The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization responsible for handing out the Golden Globes, has long been shrouded in secrecy, but it’s rarely inspired questions about whether or not its members are human. Yet, whoever (or whatever) was charged with announcing the awards on social media this past Sunday night sometimes seemed unfamiliar with the winning movies (and maybe with the idea of movies entirely). “If laughter is the best medicine @WestSideStory is the cure for what ails you,” the official Golden Globes Twitter account posted by way of announcing the tuneful but tragic Steven Spielberg film’s victory in the “Best Picture — Musical/Comedy” category. (The tweet was later deleted and replaced with one reading “If music is the best medicine…,” which more accurately describes West Side Story but mangles the aphorism.)
That was just one example of the disorganization and category confusion that plagued the Globes as the HFPA tweeted out winners from a private, celebrity-free gathering with all the glamour of the Quad Cities Film Critics Association rolling out its annual list of honorees. It was also, for most of the public, just as under-the-radar. In some ways, the debacle brought the Globes full circle from where they ended last year. All awards shows have struggled to adapt to Covid-19, but 2021’s Zoom-heavy Globes were plagued by technical glitches that made them borderline unwatchable, despite the best efforts of hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. And that was then the Globes’ troubles really began.
The Golden Globes have never been legitimate (accusations of fixed prizes, rigged awards and bemusing had-t0-have-been-bought wins stretch all the way back to 1958. ) But they’ve consistently been treated as important anyway. Every year the stars turn out for a boozy gathering presided over by charming hosts (and sometimes Ricky Gervais). The winners graciously accept their prizes and Oscar prognosticators treat the outcome as an important indicator of what the forthcoming nominations would look like.
But in February, the Los Angeles Times published a blockbuster exposé detailing accusations of financial impropriety and self-dealing (including cushy payments to members for serving on committees and performing other low-impact tasks) and suggestions that studios can essentially buy awards by wining and dining HFPA members . It was accompanied by a separate piece revealing that the then-87-person organization had no Black members.
The fallout was as swift as it was harsh, almost as if much of Hollywood was looking for an excuse to divorce itself from the Globes. Despite the HFPA’s promise to reform its ways, everyone from Netflix and Amazon to stars like Tom Cruise, Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson (the lattermost citing “sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on sexual harassment”) vowed not to work with the organization. An August announcement of reforms that included initiatives to expand and diversify the HFPA ranks and required all current members to reapply did little to improve the Globes’ prospects, at least immediately. Dick Clark Productions, the HFPA’s partner in the telecast, called the moves “important” and NBC, the Globes’ network home in recent years, said it was “encouraged” but remained noncommittal about returning the Globes to the air in 2023 and beyond.
Nothing about this year’s Globes suggests it’s ready to return to primetime, including a Variety piece revealing that this year’s ballots did not allow members to vote for non-English language or animated films in the Best Motion Picture — Drama or Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical categories, despite a previous announcement that they would be eligible. Even if this was somehow an oversight it raised the question of how seriously the HFPA was taking other reforms.
But if the Globes are over—and that remains a big “if,” given the HFPA’s unlikely resilience and proven ability to come back from other scandals—what might take their place as a glitzy Oscars-before-the-Oscars? For a moment it looked like the 27-year-old Critics Choice Movie Awards (previously the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards) would step up. Aired on different networks over the course of its existence, the ceremony has been broadcast on The CW since 2017 and this year made plans to expand to TBS and take the Globes’ traditional early-January slot. The Omicron variant scotched those plans, however, and the Critics Choice Association has yet to announce a rescheduled date.
If anything, this feels like an apt moment for the Globes to become just another group tweeting out its winners, however bumblingly, and vying for attention alongside other (and better qualified) organizations like the National Society of Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the New York Film Critics Circle. All three gave their top honors to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s excellent Drive My Car, a film that, by virtue of its language, could not have done the same at the Globes. (It did pick up the Non-English Language award, however.)
There is a potential downside to the leveling of the field that comes with the deglitzification. A recent New York Times piece headlined “Quiet Awards Season Has Hollywood Uneasy” noted the sidelining of the Globes as a major contributing factor to a year in which awards season is playing out everywhere but movie theaters, where contenders like West Side Story and Belfast are playing to less-than-packed houses. With no high-profile awards events to goose the curious into checking them out, the results could be a slate of nominees without much in the way of name recognition. One possible solution: nominate what’s already popular. In Variety, critic Owen Gleiberman argued that Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film he admits hating, should earn a Best Picture nominee to restore “mainstream cred” to the Oscars, calling it “nothing less than the oxygen that’s going to allow them to survive.”
There’s a logic to this, however knotty. For the Oscars and film culture in general to stay healthy, moviegoers have to stay interested in, well, going to the movies. That’s a tougher sell than in most times thanks to the pandemic, viewing habits altered by streaming, and other factors. But they also have to remain invested in the idea that movies can be great, a quality that doesn’t come from box office profits or the drunken applause of movie stars packed into the Beverly Hilton. To think otherwise is to forget what awards, for all the hype and politicking around them, are supposed to be about. The Golden Globes forgot that a long time ago and look what (eventually) happened.