Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How The Golden Globes Kicked Off Kudos Season

In the Golden Globes preview issue of Daily Variety, Glenn Whipp writes, "The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has long touted its Golden Globes Awards as being able to predict, and possibly influence, which movies and performances will be nominated for the Oscars."

Nominations? Yeah, sure, probably. But nominations are a dime a dozen, more so this year than ever with a whopping 10 slots for Best Picture. But in terms of Best Pic winners, the tastes of the HFPA haven't exactly mirrored that of our own Academy Members back home: over the last five years, only one Best Picture has synced up - last year's Slumdog Millionaire.

In terms of performers, they've been slightly more successful: three out of five most recent Best Actors (Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood, Forrest Whitaker for Last King of Scotland, and Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote) and the same ratio for Best Actresses (Helen Mirren for The Queen, Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line, which counts although she won the Globe for the Musical/Comedy category, and Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby. Last year, Kate Winslet won both the Globe and the Oscar, but for different films).

So what light can this year's Golden Globe winners/nominees shed on the upcoming Oscars in March? Hell if I know - I didn't even watch Sunday night's broadcast.

To see what I have to say anyway, click

With the NFL playoffs well under way, I can't help inviting comparisons to Awards Season in the Industry. There's a plethora of lesser awards shows, presented by the critics and by the various guilds (screen actors, producers, directors, and writers); these are like the wild card rounds. Then there are the Golden Globes decided by the Foreign Press; this is like the conference championships. Then come the Oscars, which, obviously, can be compared to the biggest contest in professional football, the World Series.

Obviously it's not perfectly analogous, as the losing movies aren't eliminated, and the winning movies don't advance, at least not in any sanctioned way. Studies have shown that award-winning films get somewhat of a bump at the box office, and they certainly get more press. It might be more accurate to describe the process as an elaborate network of awards shows, each specialized and subdivided in its own way, all feeding into the Oscars.

First you have the critics, who judge with no credentials except their affinity for judgment. They vote on just about everything: acting, directing, writing, editing, special effects, music. These winners represent the thinking man's choices. Critics tend to know a lot about what makes a good film or performance, but for the most part they have little to no experience actually creating one. They certainly have a viewpoint with which the average audience member can identify, even if it's a viewpoint somewhat devoid of authority.

For authority, we look to the guilds, who vote only on categories reflecting their areas of expertise. The actors vote on individual performances or ensemble casts. The directors vote on directors. The writers vote on screenplays. The producers vote on the general quality of projects. These are industry professionals giving their opinions on their peers, judging a craft in which they have a wealth of firsthand knowledge and experience.

Then we have the Golden Globes. Voted on by the H'wood Foreign Press, a group consisting of 90 members, all affiliated with press associations outside the US. Quite an eclectic and exclusive crew, and yet because of their lobbying power, they're somehow in control of the second-most prestigious kudocast of the season. It's funny how the Industry works - the more you look into it and the less you take for granted, the less any of it makes sense...

So the people who vote on these lower-tier awards shows can be categorized into guys whose opinions you'd like to trust but have no real experience, guys who know what they're talking about but only in very specific areas, and a bunch of snooty foreigners. What' the use of all this variety? you may ask. Why not just focus on the big show that everyone votes for?

Well, this is how awards season is like playoff season. Once the nominations are in, Oscar voters get to vote on every category. The one exception is the Best Foreign Film category, for which potential voters must sign a release assuring the Academy that they have seen every film in contention. Other categories don't have this caveat, because the mainstream films have already received so much coverage, not only in the media, but also in other awards shows. Sure, every Academy Member should see every nominated movie before sending in their Oscar ballots, but who has that kind of time? Why not just take the opinion of other industry professionals, who've already sounded off in their guild-specific award shows, and start your decision process from there?

But since none of the broadcasts focusing on the industry professionals have gone up yet, we only have the Critics Choice Awards with which to cross reference the Globe winners. Let's see what we can learn from them:

Of the Critics' group of 10 noms for best picture (aping the Academy's new format), only Up and An Education were absent from the Globes list of 10 - although the HFPA separates theirs into drama and comedy, with animated features ineligible, since they have their own category. Critics everywhere are high on The Hurt Locker, while the HFPA went the populist route and selected sci-fi mega-epic Avatar. Rather than spread the wealth around, they also bestowed the best director mantle upon Avatar helmer James Cameron. The critics followed the same format, awarding best director to the topper of the best picture.

The screenplay format is different for each show, but both groups agreed on rewarding the snappy writing of Up In The Air - the Globes gave it best screenplay, the critics awarding it best adapted screenplay. (Their best original screenplay went to Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds. Ironic that a guy wins an award for screenwriting when he... can't... even spell... the title correctly......)

Jeff Bridges picked up best actor from both groups for Crazy Heart. As far as actresses, both were on exactly the same page, despite the differing formats. The Golden Globes for drama and comedy went to Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep, respectively - and the Critics Choice Awards somehow ended in a tie with those same two actresses atop the best actress category. Supporting actor and actress also synced up perfectly: Christoph Waltz and Mo'nique for Inglourious and Precious.

It's of course too early in the game to make any significant predictions, especially before anyone who actually, you know, works in the industry has voted yet. But it appears that the consensus is pretty clear in most of the big categories. There are still plenty of storylines to play out, so stay tuned. Because we all know that showbiz awards are a complete and accurate measure, not only of the qualities of films, but of the qualities of American life as well.