Alas, Poor Auric

Paul Drinkwater / Reuters © 2011

The Golden Globes ceremony is a live show, hosted by Ricky Gervais, populated by celebs drunk on camaraderie, self-congratulation, and, in some cases, alcohol. What pop-culture commentator of even minor order can resist that?

So yes, I did watch the Globes telecast as usual. I couldn't do so in real time, as I've been dealing with a recurring migraine thanks (I think) to the wacky weather systems we've been seeing, but it's just as well since there's plenty to fast-forward through — film clips, ads, folks walking to the stage — or to ignore, if you're watching live. And like some other gluttons for punishment punditry who subjected themselves to it, I found the show lacking, perhaps appropriately for something sponsored by The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a certain je ne sais quoi.

I even taped the red-carpet arrivals after looking at my notes on last year's Globes. While I've little patience for the typical fawning patter and I'm far from a fashion maven, the quickie chats with guests who may never take the stage can yield a gem like this from Tina Fey in 2010: "It's not rain. It's just God crying for NBC." This year the scene seemed to be quite sunny, and equally, awkwardly brilliant was an interviewer named Alexa Chung. I know it's not hard to stand out opposite the utterly bland, perpetually stunned-looking Carson Daly and whoever the other lady was, but Chung was cheekily cool to such an enjoyable extent that I even stopped for her chat with Justin Bieber. One of my favorite comments of the night came when Chris Colfer was asked what was coming up on Glee, to which he replied that the producers don't really know what they're doing and so neither does the cast; if there's one thing that fans and detractors of Glee might agree on, it's that the producers indeed don't really know that they're doing.

Those same notes for last year's Globes, never written up for the blog, found it "curiously blah" and lamented the lack of Gervaisity. I would say the same for this year's edition despite the hubbub over his humor that's percolated since Sunday.

Gervais was off to a running start with jokes about Charlie Sheen, the HFPA's WTF nominations for the apparently totally mediocre film The Tourist, and some other hot-button topics, but his material felt rushed, lacking the breathing room and segues that usually make his stand-up and talk-show appearances feel so compellingly relaxed; even when Gervais cracks himself up, which is often, it's acceptable because he acts as if he's just realizing what he's saying as he says it. I hoped for some redemption later in the evening, but Gervais popped up rarely and not for very long, less to comment on the proceedings — a shame, as the Greek-chorus element of hosts who choose to embrace that aspect of their duties is often the best part of the Oscars and the Emmys — than to get in some would-be zingers at the few presenters he announced by mentioning their less celebrated endeavors or highlighting a given duo's disparities. His overall contribution, while certainly not abysmal, was a bit like that old Catskills joke about the food: It wasn't particularly good... and the portions were so small.

As for the rest of the show, I'm thinking that I might be conflating previous installments in my memory with the SAG Awards, another event where the guests sit at round tables in the audience and mingle intimately in a much smaller venue than the Oscars' imposing Kodak Theatre. When I had cable that actually let me watch cable channels, I very much looked forward to that and to the even more casual Independent Spirit Awards (held Oscars weekend) — at which a highlight is the song parodies gamely performed by actors who may not be all that accomplished musically. Despite the fact that awards shows are often derided as bloated spectacle, I was acutely aware of the Globes' relentless parade of presentations (made even more relentless since I skipped those commercials and Best Picture clips); montages and other set pieces spaced throughout the show, when done thoughtfully, can be your friend.

Hmm... Maybe I sais quoi after all.

