn’t spare the HFPA in this broadcast, saying that the plant-based dinner they served attendees was apt because the group was made up of vegetables. He also joked that they had missed his recent controversial jokes about the trans community on social media because “they have no idea what Twitter is.”
It’s not just Gervais who was responsible for controversy at this year’s telecast. The film-directing race failed to include any female filmmakers, shutting out the likes of Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) and Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”). The show has nominated only five female directors over the course of its nearly eight-decade history and handed the award to a just one woman filmmaker, Barbra Streisand for “Yentl.” There had been mutterings that there might be some kind of public demonstration during the ceremony, but the snubbing went largely unremarked about during the telecast, save for one attempt at a joke by Gervais.
“I’ve had a word with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and they have guaranteed this will never happen again,” he said. “Working with all the major studios, they agreed to go back to the way things were when they didn’t hire women directors. That will solve the problem. You’re welcome.”
The broadcast wasn’t just a chance to gawk at celebrities. It was also an opportunity to take stock of a media business in the throes of dramatic changes. This year’s crop of awards contenders didn’t just hail from film studios and broadcast and cable networks. They were also the work of tech giants such as Apple (“The Morning Show”) and streaming players such as Netflix (“Marriage Story,” “The Crown”).
The awards were also being handed out as traditional entertainment companies are preparing to embark on a major pivot. The launch of Disney Plus in November and the upcoming debuts of streaming services from Comcast (Peacock) and WarnerMedia (HBO Max) may upend the old ways of distributing and monetizing content and usher in a new era in Hollywood. These changes mean that the Golden Globes in 2021 could unfold against a landscape that is dramatically altered from the one in which they are being handed out this year.
At the start of the broadcast, Gervais alluded to these changes, joking “No one cares about movies anymore. No one goes to cinemas. No one really watched network TV. Everyone’s watching Netflix. This show should just be me coming out and going, ‘Well done, Netflix. You win everything.”
It turns out, Gervais spoke too soon. In the end it was Sony, which doesn’t have a streaming service, and HBO, which is still awaiting the big bow of HBO Max, that won the most prizes. For a night, at least, old Hollywood still reigned.