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The Gaudy, Gauche and Sometimes Corrupt Greatness of the Golden Globes

If the pious Oscar ceremony is how Hollywood wants to see itself, The Globes show how it really is, writes Richard Rushfield.

For Hollywood, the Golden Globes surfaces each year like the annual recurrence of some never defeated fungal condition or freeloading relative, driving the town to apoplexy to explain, to dismiss and to try to ignore this unsanctioned pretender.

Summoning their ready-made pools of outrage, the guardians of Hollywood officialdom insist the Globes means nothing, are not a “real awards show.” It has no impact on anything. It’s gaudy, gauche and corrupt.

But the more vehement, these outcries become, the greater the feeling that they protest too much. The Globes may be tacky; they may be implicitly corrupt in their choices—bestowing their favors for all sorts of reasons other than pure merit. They may be meaningless in the grand scheme of anything.

But they are also irreverent, clubby, boozy fun. And in all that, they are the perfect reflection of Hollywood at its best and worst; which explains why they get so far under the town’s skin.

While the pious, sanctimonious Oscar ceremony would like to think of itself as the true representation of Hollywood at its best, the fact of the matter is Oscar night is Hollywood putting on its most uncomfortable suit and going to church. While the Globes and the spectacle they’ve evolved into get much closer to the meaningless, nonsensical glamour that is Hollywood’s real selling point to the world.

Sunday’s night’s ceremony, unfortunately, was a minor step backwards for the show, a step away from its rambunctious past into something more formal and Oscar-like. Until last year, the Golden Globe ceremony went without a host, getting by with presenters only. The tradition was a welcome contrast to the Oscar ceremony, whose hosting slot has become a killing field of comic careers as each year another beloved star becomes the vessel of impossibly high expectations that they will somehow find a way to post-modernize the stuffy ceremony while always, always retaining its dignity. When the Globes finally decided to follow suit last year and named Ricky Gervais its host, the fear was he would follow Oscar’s hosts down the same thankless path to stuffy awkwardness. But in Gervais, a comic actor who has made an art form out of cultivating awkwardness, they found a man who managed to occupy the podium while maintaining the Globe’s difference. In his beyond-the-pale derision and offensiveness, he turned it into a night that could never have been an Oscar ceremony.

That uncouthness won him legions of detractors, however, and tonight those voices of moderation seemed to have won the battle for Gervais’ soul, much to the show’s loss. Gervais’ remarks fell within the bounds of acceptably naughty that one could easily imagine an Oscar host—even Billy Crystal—reaching. While an often brilliant comic actor, Gervais is relatively new to stand up and has never achieved the top tier of that art form. In the end, better to have no host once again than to have a neutered Ricky Gervais, who kept things humming along at a pleasant enough 73 degrees, but never broke the thermometer.

Also keeping the temperature down was the near total lack of excitement in the film races. Across the board, the expected frontrunners took the prizes. Wins by Clooney, Streep, Williams, Spencer, Plummer, The Artist and The Descendants all confirmed the conventional wisdom of the Oscar race; a race which has elicited thus far notable yawns with the lack of any Big home run picture dominating the field, and a current front runner (The Artist) which thus far has grossed, despite tides of critical hosannas, an anemic $8.7 million. Despite that, the only occasion where the Globes broke with conventional wisdom was in awarding Martin Scorsese the best directing prize in something of a surprise decision that confirms Hugo’s rise to the top tier of Oscar contenders.

On the television side, the award choices were vastly more adventurous, with the Association honoring new and little seen shows including Homeland, Enlightened, Boss, Episodes and Luther. Unfortunately, that risk-taking Globe spirit was little to be seen last night on the film side; this despite, as critic Tom Shone has pointed out the Globes’ long history of honoring some great films otherwise overlooked in the awards race, masterpieces of the cinema; a legacy that compares very favorably to Oscar’s choices.

Nonetheless, despite the lukewarm host and despite the near total absence of excitement about the races in the major categories, the Globes remained its freewheeling spirit. In the hall, the experience of attending the Globes is a night-and-day contrast to attending the Oscars.

At the Oscar ceremony, people take their seats and largely stay in them, sitting quietly and attentively with minimal mingling and little chatting for the three to four hour slog through the best sound editing awards and interminable tribute reels. By the end of the night, the guests tumble out the door dead on their feet. At the Globes, the night is all bonhomie, backslapping and table-hopping. By the second commercial break, half the hall is blissfully ignoring whatever is happening on the stage.

As a result, when the winners take the podium to accept their awards, the mood is chummy, playful and often indecent, (including a running theme of penile humor including r. Hollywood himself, George Clooney, commenting on Michael Fassbender’s endowments).

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The biggest rap on the Golden Globes is it’s not a “real” awards show; as though the hand of God came down and deemed highly-paid professionals in the entertainment industry the only people on Earth worthy of designating greatness in film. And that despite the Academy’s stunningly mediocre record in its award choices in the acting categories, and its sad roll call of “Best Pictures.”

With its inflated pomp, its overripe winners and its bloated, self-serious show, the Academy has proven that maybe people at the top of a profession are a little too close to the cash register to best judge their industry’s merits. And if the mantle must fall to someone, why not let it go to a ragtag, much maligned group of 80-some glitz-loving foreign itinerant writers? Perhaps only people as far from the mainstream as they can have the guts to still have a little bit of fun around the good name of Hollywood, and in that they truly honor the industry at its best, rather than the pious version that will be celebrated just over a month from now.

Let’s just hope success doesn’t ruin the Globes. The last thing we need is a second Oscars.