Watching the publicity blitzkrieg that is the Golden Globes Monday night was kind of like going to the movies last year: Everyone was there, but nothing happened.
It was like last fall all over again. Industry heavyweights were in ubiquitous company, some stars of old Hollywood found themselves again (someone care to explain to me Tom Hank’s thing with Warren Beatty’s balls?) and inane but diverting celebrity chatter kept things moving along at an agreeable pace. But as the night hit its final stride, looking back on it was a decidedly bleak prospect.
Meryl Streep takes a top best actress award? Uh huh.
Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy take top supporting honors, and “Dreamgirls” wins best musical or comedy? It’s all right. I can take it.
“Babel” wins best drama? OK, this shit is just depressing.
The high point of the evening had to be Sacha Baron Cohen’s deadpan acceptance speech in which he paid long-winded tribute to his co-star’s anus (a location where he spends a good amount of screen time in “Borat”), but really, how much of a surprise was that? If anything, his speech was a reminder that if he had put half as much restraint into his movie, it might have actually amounted to something.
It’s no secret that year-end awards are in studio pockets in just about every way besides the literal (and even then who knows?), but never has all the faux-excitement of the season seemed so grimly determined. In the year that had “Dreamgirls” a front runner for the best picture Oscar before anyone had seen anything other than a 20-minute clip show of it, in the year when a few international stars and a knockout premise has vaulted a high-concept dud like “Babel” into the realm of high art, has the awards season finally become meaningless?
I know, I know. The Oscar nominations haven’t even been announced yet, and no one cares about the Golden Globes. Besides, say this was the Academy Awards: If you didn’t write them off when “Shakespeare in Love” won over “Saving Private Ryan,” when “Gladiator” won over “Traffic,” then last year’s left-field victory for “Crash” finished you off for good. I get it.
But with the announcement of the nominations set for Tuesday, this is not the time that. No matter your opinion of the awards season, the fact remains that Oscar consideration fundamentally shapes the way Hollywood makes and markets movies, and the awards’ influence in that respect is undeniable. Hilary Swank’s turn as a transgender youth in “Boys Don’t Cry” wouldn’t have earned half the attention it deserved had she not pushed through conventional logic and unseated Annette Bening’s real-estate agent in “American Beauty” for best actress. And with independent filmmaking making a bigger Oscar dent each year, almost every major studio has opened an art-house division, which means that without the awards, it’s very possible some of the great films of recent years would never have been made (Universal’s Focus division alone is responsible “Lost in Translation,” “Brokeback Mountain” and your beloved “Eternal Sunshine”). The awards mean something whether or not we want them to, so we may as well enjoy them.
That said, there’s not going to be many smiles if next week’s nominations go to route of the Globes, celebrating the mediocre because that’s where the money and the primetime prestige is. “Children of Men” and “Letters From Iwo Jima,” two films dropped into December by chance, and “United 93,” released last April, have all become calling cards for dissidents who argue that 2006’s few anomalies of great moviemaking are being cast away in lieu of better commercial prospects. None of the three was nominated in the Golden Globes’ best-picture contests.
Can these movies give the Oscars the hope that was so absent from the Globes? That depends if the Academy can get past the labels. “Iwo Jima” is a Japanese-language war movie that includes scenes of American atrocity, “United 93” is an unflinching incarnation of national tragedy and “Children of Men” is a starling, at times terrifying vision of dystopia with a final battle sequence that inescapably recalls images of Iraq. None of them sound particularly appealing as cultural products, but they happen to be three of the finest movies of the year. And as we saw last year, when the surprise best picture nomination for “Crash” was literally the beginning of its Oscar campaign, getting a nomination is everything. After that, anything can happen.
Consider too that the past few years have seen the Academy move further and further from tradition, willing to take risks on its nominations and sometimes even on its awards. After a Golden Globes ceremony so outwardly and cheerfully conformist, could this be the year the Academy gives its final fuck-you to what “should” win Oscars? Might this generation begin to vote with its conscience?
Probably not. But the nominations are set to be announced first thing Tuesday morning, and for once, I won’t feel so ridiculous for getting up hours early to watch a five-minute telecast. This year, the stakes seem a little higher.
WEll, WE CAN DREAM
After such an off year for movies, is it so much to ask that a few of the Oscar noms (set to be released Tuesday) go our way?
“Children of Men”
The film is by far one of the most artfully shot and cut films of the year. An entirely original take on mankind’s inevitable apocalypse, Alfonso Cuar