Knocking a Few Back with the HFPA: Predicting the Golden Globes

tina_fey_amy_poehler_golden_globes_-_h_2013It’s tough being number two, but it’s a status the Golden Globe Awards have known per annum throughout their 71-year history.

Playing second fiddle to the Academy Awards has given the Globes an identity unto themselves, however, as their lighthearted approach to greatness in film lacks the stuffiness, all-importance, and weight of the Oscars. At best, the Globes have always been a no-frills romp through Oscar-preview territory.

The Oscars, in recent years, have made numerous changes to their voting deadlines, including moving a key voting deadline for nominations prior to the Golden Globe winners being announced. How, then, does an organization that prides itself upon influencing the Oscars forge an identity for itself?

For one, the Globes have long celebrated the art of movie stardom and the harmony it shares with quality film. Their nominations come early enough that Oscar voters can still look to them for nominations. Though the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is a vital prognosticator for Oscar voting, they’ve since become a spectacle of industry showiness.

The Globes are an excuse for stars to get dressed up without feeling the pressure of doing something of any great importance, and more importantly, are a key stage to increase the visibility of a potential contender. Even with the Oscar voting date changes, Globe winners will still have an impact on Oscar winners.

It’s refreshing to see, as of late, that the Globes aren’t trying to compete with the Oscars anymore, as they’ve made attempts to embrace and embellish their inferior stance; the hosts grew looser, the drinks grew stronger (and more acknowledged, as they’ve carried their drinks onstage for the last few years) and the Globes got–dare I say it–fun.

At the root of it, there’s really no sense comparing the HFPA to the AMPAS in the first place. The Academy’s 6,000+ membership dwarves the Globes’ voting base, which stands at just under 100. The type of voters drastically differs as well. Whereas the Oscars are voted upon by film industry professionals (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc.), the Globes are decided by a bunch of U.S.-residing, foreign-publishing journalists (The LA Times reports that they’re most predominantly active in Europe, while on the other hand only one HFPA journalist is publishing in huge international markets like India, China, and Hong Kong). It’s easier to come to a consensus with numbers that small, and it’s also much easier to be swayed (remember when Burlesque made it into a few key categories in 2010 after that private concert Cher gave to voters?).

It’s for this reason that the Globes are an interesting pre-Oscar entity. While they generally provide ample audition space for imminent Oscar-winners to prep the viewing public with a tester acceptance speech, the Globes tend to capture the spirit of what the Oscars don’t. HFPA members have never forgotten the power of stardom and its massive appeal–it’s the first thing Globes voters latch on to, and what they value most. Big-name stars and flashy productions with huge commercial appeal are what the Globes thrive on. Films that anyone–from any nation–can plop down in front of and enjoy are the ideal Globes candidates. They tell us what has appeal to the masses, and therefore tell us what is likely to appeal to the broader voting branches of the Academy (including the more generalized voters of the actors branch, in particular).

The Globes champion commercial appeal, which can drive box-office, which increases visibility, and that can all influence an Oscar voter when they sit down with their final ballots in a few weeks.

Often, the same crop of films end up being nominated for the Oscars (the Globes aren’t entirely rogue and often don’t deviate, in a general sense, from the tide of awards season consensus), though the HFPA is far more inclined to nominate a name over quality of work than the Academy is.

For the first time in years, the Globes’ two-genre system of awards separation doesn’t feel like it’s filled with placeholders. The Comedy/Musical categories are usually wastelands filled with films whose stars are the only things on the HFPA radar (The Tourist, Burlesque, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, anyone?), but 2013 was such a strong year that both categories feel appropriately stuffed, with each film nominated having a legitimate shot at a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

On the Drama side, we have Rush, Philomena, Gravity, Captain Phillips, and 12 Years a Slave. The latter three films have dominated the awards season discussion since the September festivals. Rush was pushed into the race largely due to its euro-centric content and appeal (the same can be said for Philomena).

gravity-movie-review-sandra-bullock-shiopWhile my heart is telling me to select 12 Years a Slave as the winner here, my brain pulls me toward Gravity. Sandra Bullock’s one-woman show grossed nearly $700 million worldwide in an age where female-driven narratives still aren’t taken as seriously as the boys’. Keep in mind, this is largely the same voting base who awarded star-studded films like Atonement and Babel over eventual Oscar-winners No Country for Old Men and The Departed, respectively. In terms of worldwide appeal and presence (capped off by an international superstar in the lead role), Gravity has this one in the bag.

