Once a year, Americans pay close attention to what a small group of foreigners have to say. That time is upon us again with the announcement of the Golden Globe nominations. Treated as the Thanksgiving before the Oscars Christmas, the Golden Globe nominations are considered the opening bell of the Awards season and have acquired a reputation for being a harbinger of what the Academy Awards may bring. Let’s take a look and see what their sooth-saying says about the coming trophy season.
If the Best Motion Picture categories (remember, those foreigners - the Hollywood Foreign Press Association - insist on dividing their categories between drama and comedy rather than doing what we Americans do, which is just have one catch-all category, thereby effectively ignoring comedies because, you know, nothing funny can ever really be Important or Oscar-worthy) are any indication, then 2009’s awards season, like the economy, is going to be depressed and depressing.
What the Golden Globes nominations say about the awards season
All five of the nominations in the drama category are either small-scaled boutique films or serious dramas with limited commercial reach. The two possible exceptions are “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” “Benjamin Button’s” break-out potential resides in its brand-name pedigree: Brad Pitt playing against Cate Blanchett in an adaption of the F. Scott Fitzgerald directed by “Fight Club” director David Fincher. “Slumdog Millionaire,” meanwhile, may just prove to be an unexpected hit for the best of all possible reasons: It’s a great movie. Directed by Danny (“Trainspotting”) Boyle, it’s a dashing, dizzying plunge into the street life of Mumbai, India. In every way a movie can - the visuals, the editing, the storytelling technique, the music - “Slumdog” creates an unfamiliar but captivating experience.
In the three other films, you have a political boxing match in “Frost/Nixon”; a Holocaust drama, “The Reader”; and a movie that explores the empty, crushing sterility of suburban America, “Revolutionary Road.” Oh, boy. It’s this kind of list that Hollywood is dreading come Oscar nomination time, because ratings have proven that unless there is some Big Movie, like “Lord of the Rings,” viewership of the Oscar-night broadcast drops. That explains why in the last couple of weeks there has been rising chorus of calls for “The Dark Knight” - the year’s biggest movie - to be nominated as Best Film.
The only nom the latest Batman movie got here is the expected Supporting Actor nod for Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. The Best Motion Picture nominations in the comedy category mostly serve to underscore what happens when the foreign press is doing the nominating, with selections such as the slight and forgettable “In Bruges” and the sweet but little seen “Happy-Go-Lucky.” “Mamma Mia!” may have been fun and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” may have been another solid Woody Allen film and “Burn After Reading” may have been passably smart and funny, but none of these films is going to be a factor come Oscar time.
The only surprise in the best actor nominations is that “Milk” wasn’t nominated for anything other than Sean Penn’s amazing performance. It’s a great movie and both it and director Gus Van Sant deserve nominations - more than can be said for the other big-buzz performance, Mickey Rourke’s turn as an aging wrestlng star in “The Wrestler.” The same is true of “Rachel Getting Married” and Anne Hathaway’s performance. She is great, but so are the movie and Jonathan Demme’s direction. Meryl Streep’s nomination for her performance as the indomitable nun in “Doubt” is the first official notice of yet another incredible performance from the person it’s getting harder not to declare the world’s greatest living (or dead?) actor.
On the television side, the nominations just served as further confirmation of cable’s ascendance. Not a single broadcast show was named in the Best Drama category, and in the acting categories, a couple of broadcast entries squeezed into the actress category with Sally Field for “Brothers & Sisters” and Mariska Hargitay for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” while Hugh Laurie for “House” was the lone broadcast entry on the men’s side.
Drama seems to be a dying art in broadcast television - a trend underscored by NBC’s announcement this week of its plan to put Jay Leno and his new talk show on at 10 p.m. EST five nights a week, the traditional prime slot for serious (and expensive) TV dramas, when Conan O’Brien takes over the “Tonight Show.” The only spark of life broadcast TV still has in scripted entertainment production is on the comedy side. And in the comedy or musical category, the broadcast networks managed to get not one but two nominations with the red-hot “30 Rock” and “The Office,” alongside cable-comedy stalwarts “Entourage,” “Weeds” and “Californication.”
The broadcast networks fared even better in the comedy acting categories, racking up three of the five noms on the actress side - Christina Applegate for “Samantha Who?,” America Ferrera for “Ugly Betty and Tina Fey for “30 Rock” - and two for the actors - Alec Baldwin for “30 Rock” and Steve Carrell for “The Office.”