Why we love the Golden Globes: The wacky upsets and weirdo nominations that make the most fun ceremony of the season

For starters, it's the annual celebrity Bacchanalia that will do anything to make sure Al Pacino shows up

Published January 11, 2016 1:00AM (EST)

  (Bleecker Street)
(Bleecker Street)

Award season is in full swing. And just before the Oscar nominations are to be announced this week, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will hand out the Golden Globes. This year’s nominations range from the sublime—Cate Blanchett in “Carol”—to the ridiculous—Al Pacino in “Danny Collins.” To be fair, shouty Al was actually quite good as a troubled crooner, but award-worthy? Really? At least the nomination for Sylvester Stallone in “Creed” makes sense! If there is any sense to what the HFPA likes, it is comedy. Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer both received nods this year for “Spy” and “Trainwreck,” respectively.

However, it seems as if the Globes and the finicky HFPA—90 Southern California-based international journalists who are members of “a non-profit, philanthropic organization” according to its website—take it upon themselves to be tastemakers. They strive to nominate and award actors who are names, even if their work that year is not their best. (Is that their philanthropic mission?) They often choose to double nominate actors in film and TV perhaps to ensure the performer will show up.

Publicists woo the HFPA with naked and/or crass For Your Consideration campaigns, such as the one for “The Tourist” in 2011 where critics were junketed to Vegas in the hopes of receiving a nomination that could boost attention to a flabby film. Awards like the Golden Globes generate some buzz, which can translate into box office receipts or Oscar attention. It may be how some dark horses gain traction to enter the Big Race.

But looking over the Globe nominations over the years, there are patterns—actors who will be nominated for anything—and head-scratchers—talent that one might expect to be nominated just to get viewers to tune in. What is strange this year is how those two Venn diagrams don’t overlap.

Sure the dividing of best picture and leading acting categories into “Drama” and “Musical or Comedy” allows the latter category to include both Mark Ruffalo for “Infinitely Polar Bear” (rather than the more deserving drama “Spotlight”) and Maggie Smith for “The Lady in the Van.” But these nominations seem to be grasping at straws. No disrespect to either performer, but they must be well liked by the HFPS, who have supported their work in the past. Ruffalo was double nominated for “Foxcatcher” and “The Normal Heart” last year; Smith was last recognized in 2013 for both the film “Quartet” and the TV series “Downton Abbey.” In fact, it is almost surprising that Smith and/or her costar Judi Dench were not nominated for the twaddle that was “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” this year, especially since Dench was in the running for a Golden Globe for the first “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in 2012.

Perhaps there is a tendency by the HFPA to recognize British actresses of a certain age. Helen Mirren got a nod this year for “Trumbo,” her 14th, and at least deserving after the bewildering nomination for the cheesy “The Hundred-Foot Journey” last year and the underwhelming “Hitchcock” in 2012. Oddly, Mirren’s supremely silly 2010 film “RED” was nominated for a best musical or comedy Golden Globe, but not her performance. Alas, the HPFA filled the possible Mirren slot for best actress that year with the forgettable Anne Hathaway in “Love & Other Drugs,” the memorable Emma Stone in “Easy A,” as well as Angelina Jolie for the aforementioned debacle “The Tourist.”

The HPFA may play favorites, but, curiously, “It Boy” Ryan Gosling was passed over this year for his sly performance in “The Big Short” while his co-stars Christian Bale and Steve Carell were both nominated. Gosling was a double nominee in 2012 for two far less notable roles in “Crazy Stupid Love” and “The Ides of March”—and also nominated, justly in 2011, for “Blue Valentine” and before that for “Lars and the Real Girl.” Maybe the HFPA is punishing Gosling for directing “Lost River”?

Gosling is not sitting this year out alone. His “Big Short” co-star Brad Pitt was also shorted. Surely Pitt, who has been a Golden Globe best actor nominee five times in the past, starting in 1995 with “Legends of the Fall” through “Moneyball” in 2012, would be honored for this ensemble comedy. Even his unfairly overlooked dramatic turn in “By the Sea” directed by his wife, six-time Golden Globe nominee and three-time winner, Angelina Jolie, might merit him a place at the table. After all, if she could snag a nomination for her performance in the ridiculous film “The Tourist,” how could she be ignored for her far more ambitious work in “By the Sea”?

