You’ll find a lot of 2018 films more loved by critics than Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody, but both have found enthusiastic audiences. On Sunday night, they were the big winners in film at the Golden Globes, in a ceremony that dragged 20 minutes past its scheduled time and occasionally felt as if it was rushing through a list of awards and trying desperately to get winners to wrap it up.
Standard Golden Globes caveats: The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is relatively small, notoriously weird in its tastes, and possessed of a reputation politely described as “eye-poppingly solicitous in matters related to famous people.” You never want to take the Globes too seriously, except that they are a high-profile event that’s a big part of Oscar campaigning — whether they should be or not. (They should not.)
As to the ceremony itself, hosts tend to set the tone for such an evening, and this one was no different. Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg both have laid-back and agreeable personas. Both ooze good vibes. She’s a brilliant actress who’s found a brilliant vehicle in Killing Eve, and he’s a goofball whose comedy has never been better or more heartfelt than it is on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They’re performers who like to please people. Nobody expected their monologue to be particularly cutting, and it wasn’t.
They vowed that they were about to dish out some real zingers — “Hope you’re wearing your flip-flops, Hollywood, ’cause we’re about to scorch some earth,” Samberg said. But instead, they went with compliments: how hot Bradley Cooper is, how good everyone’s work was, and so forth. It’s safe to say it didn’t really play with the crowd or on social media, but it had a committed charm that’s easy to appreciate when you’ve sat through enough awards hosts who are trying to be edgy. Yes, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were better, but they were better than everybody. You can’t go by that.
One issue may have been that the vibe was distinctly Andy Samberg, and Samberg has a very particular comedic sensibility. That doesn’t always work terribly well in settings such as these, no matter how dutifully you transport your style from your own thing to what’s basically a big banquet. That’s what happened when David Letterman hosted the Oscars; his “Oprah, Uma” bit would have killed on his own show, but in that room, they looked at him like he had two heads. What works for Samberg on Brooklyn Nine-Nine plays differently on a stage.
But the tone was upbeat, and then all of a sudden, it was even … meaningful? Sandra Oh explained that she had taken the job of hosting because she wanted to be there to celebrate a year of change, and a year in which new faces were being honored and new stories told. It was a warm moment, particularly for the Globes, which are often known mostly as the awards show where everybody gets drunk. (Like, “bring your drink on stage” drunk.)
Some of the wins raised no eyebrows. The Americans won for TV drama series in its last season — remarkably, the first Golden Globe the much-honored series has ever won. That felt pretty good. Let’s keep the good mood going, right? As if that weren’t enough, it was the inaugural ceremony for the Carol Burnett Award, television’s equivalent of the long-established Cecil B. DeMille Award in film. The first winner, of course, was Carol Burnett, who gave a heartfelt speech in which she both thanked the many people she’s worked with in her career and lamented the fact that a variety show that cost as much as hers did would probably not be made today.
Jeff Bridges’ speech when he won the Cecil B. DeMille Award was equally full of appreciation for the people he’s worked with, although it was considerably more … shall we say, relaxed? Sure, it sort of rambled (as presenter Chris Pine looked on adoringly, perhaps hoping it would not fall to him to give a legend the hook), but what else would you expect from Jeff Bridges?
And then Regina King won! Nobody doesn’t love Regina King, who’s been great in countless roles, and her supporting win for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk was so satisfying, especially on a night when the film was otherwise overlooked (a good time to drag out the word “travesty”). King stopped the attempt to play her off when she vowed to employ 50 percent women in everything she produces for the next two years and challenged others to do likewise.
Oh herself won for Killing Eve, and she gave the exuberant speech everyone wanted from her — perhaps especially those who’d felt the monologue was too soft. She thanked her parents, who were in the room, and she seemed legitimately delighted, even before she appeared with Samberg for the next hosting bit and got a laugh by still clutching it and refusing to let it go. Darren Criss, when he won for FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace, thanked his Filipino mom, too. Glenn Close, who won for her lead role in the film The Wife, gave a stirring speech about the importance of women following the demands of their creativity, which is becoming a standard — but always welcome — part of most major awards shows.
