'Tourist' nomination tarnishes Golden Globes

by Robert W. Butler

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

1 January 2011


Film critics will always disagree over whether a movie is good, bad or simply indifferent. It comes with the territory, and usually nobody makes a big deal of it.

Today I’m going to make a big deal of it. Because what I see happening with the latest slate of Golden Globe nominations bothers me. In fact, it’s got me steamed.

“The Tourist” was nominated for best picture comedy/musical, and the film’s stars, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, were nominated for best actor and actress, comedy/musical.

So what?

Well, you wouldn’t say that if you’d sat through “The Tourist.”

Here’s a film that should have been a joy but that was described by a friend as keeping him “on the edge of my sleep.”

This stillborn comedy/thriller features two of our most charismatic and talented stars and still managed to be dreadful.

It was directed and co-written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose excellent “The Lives of Others” won the Oscar for foreign language film in 2007. Among its screenwriters were Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) and Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”).

In other words, this flick had a pedigree a mile long. It should have been terrific.

The reviews were scathing. According to the critics poll on www.RottenTomatoes.com, the film scored 4.3 out of 10, a flunking grade. The site also evaluated audience response at 3.6 out of 5, or basically a “C.”

Does that sound like one of the year’s best films to you?

But “The Tourist” is great stuff if you’re to take seriously the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, whose 80-some members nominate and vote on the Golden Globes.

My charitable side wants to write it off to cultural differences (these are foreigners, after all). That might explain why the Globes shut out the Coen brothers’ “True Grit,” a hugely enjoyable Western that brilliantly toys with the American vernacular. After all, when English is your second language ...

Actually, I don’t think the answer is that benign.

As in so many things, when looking for ulterior motives, you have only to follow the money.

Fact: Selling broadcast rights to the Golden Globes ceremony (airing Jan. 16) is how the Hollywood Foreign Press Association pays its bills (NBC is ponying up $6 million a year).

Fact: The Globes are regarded as the industry’s most enjoyable awards gala, in large part because the stars sit at tables and can imbibe all evening. This loosens tongues and inhibitions, and that can make for great, unpredictable television. The Oscar telecast is staid and stodgy by comparison.

Fact: The more major stars the Golden Globes can deliver on awards night, the more viewers will watch and the more advertisers will clamor for a piece of the broadcast. And that jacks up what the Globes can charge for broadcast rights down the line.

Even if Depp and Jolie gave career-low performances in “The Tourist,” they’re still among a handful of the world’s biggest movie stars. Both are fairly private people who try to avoid the limelight when not promoting a film, so having them show up for the Globes would be a big coup for the association.

Not to mention that if Jolie’s companion Brad Pitt accompanies her, you have a terrific two-for-one deal.

Am I being too hard on the Globe folk? Am I impugning their honesty?

Uh, yes.

If I thought this year’s nominations represented the aesthetic feelings of the group’s members, I’d let it pass. But I don’t and I won’t.

The group’s reputation for being ethically challenged goes back at least to 198 2, when the group named Pia Zadora the best new star for her work in the repulsive “Butterfly.” Later it was revealed that Zadora’s millionaire husband paid for a Las Vegas vacation for Globe voters.

La La Land is abuzz over the revelation that before the announcement of this year’s nominations, Sony Pictures flew association members to Las Vegas for a live show by Cher, which was followed by a meet-and-greet with her diva-ness.

Sony was the distributor for Cher’s so-so “Burlesque” and “The Tourist.”

Lo and behold, the Globes nominated both “Burlesque” and “The Tourist” for best picture comedy/musical.

Another black eye: Several association members appear in Sofia Coppola’s upcoming film “Somewhere” (they play foreign journalists). Guess what celeb was on hand when the Globe nominations were announced: Sofia Coppola.

Cozy, eh?

Part of me says that this is business as usual for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and we ought to just shrug it off.

Except that it demeans the only thing that I or any other critic has to offer: an honest opinion.

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