Jolie’s fellow “Tourist,” co-star Johnny Depp, was also snubbed by the Globes this year. He had 10 previous nominations (and one win, for “Sweeney Todd” in 2008). Depp’s turn in the criminally underseen “Black Mass” has been generating Oscar buzz, so why is it an also-ran for the Globes?

Was the HFPA trying to make folks forget about the “Tourist” scandal?

Perhaps the HFPA is more focused on distinguishing themselves from the Oscars by honoring the best actors, not the most acting. So Paul Giamatti wins a Globe for “Barney’s Version” in 2011, and Colin Farrell bags a trophy in 2009 for “In Bruges.” These are two fine performances that practically came out of nowhere, proving that the Golden Globes nominations might have merit. That said, Gary Oldman famously spoke out against the Globes in 2012, deeming them “meaningless.”

Still, nominating a deserving actor for a worthy performance seems to be the exception, not the rule. For every decent surprise nomination—consider Golden Globe winner (for “Chicago”) Richard Gere’s slick performance in “Arbitrage” and prior Golden Globe nominee (for “School of Rock!”) Jack Black’s underappreciated turn in “Bernie” in 2013—there is Ewan McGregor, a past Golden Globe nominee (for “Moulin Rouge”), being acknowledged that same year for “Salmon Fishing in Yemen.” Did anyone other than the HFPA even see “Salmon Fishing in Yemen”? And if they did see it, did they like it that much? Or was the junket in Yemen fabulous? Never mind.

There have been other egregious nominations over the years:

In 2006, Sarah Jessica Parker was nominated for “The Family Stone,” an amusing dysfunctional family comedy for sure, but c’mon, was this nomination necessary because “Sex and the City” had ended its run and the HPFA wanted to see her again?

In 2008, John C. Reilly, a terrific actor who effortlessly does well in comic and dramatic roles, was a double nominee for “Walk Hard,” as best actor and for best song. Were these two nominations contingent on one another?

That same year, Jodie Foster was nominated for “The Brave One,” which was as curious as her nomination a few years later for “Carnage.” Good performances by a great actress, but those films barely made a blip on anyone’s radar. Maybe this was just the HFPA’s way of charming Foster so they could award her the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2013, and she could give that memorable and strange coming out speech.

The 1990s had its share of wacky upsets:

In 1991, Gerard Depardieu not only gets nominated for the middling film “Green Card,” but actually wins best actor in a musical or comedy, defeating Johnny Depp in “Edward Scissorhands,” Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman,” Patrick Swayze in “Ghost” and Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone.” OK, maybe the competition wasn’t that stiff in that category.

This was the same year “The Godfather, Part III” received seven Golden Globe nominations, though it won none, a rare feat only achieved by “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” back in 1967.

In 1996 Sharon Stone’s performance in “Casino” is awarded a Golden Globe over Susan Sarandon in “Dead Man Walking,” Meryl Streep in “The Bridges of Madison County,” Emma Thompson in “Sense and Sensibility” and Elisabeth Shue in “Leaving Las Vegas.”

In 1997, Madonna in “Evita” bests Frances McDormand in “Fargo” and Glenn Close in “101 Dalmations.” Madonna surely agreed to attend.

Also in 1997, Eddie Murphy’s turn in “The Nutty Professor” gets nominated. Go figure.

In 1998, Judi Dench’s first (of 11) Golden Globe nominations, for “Mrs. Brown,” wins the prize, leaving Kate Winslet in “Titanic” at sea. Dench may have given a better performance, but most folks were surprised the more popular film lost.

Other weird nominations over the years:

In 1995, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Golden Globe-winning actor (in 1977, for “Stay Hungry”), was nominated again for his tremendous performance in “Junior.” His co-star in the film, Emma Thompson gets nominated, too.

In 1999, the HFPA nominated perennial favorite Robin Williams and his film “Patch Adams,” proving that no performance is too shameless, and no film is too lousy, not to be nominated. Unless it’s “Jakob the Liar” or “What Dreams May Come.”

In 2001, two-time Golden Globe winner (and six-time nominee, including a nod for “Liar Liar”) Jim Carrey’s performance in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” competed against Robert De Niro’s in “Meet the Parents” and Mel Gibson’s in “What Women Want.”