One problem with the Globes, as much as it's also a selling point, is that they celebrate both film and television, so there are lots of categories even though they forego so-called technical awards for sound, cinematography, and the like. Yet TV still comes across as the less-favored child since features are given awards for screenplay and direction but their small-screen counterparts are not. And then there's the division of the Best Picture and Lead Actor/Actress* in a Motion Picture categories into Drama and Comedy or Musical; it's well intentioned in that it recognizes movies and performances that might not otherwise be trumpeted, but invariably the need to fill out the slate spotlights movies and performances whose horns really have no business being blown in what should be an exclusive orchestra. That split has a flip side, too, since the Supporting Actor/Actress* categories eliminate such distinctions — and for television (unlike those for leading roles in the same medium) lump Series, Miniseries, and Television Movie together to boot. What you end up with is a potential embarrassment of options for Lead in feature films and an unconscionably small, mismatched pool of Supporting contenders overall. [* I'm using the Globes' (and the Oscars' and society-in-general's) nomenclature here. The Screen Actors Guild, for one, refers to "Male Actor" and "Female Actor" instead of using the sexist-to-some Actress, which I prefer to do as well.]

The Golden Globes' biggest issue of all is that its voting body has fewer than 100 members, so in a typical five-way category just 20 people (total) voting in your favor earns you the trophy. Even absent the frequent accusations of untoward lobbying if not outright graft, there's very little beyond chance that separates winners from the rest of the pack; all but the surest races are thus suspenseful (for those who care about the outcome) but also fairly arbitrary once nominations are made. Depending on whether the HFPA uses ranked-choice voting of some kind, it's quite possible for upsets to be the result of three popular choices splitting the vote to the point where a less favored candidate wins, never mind that a club of several dozen entertainment journalists may well just have different slight-majority tastes than viewers and creative professionals. Since there's little merit to a blow-by-blow of agreement or disagreement in each category, therefore, especially given my unfortunate lack of familiarity with many of the nominees, I'll wind things up with some selective commentary.

Katey Segal's win for Actress in a TV Drama was a genuine surprise. I hear that Sons of Anarchy is pretty darned good; she must be stellar in it to be put up against Emmy winner Kyra Sedgwick of The Closer (which I've also never seen), Elisabeth Moss in some breakout episodes on Mad Men, and the great year that Julianna Marguiles had with The Good Wife.

As I mentioned above, the awards for Supporting Actor/Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or Televisual Movie (as David Bowie Visiting from 1977 Tilda Swinton put it) throws together so many disparate genres and modes of production that it's hard to compare performances. I don't know that Chris Colfer, despite his beautiful voice and some heartbreaking acting on Glee, turned in better work than Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet, or even know how to judge them against Hawaii Five-0's Scott Caan, The Good Wife's Chris Noth, and Temple Grandin's David Strathairn. Likewise, Jane Lynch's co-starring role on Glee, brilliant as she is in being at once understated and over-the-top, is tough enough to measure qualitatively or even quantitatively against Sofia Vergara in the half-hour network comedy Modern Family, let alone Kelly MacDonald and Julia Stiles in the hour cable dramas Boardwalk Empire and Dexter or Hope Davis in the stand-alone film The Special Relationship.

Still, I was filled with, yes, glee for Colfer and what his win represents. Without belittling the lack of acceptance that still permeates our society, it was a kick to hear him end his shout-out to isolated, misunderstood, or bullied youths who "are constantly told ... that they can't have what they want because of who they are" with a triumphant "Screw that, kids!"

Vergara is such a delight that I'd probably have given her the nod above Lynch, although Davis's eerie embodiment of Hillary Clinton was by far the best thing about Relationship, the oddly underwhelming latest installment of Peter Morgan's pseudo-trilogy starring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair that follows The Deal and The Queen. I can't speak to Empire or Dexter.

Skipping ahead to stick with the same subject, I do love the message, sentimentality, and frequent go-for-broke wackiness of Glee, but in my mind Modern Family and the not-even-nominated Community are more deserving of being named Best TV Series in the Comedy or Musical division. As for the other nominees, I've never seen The Big C, I still enjoy 30 Rock but not like I used to, and while I've tried The Big Bang Theory I just can't get past the broad, laugh-track sitcomminess no matter how many of my friends adore it.