Even some of the prizes that not everyone was rooting for, like Mahershala Ali winning for his supporting performance in Green Book (which has nothing to do with him and everything to do with misgivings about Green Book, which we’ll get back to), weren’t all bad. Who doesn’t like Mahershala Ali? He was also in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, which delightfully won for animated feature.
It was a solid night for consistently terrific actors who have been good for a long time. Patricia Clarkson, for Sharp Objects. Patricia Arquette, for Escape at Dannemora. Ben Whishaw, for A Very English Scandal. The divine Olivia Colman for The Favourite — one of several winners to be bleeped, so enthused was her gratitude. Rami Malek, who shot to stardom on Mr. Robot, won for his dramatic role playing Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, and seemed to very much enjoy shouting out the members of Queen, among others.
The foreign language film award went to Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s gorgeous black-and-white film that’s probably one of the better-known — and, because it was distributed on Netflix, most widely available — foreign language films released in the United States in a long time. And it stars Yalitza Aparicio, a first-time actress. What’s not to like about that? Cuarón, who also won for Gravity in 2013, won for directing. (Foreign language films are not eligible for the regular best film categories at the Globes, so Roma couldn’t be nominated there.)
Some of the TV decisions were where the HFPA showed its true colors. It’s funny: When Rachel Brosnahan won for her lead role in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last year, it was an early sign that the show could succeed. When she won again Sunday night after also winning the Emmy last fall, it already felt like, “Oh, sure, her again,” which goes to show you how quickly these cycles go.
This year’s “That won? Well, that’s the Golden Globes for you” TV series was the comedy The Kominsky Method, starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin and created by TV super-producer Chuck Lorre. Lorre is better known for shows like Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory than for Netflix award-winners, and The Kominsky Method won for comedy series — in a stiff field including the great The Good Place on NBC and HBO’s Barry. He was one of the most choked-up winners, which might seem surprising from the guy who made Two And A Half Men, until you realize that while he’s made networks a zillion dollars over the years, high-profile awards for him have been few and far between.
Of course, not everything was quite so feel-good. Christian Bale, who won for his lead comedy performance as Dick Cheney in Vice, thanked Satan for the inspiration. One minute people are thanking their parents, and the next: This happens.
Likely the biggest topic of controversy from the night will be the big comedy/musical film win for Green Book (which also won best screenplay). It’s a period film about race that, like a lot of period films about race, strikes some as touching and others as simplistic and fixated on the behavior of nice white people in the pre-Civil Rights era. The surviving family of black concert pianist Dr. Donald Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, has complained that Shirley’s true story isn’t represented by the film, which was written by a team that included the son of Shirley’s white driver, played in the film by Viggo Mortensen.
Green Book‘s director, Peter Farrelly, gave a speech in which he attempted to underline that the film, and the friendship between the men, stands for the fact that “if they can find common ground, we all can.” Unfortunately, that plays directly into the concerns of the film’s detractors that it confuses the ability of two people to get along in a social setting with the ability of a society to reconfigure the way it allocates power; that it confuses a man who makes a black friend with a man who effectively fights racism. Watching that discussion play out over the coming weeks as the Oscars approach will be interesting, to say the least.
When Bohemian Rhapsody won for best dramatic film, it was after a difficult production that included the firing of the credited director, Bryan Singer, partway through filming. Singer has been accused of misconduct both on set and off, and his participation is likely to be a topic of considerable discussion as the Oscars approach. (Like Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody has also been criticized for playing fast and loose with historical facts, including the way it fits Freddie Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis into its story.)
The problem with awards shows, maybe, is that they can only really hold the happy things. As Daniel D’Addario pointed out in Variety, it makes sense to go with the light tone the hosts were going for. But it’s complicated when that runs into the complicated issues that tangle up the content and production of the films and television being honored.