At the Golden Globes, the Movie Awards Test Drive the How-Does-It-Feel? Factor (Column)

Whether you believe, as I do, that the Golden Globes, for a dozen years now, have been noodging their way up the chain of respectability, to the point that many viewers at home now take them nearly as seriously as the Academy Awards; or whether you believe that the Globes have, and deserve, no more respectability today than they’ve ever had … regardless of where you come down on that, you could have a lively debate about how much the Globes do (or do not) forecast the Oscars. But since that’s my colleague Marc Malkin’s beat, I won’t get into the prediction game.

What fascinates me about the Golden Globes is the degree to which they’ve gathered up the potential to influence the Oscars, even if they’re not theoretically supposed to. The Globes, after all, are voted on by the 85 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a Star Chamber of junketeers who, at this year’s ceremony, were lethally skewered by their own host (Ricky Gervais: “As you know, the meal tonight was all vegetables. As are the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press”). Whereas the Oscars are voted on by a vast and increasingly diverse ocean of people from the movie industry. (The total membership of AMPAS is now 9,226, nearly double what it was a decade ago.)

Yet if the two events, in theory, are supposed to have little to do with each other, that’s not how perception and reality work. Ever since the awards season became a six-month-long military blitz, with every brick in the road to Oscar glory linked, in ineffable ways, to every other brick, there’s no separating out what happens at the Golden Globes from its potential effect on the greater media/publicity ecosphere. Even the nature of Oscar campaigning, as it’s been ratcheted up in recent years, has come to lend a strange credibility to the Globes. The members of the HFPA have forever been mocked for voting for the folks who are most deft at schmoozing them — but the Oscars, too, are now greased by more than their share of meet-and-greet events. So who’s standing on the high ground? Maybe no one.

What seems inarguable is that the Globes have the power to act, in each category, as a dry run for the Oscars. And to the extent that the two ceremonies now enjoy a symbiotic relationship, what Golden Globes night can come down to is a way of asking, about the winners, and assorted movies and trends and dark horses: How does it feel? How does it feel when this wins? How does it feel when that loses? After watching the Globes, we kind of know. Here are a handful of instances from this year that illustrate that:

How did it feel when Martin Scorsese and “The Irishman” got snubbed? I love the movie, yet it felt oddly livable — less a scandal than a non-shocking judgment call. It’s telling, I think, that throughout the evening, there was such an ongoing atmosphere of tribute to Scorsese coming from the people onstage that you realized the reverence for “The Irishman” might not be as strong as the reverence for its director. And what you could sense, just maybe, was an underlying skepticism of the Netflix factor. The movie may be piped into 10 zillion homes, but in another sense it’s still not totally out there. How ironic it is that in the year of Scorsese’s criticism of Marvel, the HFPA members were saying, in essence: “The Irishman” felt less like cinema to them than “1917” did. Or maybe they just really, really like Sam Mendes. Which leads me to ask…

How did it feel when “1917” won best picture drama and Sam Mendes won best director? In this case, my personal taste may be speaking too loudly, but I don’t think it felt very good. Granted, the picture hasn’t had a chance to get out there yet (it opens wide this coming weekend). And when it does, maybe a rousing reaction on the part of audiences will bolster its awards mojo. My feeling, however, is that “1917,” with its look-ma-no-hands! one-shot gimmickry (please explain to me why this is more than a stunt), is a video game for fanboys posing as a drop-dead serious war movie. I think it would likely prove to be one of the most joylessly dutiful and uninspiring Oscar winners in memory. To me, seeing Mendes get up there instead of directors who made far more indelible (and celebrated) movies this year just didn’t feel right.

How did it feel when Renée Zellweger won for best actress in a drama? It felt like a classic awards win by a classically deserving — and classy — winner. Which is to say, it felt like a warm-up to next month’s victory. Does that mean that a Zellweger Oscar win for her bravura performance in “Judy” is assured? Not necessarily. And once again, I’m not predicting. I’m just saying: When she took the stage, the good vibes fell into place.

How did it feel when Joaquin Phoenix won for best actor in a drama? As celebrated as his performance in “Joker” is, Phoenix had a certain karma to overcome — an anxiety about the movie itself being too extreme. He laid those fears to rest, I think, by giving a speech that reflected his own dark-side edginess and, at the same time, transcended it. Phoenix is a contradiction: a vegan who looks like he wouldn’t necessarily be a friend to small animals. But that’s what makes him such a charismatic hellion of a less-than-perfect, real-deal human being. (No one who drops this many F–bombs can be called a vegetable.) In that sense, he represented his own audacious artistry with a beautiful, fits-right integrity, essentially making the statement that his acting, like “Joker” itself, took risks and transgressed — but not because he, or the movie, didn’t care.

How did it feel when Awkwafina won best actress in a musical or comedy? It felt just right, because in “The Farewell” she’s nothing short of splendid, and no declaration of diversity in the entertainment industry ever feels half as good as one that’s fully earned.

How did it feel when “Parasite” won for best foreign language film? It felt majestic, because the words spoken by its writer-director, Bong Joon Ho (“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many amazing films”) represented what could be the doorway to a new renaissance age of foreign-language cinema crossing over to mainstream audiences. I’m not saying that this is going to catch fire overnight (though maybe it already has). But what seemed, with “Roma,” to be a one-shot supernova now seems, with “Parasite,” to be an unmistakable trend, perhaps analogous to the rise of documentaries. The success of “Parasite” represents the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles being smashed down, maybe by a new generation.

How did it feel when “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” won all those awards — for best screenplay, best picture musical or comedy, and best supporting actor? Quentin Tarantino has won Golden Globes before, but taken together his film’s big wins added up to a rollicking party that everyone was more than happy to be invited to. Brad Pitt’s win for best supporting actor felt as smoothly satisfying as the performance he was being honored for; no one in Hollywood today has the sheer movie-star élan that he does. And while I can’t speak to whether “OUATIH” will take the Oscar for best picture, what I can say, after last night, is that if it does win, it’s going to leave everyone feeling buzzed, because the idea that it’s now Quentin’s time could prove to be the ultimate fairy-tale ending for a movie that says to its audience, “Once Upon a Time…”

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