All I know of the nominees for Best Original Song from a Motion Picture is the 
snippets played on the telecast, save for the Tangled entry, but a couple of things were clear: The HFPA went for typical Diane Warren schmaltz in giving the award to "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" from Burlesque and, more surprisingly, there's actually a song from Burlesque that I want to hear when the sound on my laptop is working again, namely "Bound to You" — it was instantly recognizable, thanks to a telltale key transition, as co-written by Australian pop artist Sia.

Even out from under the trappings of her superb turn in True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld totally looks like she could beat up her co-presenter Justin Bieber.

Gervais has been getting flak from some quarters for being insensitive or inappropriate if not outright mean, which has been countered by entirely appropriate support of his act from the perspective that, by this point, you know exactly what you're getting when you hire Ricky Gervais to talk about show business, even (if not especially) in a room full of celebrities. Now, I stand by my earlier assessment that to me the cardinal sin that Gervais committed was being off his game in terms of delivery if not the material itself, something that I'm only guessing more observers might have acknowledged if they hadn't felt compelled to defend him in principle. What I found particularly interesting, though, is that the introductions of his I enjoyed the most were those where I suspected the targets didn't mind, and perhaps relished, his gibes. After he was ushered in with the words "Many of you in this room probably know him best from such facilities as The Betty Ford Clinic and the LA County jail," Robert Downey Jr. took it in stride and proceeded to double-entendre the hell out of the Actress in a Motion-Picture Comedy or Musical category to hysterical effect. This is what the young folk today describe as full of win.

On the other hand, Robert DeNiro didn't quite fare so well running with the comedic motifs of Matt Damon's enjoyable preamble to DeNiro's receipt of this year's Cecil B. DeMille Award.

Aaron Sorkin winning for Motion-Picture Screenplay was both expected and appreciated, but his speech took a turn for the strange. When The Social Network was released there was lots of talk about how true it was or wasn't to the actual life of Mark Zuckerberg and how little time it devoted to any women of substance; lo and behold, Sorkin gave what felt like a weirdly political (in the broader sense of the term) shout-out to Zuckerberg and another to, basically, women. I'll give the very talented Sorkin the benefit of the doubt that he truly wanted to celebrate the Facebook dude's vision, accomplishments, and recent charitable donations, as well as honestly celebrate the fact that there are so many strong, versatile female actors playing so many strong, varied female characters in cinema right now for his daughters to admire, but it was still quite odd given that the controversies had died down and that in context there was little to support them in the first place.

I haven't seen The Fighter yet, but Supporting Actress in a Motion-Picture Drama winner Melissa Leo and fellow nominee Amy Adams, whom I've adored since her astounding work in Junebug, are both said to turn in great performances. You have to love Leo's speech, from "Look, Mom, I got a Golden Globe!" to the closing "Woo-hoo!"

Michael Douglas deserves kudos, respect, and good wishes for the line, "There's gotta be an easier way to get a standing ovation."

Finally, The Kids Are All Right was a shoo-in for Best Motion-Picture Comedy or Musical given the competition of Alice in Wonderland, Burlesque, Red, and The Tourist, as well as the buzz it had early in the year as a top Oscar contender, although I was disappointed in its final act. The Social Network's ending was a bit of a letdown for me in a more limited way, but its win for Best Motion-Picture Drama continues its string of victories from critics' groups, and unless The King's Speech takes home the top prize from SAG next weekend (actors being the largest voting branch in the Academy) it's probably headed for coronation at the Oscars too.

A complete list of Golden Globes winners can be found at The Hollywood Foreign Press Association's website. Entertainment Weekly is keeping a running tally of 
nominations and wins in the Best Picture category or equivalent from various guilds and critics' groups in advance of Oscar night.

1 comment:

Teebore said...

Well said, and far more thorough than my own write-up.

I agree that the hubbub over Gervais was silly; I didn't think he went that far, and even if he did, so what? He's not comedically insulting children or a specific ethnic group or something. Just actors, and their precious, fragile egos. ;)