Golden Globes likely to be all over the map

critical eye

January 11, 2009|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,

The only time this critic has ever won an awards-prediction race was for the 2005 Golden Globes (awarded in 2006, of course). Becoming part of award maven Tom O'Neil's Gold Derby poll that year for the first and only time, I tore through the list late one night and predicted all the major awards (both ones I agreed with, such as Walk the Line for best musical or comedy, and ones I disagreed with, such as Brokeback Mountain for best drama).

It proved to me that the Golden Globes are so crazy even a critic allergic to glitziness can sometimes get them right.

O'Neil, who devotes himself to awards with unrelenting gusto, has long-defended the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Golden Globes' voting membership, against charges that it's made up of lightweight, part-time journalists. He notes in his 2001 book, Movie Awards: The Ultimate, Unofficial Guide, that over one three-decade period, "23 of Oscar's Best Actors (77 percent) and 24 Best Actresses (80 percent) were previous Globe winners for the same roles."

FOR THE RECORD - An article about the Golden Globes in the You Arts & Entertainment section Sunday misstated the award Milk won from the National Society of Film Critics; it was best actor, for Sean Penn, not best picture.

But the chances of agreement are highly inflated, since the Globes hand out separate awards for drama and "musical or comedy" in the best picture, best actor and best actress categories. Indeed, everything O'Neil says defending the HFPA - out of his indisputably sincere love for handicapping the horse race - undercuts their credibility. Noting "a few departures in the early years suggest that the HFPA membership might have been religious: The Song of Bernadette, The Robe and The Cardinal," O'Neil adds, "That's probably not the case nowadays. ... Since it's the job of the 90 foreign journalists who belong to the HFPA to pay special attention to breakout new stars and hot new movies while reporting for newspapers and other media back home, they often fawn over sexy megastars who've been ignored at the Oscars, such as Sharon Stone, Jim Carrey, John Travolta and Tom Cruise."

In details that don't encourage as much optimism about the group as O'Neil might think, he writes that since 1995, members must sign waivers "attesting that they accepted no gifts from the studios other than customary promotional items. Also they must submit at least four article clippings per year. ... [and the group] must admit at least five new members every year. (There had been complaints about members' credentials and about HFPA behaving cliquishly.)"

So it fits metaphorically and practically that the Golden Globes' nominees often roam all over the map. This year, after the Globes omitted Milk from its best picture category, even O'Neil had to admit, "Over the past three years, [the Globes and Oscars] disagreed on best picture," and that "dispensing separate kudos for drama and comedy-musical races ... makes comparisons to the Oscars difficult" - though he couldn't resist saying, "In the past 64 years, the Oscars have validated one of the Golden Globe top pics 42 times."

Will that happen this year? Probably. After all, with 10 titles to choose from, the HFPA has homed in on some likely candidates: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire and Frost/Nixon. The group has also, especially in its musical or comedy category, thrown attention to deserving smaller movies that just might take home some Academy Awards, such as Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, a portrait of a schoolteacher as an incorrigible optimist, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen's luminous display of love in all its permutations under the Iberian sun (with just the right amount of Hollywood melodrama mixed in).

How could the same organization have nominated Mamma Mia! for best picture and Meryl Streep for best actress? Well, the real question is why it didn't also nominate High School Musical 3 for best picture and Zac Efron for best actor. Obviously, the group can't help itself when it comes to cutesy kitsch - remember, the Globes once named Scent of a Woman as best picture. Like the goofy party atmosphere of the awards show, it's the nuttiness of the assortment that makes the Golden Globe nominations entertaining on a low level.

In its own way, the one association that's made me a member, the National Society of Film Critics, has often been subjected to ridicule by mainstream media for being too outre. Yet National Society awards -such as the Best Picture prizes we gave to Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy (as a piece of filmmaking far preferable to Milk) and Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet (before Leigh became an Academy Award favorite) - made me proud to be a film critic.

This year, the Society awarded Leigh best director for Happy-Go-Lucky and also honored his star, Sally Hawkins, as best actress, and her most potent antagonist, Eddie Marsan, as best supporting actor. And it named Milk for best picture and the great German performer Hanna Schygulla as best supporting actress for Edge of Heaven. For its top prize, it awarded the Israeli animated feature Waltz With Bashir. I'll save my review for the movie's opening in Baltimore later this month, but it's a gutsy, groundbreaking and, more important, sensitive and sensitizing cartoon documentary about the 1982 war in Lebanon.

It's not the kind of choice that could be made by a group partly wondering about who would look good on a party list.

on tv

The 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards will be broadcast live tonight at 8 p.m. on WBAL Channel 11.

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