One might think the HPFA was scraping the bottom of the barrel in 2001, but the following year, Hugh Jackman was nominated for “Kate & Leopold,” Cameron Diaz got a nod for “Vanilla Sky,” Kevin Spacey was recognized for “The Shipping News,” and Cate Blanchett and Billy Bob Thornton were both honored for “Bandits.” These nominations all confirm that star power in mediocre films is the HFPA way. As for the wooden Hayden Christensen’s nomination for “Life as a House” that same year, there is simply no explanation.

In 2009, Dustin Hoffman and his co-star Emma Thompson were nominated for “Last Chance Harvey,” a likable film, but like Al Pacino’s bid for “Danny Collins,” mostly notable for being a less hammy late-career part for Hoffman, and hardly a career high.

Then again, in 2009, James Franco was nominated for “Pineapple Express,” a WTF nomination if ever there was one.

In 2010 Julia Roberts’ nomination for “Duplicity” must have been an HFPA effort to have the actress in the audience, and also have someone compete against Meryl Streep who was double nominated for her work in both “Julie & Julia” and “It’s Complicated” in the same category. La Streep tends to be nominated for almost every forgettable film she makes, as “She-Devil,” “Death Becomes Her,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Hope Springs” all prove.

Also in 2010, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, who was snubbed for “The Walk” this year, was nominated for the mild “(500) Days of Summer.” Two years later, he would get another surprise nomination for his turn in “50/50.”

In 2011, Halle Berry received a nomination for “Frankie and Alice,” a film that was made in 2010 but no one knew about because it sat on the shelf until 2014. Maybe the HFPA were ahead of the curve on this one; but maybe they had ulterior motives in having Halle Berry at their ceremony?

The 2012 nomination for Brendan Gleeson in “The Guard” was the actor’s third, after “In Bruges” in 2009 and for the 2010 TV movie “Into the Storm.” It may be a token of respect for the underrated character actor from abroad, but “The Guard” was not nearly as strong as his ignored performance in “Calvary” in 2014 (or even “The General” in 1998). So even when the HFPA does a kindness, it is not without question.

2014 holds two of the most peculiar nominations in Golden Globe history. Kate Winslet was honored for her dramatic turn in the execrable “Labor Day,” while Greta Gerwig was recognized for her performance in “Frances Ha.” Winslet certainly has Hollywood cachet, which might make her attendance appealing, but is the just HFPA trying to be cool by nominating hipster darling Gerwig?

Also in 2014, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ work in “Enough Said,” a respectable film, perhaps most notable for being James Gandolfini’s last leading role—where was his nomination?! One might surmise Louis-Dreyfus was included because the Golden Globe-winning actress (for “Seinfeld”) was also up for her TV work in “Veep” that same year.

Which brings the conversation full circle, and back to the trend to double nominate actors. This may account for why Miss Congeniality herself, Sandra Bullock, got a leading actress nomination for her part in the amusing comedy “The Proposal” the same year as her dramatic acting nomination for “The Blind Side.” Or why Annette Bening received a comedy nomination for “Running With Scissors,” a film that was at the top of Roger Ebert’s “Worst of the Year” list, in 2007 when she was also acknowledged for the TV movie “Mrs. Harris.” Leonardo DiCaprio was also a double nominee in 2007 for his strong work in "The Departed" and for the weak film "Blood Diamond."

Last year, Julianne Moore, Bill Murray and the aforementioned Mark Ruffalo were all double nominees. This year, four actors—Idris Elba, Mark Rylance, Lily Tomlin and Alicia Vikander—received two nominations each, which makes their chances greater for a win, so their attendance at the ceremony more likely.

Still, there is the even rarer feat of a triple-Globe nomination, which not even Meryl Streep herself has achieved. But Jamie Foxx did it in 2005, getting Globe nominations for “Ray,” “Collateral” and the TV movie “Redemption.”

Which also brings us to the famous, unbelievable “three-way tie” in 1989, when Jodie Foster shared her best actress Globe for “The Accused” with Sigourney Weaver in “Gorillas in the Mist” and Shirley MacLaine for “Madame Sousatzka.” What is hard to believe is that the losers that year were Christine Lahti in “Running on Empty,” and Meryl Streep from “A Cry in the Dark.”

Ultimately, the value of the Golden Globes is debatable. But as the saying goes, “It’s an honor to be nominated.” Even if you’re Al Pacino in “Danny Collins.”

By Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

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