Imagine a world in which most of the cosmic injustices perpetuated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not take place. I know it’s hard, with the wound of of The King’s Speech’s victory over The Social Network so fresh, but imagine a world in which Fincher’s film had been victorious—a world where Brokeback Mountain did not lose out to Crash and E.T. beat out Gandhi, where Chinatown won best film and Coppola won best director for Apocalypse Now. Oh, and while we’re at it, an armful of trophies for Some Like Hot and a little something for Alfred Hitchcock.
Before someone objects on the grounds of cruelty, let me reassure you: This fragrant arcadia exists. It is the world as reflected back to us in those big shiny iridescent orbs, the Golden Globes. I’ve never understood the vilification rained down on the Globes every year: "the entertainment industry's dirty little secret," "just a group of whores from other countries," “a non-event raised to epic proportions by Dick Clark getting them a network television slot,” “a scam that would make Bernie Madoff blush." Agreed, the organization comprises a deeply suspect cabal of just 88 foreign “journalists” writing for such illustrious journals as Malaysia's Galaxie magazine and Australia's FilmInk, who appear to dish out nominations on the basis of which star can be persuaded to get drunk with them on awards night, in return for a boost for their Oscar chances. So the Globes are venal and easily corrupted, and the voters wish for nothing more than to get drunk with Sharon Stone: so, too, do half my friends.
The scandal is not that the Golden Globes are handed out by a bunch of star-struck foreign hacks with lucrative sidelines in the world of hairdressing and personal fitness; the real scandal is that a bunch of star-struck foreign hacks make aesthetic choices that are consistently the equal of, if not better than, those of the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They (rightly) gave best director to Francis Ford Coppola for Apocalypse Now rather than Robert Benton for Kramer vs. Kramer. They went for Tom Hanks when he was still funny, in Big, long before everyone came down with a case of the Gumps. And they were the only major awards group to spot Marilyn Monroe’s gifts as a comedienne, giving her best actress for her performance in Some Like It Hot, a film which won an armful of Globes but limped away from the Academy Awards with just a single lousy Oscar: best costume.
Actually, what they gave Monroe was “Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical),” not the sweetest of endearments, but one pointing to the single most important reason why the Globes taste profile feels so supple when compared to that of the fusty old academy: They recognize comedy. The Oscars, on the other hand, are the place the entertainment industry goes to be reassured that it is not just in the business of entertainment. For 364 days of the year the good citizens of Hollywood graze elbows and knees in their efforts to put bums on cinema seats. Then, come January, they clutch their foreheads, stare into the middle distance, and attempt to divine whether the anti-racism tract playing on their flat-screen TVs is, in fact, art—a vague and amorphous term that strikes terror in the heart of the average studio executive. The Oscars are first and foremost designed to alleviate that terror. The question the awards are concerned with is not “what film marks the greatest artistic effort?” but “which film can best be defense against the charge of philistinism?” Hence their nose for films garlanded with extracurricular socio-political-humanitarian importance—Gandhi, Platoon, Dances With Wolves, A Beautiful Mind, Crash — designed to make Hollywood feel good about itself for one night, but which everybody else forgets almost instantaneously.
Spend some time with the list of Golden Globes winners for best musical or comedy—a list which includes The Apartment, The Graduate, M.A.S.H., Tootsie, Prizzi’s Honor, Hannah and Her Sisters, Working Girl, The Player, Toy Story 2, Almost Famous, Sideways, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Lost in Translation—and it reads suspiciously like the list of films we will actually be watching in 50 years’ time, once Crash is but a distant blip in our rear view mirrors.
Of course, the Globes do not completely sidestep the marsh of the middlebrow. They preferred Love Story to Patto and Gigi to Vertigo. Notoriously, they named Pia Zadora newcomer of the year after her husband showered the HFPA with lavish parties. They nominated Sharon Stone in The Muse after her representative plied them with 84 gold watches. And in 2009 they nominated The Tourist for best motion picture, actor, and actress seemingly out of nothing more than an intense desire to clap eyes on the sinuous forms of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie hopping tables.