Golden Globes 2016: Why the awards are more than just an Oscars warm up act

The Golden Globes have gone from something of a joke event to being edgier than the Oscars. So who are the hot tips for tomorrow’s awards?

Tomorrow sees the beginning in earnest of “awards season”. The Golden Globes kicks off the annual orgy of self-congratulation, photo opportunities on the red carpet and emotional speeches as the year’s best films – at least as perceived by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Bafta and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members (Ampas) – are celebrated.

The Globes themselves used to be considered a joke event. The awards are run by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a tiny body made up of a small number of foreign journalists in Hollywood.

As Vikram Jayanti’s scathing 2003 documentary, The Golden Globes: Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret, revealed, the HFPA members were sometimes very starry-eyed about contenders, for example in the early Eighties when they voted Pia Zadora “newcomer of the year” for her performance in seamy incest melodrama Butterfly Her then husband, Israeli billionaire Meshulam Riklis, supplied lavish hospitality.

Since then, the HFPA has cleaned up its act. The Globes are now considered a bellwether for the Oscars – and excellent prime-time viewing for American audiences on NBC. The HFPA voters also tend to be a little more adventurous in their choices than the members of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The event itself, which will be hosted by Ricky Gervais, has an edge that the Oscars lack. If past form is to be trusted, Gervais is bound to ruffle feathers, puncture egos and generally undermine the self-importance that characterises film award events.

“The Golden Globes... doesn’t just celebrate talent, it celebrates difference. It crushes prejudice and stereotype. One stereotype I hate is that all Irishmen are just drunk, sweary hell-raisers. Please welcome – Colin Farrell!” was one of his typical sallies when he was hosting back in 2010.

This year, the awards look surprisingly open. There are no overwhelming favourites or consensus about what is going to win.

As ever, the Globes hedge their bets by having two categories for Best Picture – one for “Drama” and one for “Musical or Comedy”. This has led to some very strange choices. Ridley Scott’s admirable sci-fi drama The Martian is in the running for “Musical or Comedy” even though it is a film in which you will be hard pressed to find much in the way of slapstick or singing.

David O Russell’s Joy looks a little incongruous next to a cheesy espionage farce like Spy or the riotous Amy Schumer vehicle Trainwreck. It is also baffling as to why Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight has been overlooked in both Best Picture categories.

The logic for having an award for “Musical or Comedy” is obvious. When it comes to voting for Best Picture, there would otherwise be the tendency always to give the main prizes to heavy, meaningful dramas like The Hurt Locker and to dismiss the comedies and musicals as too frivolous. Even so, having two separate Best Picture awards can’t help but seem like equivocation.

The Best Picture – Drama category includes an extreme mix of films, everything from George Miller’s dystopian blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road to the pared-down chamber piece Room, from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, from the old-fashioned Spotlight (a story of journalistic derring-do) to Todd Haynes’ elegant and subversive Carol and wilderness tale The Revenant.

The Best Actress awards will be among the most fiercely contested. The performances by women this year easily eclipse those by the men. The HFPA voters will surely find it an immense struggle to separate Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol or to choose between both of them and Saoirse Ronan (who gives such an exceptional performance in Brooklyn.) 

In the Musical or Comedy Best Actress category, Dame Maggie Smith is surely the favourite for Lady in the Van – albeit that there is as much pathos as there is humour in her performance as the homeless woman taking up residence in Alan Bennett’s Camden driveway. From the old timers’ point of view, it is heartening too to see septuagenarian Lily Tomlin nominated alongside octogenarian Smith for her fiery and very funny performance as the lesbian matriarch in Grandma.

As internet companies like Netflix and Amazon muscle their way into the film business, they’re bound to have an ever greater impact on awards events like the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

Some will see it as a worrying precedent that Idris Elba has received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his turn as the warlord in charge of an army of child soldiers in Beasts of No Nation. It is a striking performance but what makes the nomination surprising is that the film itself was barely seen in cinemas.

Beasts of No Nation has made less $100,000 at the US box office and has found its main audience on the Netflix platform, on which it was released simultaneously with its cinema debut, without observing the usual theatrical window. This is not something that will please movie theatre owners in America in the slightest.

By consensus, the biggest movie event of 2015 was the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It therefore seems a bit perverse that the Golden Globe nominations were announced before Star Wars had opened and before the HFPA voters even had the chance to watch it. 

It will be intriguing to see how Han Solo and co fare when the Oscar nominations are announced on Thursday. In the meantime, tomorrow’s Golden Globes should give us a sense of which films are likely to be in contention for Oscars. 

For some movies, the Globes offer a chance of redemption. For example, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs underperformed at the box office but is up for four awards. If Michael Fassbender was to win a Best Actor award, it would go a long way to transforming the perception of the film as a failure.

Carol looks bound to win something if only because it has the most nominations (five). Young Hungarian auteur László Nemes’ brutal and heartrending Holocaust drama Son of Saul is an obvious front-runner for the Foreign Language award.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s grim survival epic The Revenant, with four nominations, is a leading contender in several of the main catgeories. Iñárritu’s Birdman lost out to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood last year for Best Picture but The Revenant has a scale and vision about it that leaves most of the other nominees this year looking puny.