Gravity’s success is further bolstered by films with female-driven performances topping the domestic box-office, as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire becomes the first film driven by a female performance to top the U.S. box-office since 1997’s Titanic (and even that was arguably driven by a male and female performance). In fact, three of the ten highest-grossing films of 2013 were driven by women: Frozen ($712 million worldwide and counting), Catching Fire ($846 million worldwide and counting), and Gravity ($670 million worldwide)–the first time this has happened in years.

With an awards season narrative on its side, Gravity is soaring into the race the old fashioned way; on appeal, on critical championing, on audience reaction, and on box-office returns. With ease, it puts a mark in every box.

Contenders in the Musical/Comedy category include Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Nebraska. While there’s not a single film in this category that I’d consider a comedy or musical, the collective quality of the pictures represented here–for once–eclipses that which is represented in the drama category.

David O. Russell’s American Hustle is arguably the front-runner for the Oscar at the moment, and it received a stunning seven nominations from the HFPA (including one in each of the major acting categories). Pushed head-first into the race by the New York Film Critics Circle after being awarded their top prize, Hustle has built momentum for three reasons:

1) David O. Rusell’s prolific output over the past 5 years
2) David O. Russell’s track record (having three films in the awards race over 5 years without any significant wins)
3) David O. Russell’s actual direction (to get the performances he’s gotten out of his actors, a multitude of which have won Oscars or been nominated for them, is incredible)

None of American Hustle‘s appeal has to do with the quality of the film much at all. Russell has been gunning for an Oscar for the better part of the last five years. After skirting around the edges of awards season glory with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook (he came very close last year), his time has come. All he had to do was produce a film that wasn’t a dud, and what he did was produce a film that’s star-studded, fast-paced, and showy, the perfect mix for a Globes voter coma. The awards circuit loves their narratives, and Russell sweeping the major awards late in the season is a fitting cherry atop his massive, multi-year bid for glory.

Hustle’s closest competitor seems to be Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, seeing as both Russell and Payne are the only two directors to receive a nomination from the Musical/Comedy category. They join Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), and Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) in an extremely difficult category to predict.

Whoever wins here will surely funnel some of the 2013 Oscar race into much less chaotic waters. While the Oscars might have a Director/Picture split this year, it’s increasingly difficult to come to a logical consensus for the Globes’ pick for director. Usually we already have a frontrunner whose dominance stretches high and above its other awards season contenders. Here, we’ve got three films all arguably neck-and-neck within the race as a whole. It’s unusual to have films from both the dramatic and comedic categories on the same playing field in the director category, but here McQueen, Cuaron, and Russell are sharing the same stage with three incredible pictures.

The case of the actors is an equally perplexing one this year. The only race that seems to be locked at this point is Lead Actress Drama, where Cate Blanchett will extend her reign over the category with a win for Blue Jasmine.

How things play out on the comedic end are sort of irrelevant at this point, seeing as Oscar nominations were turned in last week, though if the deadline had been extended, Amy Adams (the frontrunner at the Globes for American Hustle) might have been able to squeak in with Oscar voters. As it stands, she’ll do her part in pumping up support for the film alongside Christian Bale (also a likely winner in his respective category for the film, though Leo and Bruce aren’t out of the mix).

