It’s that time of the year again. “Oscar Season”. You can tell because people are posting “top ten movies of the year” articles left and right (which reminds me, if can’t end the year without watching David Ehrlich’s fantastic Top 25 video), and just last week, a bunch of critics groups spent a lot of time deciding on their favorite movies and performances of the year. The real indicator of the arrival of “Oscar Season”, however, will manifest itself in two days, when the Golden Globes announce their annual list of nominees.
Most every person interested in film will let you know that the Golden Globes are a joke. The Hollywood Foreign Press (HFPA), the association in charge of giving out the awards, is a very shady organization whose members could barely be considered to be press (foreign or otherwise). In any case, for some reason (probably the fact that they’ve been around for so long), The Globes have become an indispensable stop on the way to the Oscar podium, and I, for one, won’t complain about it. Whether or not the HFPA is a good judge of quality is up for debate, but that the Golden Globes telecast tends to be a hoot, is not.
The most interesting thing about the Golden Globes, as far as the awards-giving is concerned, is that they separate the “Best Picture”, “Lead Actor”, and “Lead Actress” categories into “Drama” and “Comedy or Musical”. For as long as I can remember, there have been people complaining that the Oscars too often ignore comedies in favor of more “important” movies (including a very public comment by comedy mega-producer Judd Apatow).
In theory, the Globes should be a fantastic antidote to Oscar’s apparent self-seriousness, and sometimes, they are. I remember the year 2008, when the “Best Picture – Comedy or Musical” was made up of a group of daring and idiosyncratic comedies, which included work by veterans such as the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, and Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but also Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, an independent release that had virtually no Oscar buzz up to the moment it got nominated by the Globes, and ended up getting a Best Original Screenplay nomination from the Academy.
More often than not, however, the Globes tend to nominate whatever movies have “Oscar buzz” (which usually means they are middle-brow enough as to emanate a sense of prestige and safeness at the same time). Case in point, that very 2008 line-up was rounded-up with Mamma Mia!, an adaptation of the hit jukebox musical that ended up becoming one of the biggest middle-brow hits of the year despite being a pretty dismal movie. Sometimes, things are even worse, as in 2010, when eventual winner The Kids Are All Right was joined in the category by such dubious nominees as Red, The Tourist, Burlesque, and Tim Burton’s absolutely horrendous adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.
You might be asking yourself: “are those movies even comedies?”, and I don’t blame you. That is a question that comes way too often with the Globes. First, of course, is the fact that musicals are arbitrarily grouped in the same category. Sure, a lot of musicals are comedies, but some of them aren’t. Take, for instance, Les Misérables, which won the category in 2012, and whose plot is built around sad songs of regret and spiritual atonement. Another thing that prevents the Globes from rewarding comedy: they love musicals. Twelve *traditional* musicals have been nominated for the “Best Picture” award since 2000, with five of them actually winning the category. And that is not counting Ray and Walk the Line.
That’s right, Ray, Walk the Line, and La Vie en Rose competed and won five awards in these categories, despite the fact that they are neither musicals, nor comedies. They are biographical dramas about the lives of famous pop musicians. They, of course, feature a lot of musical performances, but that doesn’t mean they are musicals. Songs are important to the movies, but they don’t tell their stories through song. These movies, because they dramas about real people, tend to have more “Oscar buzz” than the latest David Wain comedy, and thus, tend to be automatic nominees (and winners) at the Globes.
I mean, it’s always hard to qualify what should and should not be considered a comedy, but what I’m trying to say is that the Golden Globes have the opportunity to reward new, interesting voices in film comedy, but they rarely do. Sometimes, they give us little gems such as Brendan Gleeson for The Guard, and sometimes, they give us The Producers.
This year, the “Comedy and Musical” categories will probably be dominated by the adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (which I haven’t seen yet), but also by Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, both movies worthy of awards attention. However, there are a lot of lower-profile comedies this year that deserve awards consideration. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best (but expecting the worst), here are a couple of nominations that would make me ecstatic if they actually came to be:
- If there is something on this list that I think could actually happen, it’s a nomination for Jenny Slate, and her flawless work carrying Obvious Child. She is so vulnerable and charismatic in the role that it would be a crime for her to not become a gigantic movie star based solely on this performance.
- For my money, the funniest movie of the year is director Michael Winterbottom’s re-teaming with comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy. Their original meet-up, The Trip, didn’t get any awards attention, but Coogan was nominated last year for writing the script of Philomena, which gives me the tiniest glimmer of hope that they will notice this hilarious movie.
- Also hilarious is They Came Together, a spoof of romantic comedies starring Paul Rudd and Golden Globe winner (and host) Amy Poehler. It is directed by David Wain, whose filmography is, at this point, definitive proof that he is one of the strongest voices in contemporary comedy.
- It is not the most hilarious of comedy, but Justin Simien’s directorial debut, Dear White People, would be a refreshingly diverse choice. It would be even better if its star, Tessa Thompson, would get nominated for one of the most touching performances of the year.
- And perhaps the least likely of all would be any type of attention for Alex Ross Perry’s literary comedy about a narcissistic author, Listen Up Philip. The movie is most certainly too small to garner any nominations, but the movie is a gem, and it features worthy performances by Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss.
Now, we can only wait and see… and hope that the Globes feel adventurous. God knows it’s a better Oscar season when they do.