[13 January 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
As a predictor of future Oscar glory, we have long since given up on the Golden Globes. Thanks to their desire to bifurcate categories (Picture, Actor, Actress) in order to get more famous butts in their phony Awards Show seats and often puzzling nomination and voting ideals, the HFPA and the AMPAS are now functioning in two completely different worlds. The Academy Award is now more easily predicted based on Guild support (Writers, Directors, Producers) and actor acknowledgement (SAG) than it is on what a bunch of boozed up foreign press people (if, indeed, they are members of ANY legitimate press) think. Yes, there is cross over, but for the most part, the Golden Globes are like a bad TV psychic. They get so much wrong that their often “correct” predictions seem specious as well.
This year may be no different than any other. Spreading the wealth a bit, the Globes gave out their shiny gold orbs last night, and when all was said and done, American Hustle was the big winner, taking home three of the top trophies. Jennifer Lawrence snagged a Best Supporting Actress win (she’s now won two years in a row), while Amy Adams stunned with her surprise win for Best Actress/Musical or Comedy (over Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks). As many predicted, Cate Blanchett walked away with the other Best Actress/Drama trophy for her work in Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine, and Jared Leto earned his way to possible Oscar acknowledgement as Best Supporting Actor for Dallas Buyers Club. His controversial speech, however, may have cost him some votes in the eyes of his SAG and AMPAS peers (some are calling it homophobic).
Perhaps the night’s biggest shock came in Best Actor-ville. Matthew McConaughey beat out sure thing Chiwetel Ejiofor in the Drama category, his work as a man dying of AIDS trumping 400 years of African American history and horror, and late comer Leonardo DiCaprio earned a trophy for his turn as hedonistic conman Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. His competition was interesting, to say the least. The HFPA nominated Bruce Dern for the far more dramatic Nebraska, Christian Bale for Hustle, Oscar Isaac for the Coen Brothers dark show biz allegory Inside Llewyn Davis, and Joaquin Phoenix for Her. While most critics groups picked Ejiofor almost overwhelming to take home many trophies for his work as freeman turned slave Solomon Northup in Steve McQueen‘s brilliant 12 Years a Slave, it’s clear that, in at least some people’s minds, it’s now a three-way race.
As for that heralded look at America’s tainted history, it was not a good night. 12 Years a Slave did go on to win Best Picture/Drama but that’s it. Nothing else from out of seven nominations: Best Score, Best Screenplay, Best Director (McQueen), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Support Actress (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Actor/Drama (Ejiofor) and Best Picture/Drama, it won the final one. To say the pundits were stunned is an understatement. For months now, 12 Years has been seen as the film to beat, with guaranteed wins for its star, at least one of its supporting players, and McQueen. Some have even speculated that since he becomes only the second African American ever to be nominated by the DGA, his win both there and at the Oscars is almost a social engineering given (read: Tinsel town making up for its horrifically institutional prejudices).
Instead of McQueen, it was Alfonso Cuaron who won for his exciting technological dog and pony show, Gravity, while Alex Ebert took home the trophy for Best Score (for All Is Lost). Her, Spike Jonze‘s terrific deconstruction of human relationships via inhuman methods banked a well deserved Best Screenplay win while U2 managed to triumph with a song (“Ordinary Love”) from a film (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) that no one but Harvey Weinstein seems to care about. In fact, the Best Animation winner, Frozen, has at least three tunes that trump the aging rockers in both style and standard show biz splash. Star power at work, once again. The last surprise of the night was reserved for Best Foreign Film. Since it was ineligible for Academy consideration, many believed Blue Is the Warmest Color would walk away with the little gold orb. Instead, it was beaten out by Italy’s The Great Beauty, which also trumped the terrific Danish entry The Hunt, the latest from A Separation winner Asghar Farhadi (The Past) and Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises.
Where this leaves all of these films is anyone’s guess. By numbers alone, American Hustle‘s three wins and Dallas Buyer’s Club and Wolf of Wall Street‘s two seem to suggest a kind of cracked front runner status. One imagines everyone congratulated Sunday night will be waking up bright and early on January 17th to hear their names called out as Oscar nominees. So will many of the ‘losers’ in these categories. In the race for Best Actress, few will find room for Ms. Adams in the ongoing love affair with Ms. Blanchett’s showboating turn as Allen’s post-modern Blanche Dubois and since it will be shuttled off to Best Original Screenplay land for its Academy run, Her remains another sure thing. And still, there’s that nagging concern about what the near snubbing of 12 Years a Slave actually means. Perhaps it’s true what some industry insiders believe: that other countries around the world could give a crap about America’s mea culpa for their horrific, hate-filled legacy.
It could also be a problem of peaking too soon. Remember, 12 Years a Slave came out in October which in Hollywood is a lifetime ago. Yes, it wowed audiences and critics alike with its raw, emotional portrait of the South’s pre-Civil War legacy, but the two and a half months in between has seen Leo and his coke snorting lads become the subject of hundreds of half-baked media “Open Letters” while David O. Russell’s ABSCAM rewrite has divided those who believe it’s a masterful postmodern comedy and others who find it as full of bull as the hucksters on display. As more and more of these champagne and backslapping events occur, the picture will become predictable enough, and Oscar always loves to throw a few spanners into the works just to stay relevant (Argo? Yes. Eventual DGA winner Ben Affleck? NOT EVEN NOMINATED). One thing’s for sure, the Golden Globes have proven once again that, instead of clarifying the year-end Best-ofs, the HFPA does a decent job of muddying already cloudy waters, just like they do every year.