Jennifer Lawrence also has a legitimate shot at scoring a win for her supporting performance in American Hustle. At one time hovering around the fringes of the category at the beginning of the season, again the NYFCC pushed her into the race with early recognition, so much so that she’s now arguably neck-and-neck with previous frontrunner, 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o. Lawrence is everything the Globes love: she’s a worldwide superstar, she’s young, she’s hilarious, she’s endearing, and she’s got two films released over the past year that have been incredible critical and box-office successes. At the tender age of 23, she embodies not only a massive amount of contemporary success, but portents greatness for a massive career in the future as well.

For the men, the supporting category has been the most difficult, wide-open race for any category. Jared Leto has built a solid base for himself, earning rave reviews and a multitude of recognition from critics circles and precursors for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, a role with massive awards appeal (he’s a straight male playing a loveable, endearing transgender woman in a showy, dramatic role). Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) and Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) shouldn’t be counted out of the race entirely, as both of their performances are in films that are frontrunners in other major categories (including Best Picture and Director), whereas Dallas Buyers Club has only resonated with Globes voters in the acting categories.

Many have brought up the appeal of Barkhad Abdi and his performance in Captain Phillips, though he’s a first-time, non-professional actor in his first role here. Let us not forget that the HFPA does not take warmly to anything small-scale (that’s the Academy’s job). This is the same voting base who shunned Beasts of the Southern Wild just last year. Its cast was primarily made up of non-actors in their first roles as well, and the HFPA loves to push pre-existing star-power and greatness to even more astronomical heights of success, and Abdi’s potential as an actor bodes little for future achievement.

i.2.matthew-mcconaughey-dallas-buyers-clubBest Actor Drama proves similarly murky. Chiwetel Ejiofor seemed all but indestructible for his performance in 12 Years a Slave, but as we slowly began to realize that the film had a weaker grip on awards voters as previously expected, his name all but fell back in line with the rest of the pack.

No one seems to be talking about Tom Hanks’ potential to burst ahead with a Globes win (no one can stop raving about his final scene in Captain Phillips), or how everyone is afraid to proclaim Matthew McConaughey as the category’s default frontrunner. His character has a distinguishable, showy arc, and the role calls for far more overt “acting” than, say, Ejiofor’s or Redford’s do. While Hanks is an international household name, McConaughey is earning industry-wide attention for his ability to transform his career from hunky rom-com staple to a legitimate, powerhouse actor’s actor in such a relatively short amount of time. A win here will be a win for not only Dallas Buyers Club, but also for Mud, and 2012’s Magic Mike.

Though he missed out on an all-important SAG nomination last month, I wouldn’t count Robert Redford out of the Globes race entirely. The film has support in another category (Best Original Score), so that means that the voters have seen it, have paid attention to it, and that there’s a small push for it beyond the Best Actor race, where it has been largely defined all season.

It’s a headache of a year that the Globes might be able to sift through and give us some much-needed direction. With only a short window open for Oscar voters to submit their final ballots (February 14th-February 25th), the Globes will probably have long since melted away from Oscar voters’ memories, as the DGA, PGA, SAG, and Independent Spirits each have ceremonies coming up within the next month or so.

What will most likely happen is that the Globes will build up the bases of those who are slightly ahead, and little else. 12 Years a Slave’s Oscar run entirely depends on the Globes, however. If it doesn’t walk away with any significant wins tonight, its chances with the Academy will likely dwindle. Gravity and American Hustle are far more marketable, have much larger box-office returns, and are general crowd-pleasers that didn’t sharply divide audiences or critics, and there’s no reason to believe that these two films will fare any differently with Oscar voters.

The Globes might not wield the same power with the Academy as they used to, but they’re no less fun to knock a few back with and watch as the mess of awards season comes (a little bit more) together under their tent.

FULL PREDICTIONS: 

Best Motion Picture – Drama: Gravity
Best Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy: American Hustle
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity Best Actor – Drama: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actor – Musical/Comedy: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Actress – Drama: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Actress – Comedy/Musical: Amy Adams, American Hustle
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Best Screenplay: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle
Best Original Score: Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Song: “Let It Go” by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, Frozen
Best Animated Feature Film: Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film: Blue is the Warmest Color

The Golden Globes air tonight at 7:00 PM EST on NBC.

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