THERE ARE now so many film awards ceremonies every winter, and so many websites and magazine columns devoted to analysing their results, that it is rare for a prize to go anywhere unexpected. That is why the Golden Globes are so fun. By the time the awards season finishes with the Oscars, which are held on February 24th this year, most pundits have a fair idea of which trophy is going to end up on which mantelpiece, but the Golden Globes, as the season’s first big bash, take place before a consensus has formed.
Timing aside, the Globes are unpredictable simply because their selection of winners is often so eccentric as to be baffling. One of the few awards ceremonies to cover both television as well as film, the event showcases the taste of the 93 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (in comparison, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has over 8,000 voters), and you can never tell what they will go for. That was emphatically the case on January 6th.
Some of the preferences were in line with those voiced most widely on social media and in the press. “Roma”, Alfonso Cuarón’s widely acclaimed black-and-white memoir of his childhood in Mexico City, won Best Director and Best Foreign Language film. It is a dead cert to win in the latter category on Oscar night. “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” was named Best Animated Feature Film, and rightly so. As well as being an exhilaratingly kinetic superhero movie, the cartoon is an innovative work of pop art which leaps above most Disney or Pixar offerings.
Olivia Colman, who is fast approaching “National Treasure” status in Britain, was a popular choice for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for her tragicomic characterisation of Queen Anne in “The Favourite”, and no one could begrudge Glenn Close’s win in the Drama category for “The Wife”: the two women are now neck-and-neck to win the Best Actress statuette at the Oscars. Film enthusiasts were also happy to see “First Man”, Damien Chazelle’s melancholy Neil Armstrong docudrama (Best Film Score), and Barry Jenkins’s lyrical adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel, “If Beale Street Could Talk” (Regina King, Best Supporting Actress), being acknowledged.
Other prizes were more puzzling. Bradley Cooper’s tear-jerking remake of “A Star Is Born” was tipped to be the evening’s big victor, having been nominated in five categories, but in fact its only win was for Best Original Song. In its place, the Golden Globes’ surprise champions were “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, both of which are the kind of nostalgic, superficially progressive but largely conservative crowd-pleasers which the Oscars were notorious for honouring in the 1980s.
“Green Book”, directed and co-written by Peter Farrelly, tells the true story of Don Shirley, a black jazz pianist, and Tony Vallelonga, a white chauffeur, who toured the Jim Crow south in 1962. Some of Shirley’s relations have complained that the film misrepresents the two men’s friendship, and downplays the dangers Shirley faced, but it won Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) and Best Screenplay.
Similarly, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a biopic of Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury, has been denounced for being prudish about his hedonism and his bisexuality, and, for that matter, for being pedestrian and formulaic. More controversially, its credited director (who left before the end of the production) is Bryan Singer, the subject of several sexual-abuse allegations; some commentators have objected to his being celebrated so soon after the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Nonetheless, Rami Malek (pictured), who plays Mercury, won Best Actor in a Drama, and the film won the ceremony’s most prestigious award, Best Drama. A good choice? No. But a surprising one, at least—and that’s what the Golden Globes are for.