The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced this week that the Golden Globe Awards ceremony scheduled for Sunday would be canceled because of the ongoing writers’ strike, which threatened pickets outside the event – not exactly friendly background noise for red-carpet soundbites. The choruses on both sides haven’t let up since.
The headline in Daily Variety, the industry trade magazine, read “Globes ceremony, parties canceled,” and that cuts most directly to the issue: Though the HFPA touts the Globes as a precursor to the Academy Awards, and refused to delay the show this year for that very reason, its actual results mean little outside the media storm that accompanies them.
Even the event itself is often considered little more than an effort to get Denzel Washington, George Clooney and Keira Knightley in the same room. This year, in a puzzling act of self-parody, there are seven nominees for best motion picture drama rather than the customary five, which include the shoo-ins (“Atonement,” “No Country for Old Men”) alongside movies that will get a few more faces to come out (“The Great Debaters,” “Michael Clayton”).
But even an 11th-hour effort by NBC to schedule a jazzed-up press conference to present the awards – apparently to convince picket-weary stars to accept their awards in an unscripted ceremony – fizzled when the Writers Guild of America got wind of the network’s underhanded plan. There will be a live, press-only conference (at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, for what it’s worth) Sunday at 9 p.m., and it looks like that’s all it will be.
“Sadly, it feels like the nerdiest, ugliest, meanest kids in the high school are trying to cancel the prom,” ranted NBC Co-Chairman Ben Silverman to, um, Ryan Seacrest, according to defamer.com. “But NBC wants to try to keep that prom alive.”
Well, at least he understands the show’s appeal. While Silverman swoons, though, Variety reported that the cancellation will cost an estimated $80 million, only to note directly after that the cost of an Academy Awards cancellation next month could be upward of $130 million.
And isn’t that the real issue here? The Golden Globes’s viewers are typically the most Hollywood-rabid among us, more often fodder for next week’s magazine spreads than a concern among average moviegoers. But that’s not the case with the Oscars, which are set for Feb. 24. As industry writer Michael Cieply and Carpetbagger blogger David Carr put it in The New York Times, “an Oscar represents a significant artistic achievement.” Even further, they are essential to the reputation of many movies that compete for them.
To some of us, an Academy telecast cancellation may simply mean that our betting pools will be a lot less fun this year. And since the top award, best picture, has been so closely contested in recent years – last year there wasn’t even thought to be a front-runner before “The Departed” eventually took the prize – this all might strike you as overreaching. But there’s a reason Hollywood studios lobby so hard for these awards, and it’s not simply because they earn higher revenues for the movies, although that certainly isn’t a deterrent. There is status at stake as well – the sense that Hollywood’s big studios can buoy major filmmakers doing “important” work – and this year’s prestige field reflects the traditional season and its recent trends, movies that use a ceremony like the Academy Awards to implant themselves in the cultural lexicon.
There are movies like “Atonement,” now playing at The Michigan Theater, and “No Country for Old Men,” elite filmmaking that scorched most critics and will continue to expand to more theaters because of awards consideration. (“No Country,” which has steadily declined in theater count, will expand anew beginning next Friday.) Also next Friday, “Michael Clayton,” the George Clooney thriller that made critical waves if not commercial ones in October, will take another shot at reaching audiences.
And it seems we will never hear the end of “Juno,” heralded as this year’s Little Indie That Could, even though it has enjoyed more pervasive media coverage than any other movie in awards competition. Its controlled release and word of mouth has worked to astonishing effect; the film made it to No. 2 nationwide at the box office last weekend, despite the fact that it played in just more than half the theaters of the No. 3 movie, “I Am Legend.” Besides, we’ve all seen those lines outside the State Theater.
It’s possible these movies would have been made and followed with the same conviction if there were no Academy Awards. The familiar, proto-quirky conceit of “Juno” seems to be invincible these days. The fact is we don’t know. The question before us now is how the industry will navigate its self-made firestorm this year if the strike isn’t resolved by Feb. 24, and what that will mean for the movies next year, or five years from now.
During the last writers’ strike in 1988, the Academy Awards went ahead, but that was because the stars were in attendance, which is unlikely to happen this year if the WGA promises picketers. In 2003, after the American-led invasion of Iraq, the show went ahead without the habitual glamour parades, only to return to its fevered, outrageously overanalyzed roots the following year. If the year-end landscape next November and December isn’t too damaged by the widespread production halt precipitated by the strike, perhaps next year will follow suit.
But for unheralded character actresses like Amy Ryan (“The Wire”), a hot item for best supporting actress this year, and the movie that got her there, “Gone Baby Gone,” the damage will be done. And can “Juno” remain the unlikely touchstone of the year without the Oscar confirmation from its predestined best original screenplay and perhaps an even better award?
While smug bloggers and disillusioned moviegoers everywhere revel in the fallout, the Academy Awards are still set for Feb. 24. It remains unclear if anyone – including host Jon Stewart, a WGA member – will show up.