Tonight marks the Globes’ 75th anniversary and as per usual a parade of half-drunk actors, writers, directors, and producers will take the Beverly Hilton stage to tell jokes, plug their latest product, give the internet gifable memes, and half-assedly thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in acceptance speeches. Many of them will probably even mock the HFPA in their speech because it’s long since been an open secret in Hollywood that the Golden Globes mean everything and nothing at the same time. To get an award from your peers, like from the Academy or your respective guild, can be a validating career-changer; to get a Golden Globe provides crucial exposure but only really represents the opinion of a handful of total random foreign writers you’ve probably never heard of before.
How did we get here? Well…
In 1943, a group of foreign journalists grew frustrated with the lack of access allotted to them by Hollywood studios. The local California journalists kept getting all the best stars and directors to interview while the foreign writers had to settle for scraps, which was not nearly good enough to fill up their own publications and/or satisfy their readers. So, they formed the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association (since renamed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association), and then a year later threw an informal luncheon to hand out a bunch of shiny statues to stars.
Thus began the Golden Globes, the shadiest of all Hollywood awards shows, yet also one of the oldest and most-watched (coming in second, in both cases, to the Oscars). What began as a ploy to curry favor and gain access has grown into an institution with a seriously outsized influence. For TV shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, winning a Golden Globe has meant the difference between staying on the air and being canceled, and for certain actors, it has meant going from a question mark to an at least somewhat bankable commodity.
For example, longtime producer/current Amazon Original Movies boss Ted Hope revealed in his book Hope for Film (I see what he did there) that his 2007 film The Savages had Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman attached but no funding one day and then full funding two days later. What changed? In the in-between day, Hoffman won a Golden Globe (for Capote).
There never would have been this…
That’s how much power the industry gives to what is a largely invalid award. A Golden Globe means something even though it probably shouldn’t.
As a reminder, the Globes are voted on by just 93 California-based journalists who work full time or freelance for a foreign publication, have published at least 4 articles in the past year, and paid a $500 initiation fee. The identities of the journalists are never made public, but when Vulture and Vox looked into it they discovered a whole lot of “total randos” with questionable work histories (such as a bodybuilder who joined the HFPA just out of curiosity) along with a handful of recognizable names attached to notable publications based in places like Italy, Norway, and France. As of three years ago, there was only one person, a Chinese actress-turned-journalist, who voted for both the Globes and Oscars, and the total size of the HFPA is still smaller than the smallest branch of the Academy. As a result, the Golden Globes don’t really “predict” the Oscars.
Recent years have brought about a new phase of image rehab for the HFPA. As long suspected and all but confirmed in the 2014 memoir written by the HFPA’s former President Philip Berk, the Globes have historically valued access over quality and what makes them look cool over what consensus opinion dictates. Berk’s replacement, Theo Kingma (who has since given way to Meher Tatna), worked hard to change things, leaving in the past the embarrassing days of nominating The Tourist just to hang out with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Since the Globes have such a large audience and fall right near the start of the Academy’s voting period for the Oscars, why not take things a little more seriously, which might be why the nominations in recent years have been more in line with industry thinking.
However, celebrities like Christian Bale, Denzel Washington, and Viola Davis continued to shit over the HFPA’s legitimacy in acceptance speeches. It hasn’t helped that the HFPA keeps miscategorizing movies like The Martian and Get Out (both entered as comedies) and completely snubbed The Big Sick and overlooked Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, and Get Out in some of the expected categories this year. Plus, the internet went to war when the latest nominations came out and revealed the HFPA had snubbed multiple worthy women (Greta Gerwig, Patty Jenkins, Kathryn Bigelow, Dee Rees) and people of color (Jordan Peele) in the Best Director category.
The fact that Ridley Scott got a Best Director nod for All the Money in the World seemed to revive the old eye rolling and dismissive comments like “you do you, Globes.” See, the HFPA was the first organization to see All the Money in the World, and they promptly nominated it for Best Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor. They were desperate to use the nominations to not only brag about the exclusive access they’d been granted but to also signal to the industry how you’ll be rewarded if you give the HFPA the first look at something.
Yet Christopher Plummer is genuinely amazing in that movie. What Ridley Scott pulled off with his emergency reshoots to replace Kevin Spacey is historic. His work still might not be awards-worthy, but the HFPA clearly wanted to give him a hearty attaboy. Michelle Williams performs most of her scenes with an embarrassingly bad Mark Wahlberg and still manages to seem awards-worthy and not just because she’s so much better than her co-star.
Takeaway: sometimes the HFPA has a point, even if the rest of the industry doesn’t ultimately agree.
Beyond that, the Globes remain uniquely appealing for combining film and TV, actually recognizing comedies and musicals, and being outside Hollywood enough to celebrate smaller, foreign films like Sing Street and Pride (both of them British indies nominated for Best Comedy in years past) or emerging TV shows like SMILF. Plus, ya know, they throw the best awards party in town and provide a platform for unique speechifying (a la Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump sentiments last year). Everyone in that room knows the Globes are total bullshit that they only have to take seriously because the whole world’s just implicitly agreed to keep going with it.
But at the same time, when do the TV and film people get to gather in the same room together to get drunk and make a show of caring about awards? Most of them approach it with the kind of “fuck it” attitude no other Hollywood awards show can truly replicate. That translates to a looser, more entertaining show, even if every year we seemingly have to remind ourselves just how little we should care about any of it and just how shady the HFPA actually is.