We have this conversation every year, but that doesn't mean it's not true: It's hard to know what to make of the Golden Globes telecast. We — and by "we" I mean most awards show watchers — hold a few truths to be self-evident: that the Globes are silly, that it's nice to see people be praised for good work and that the Globes (like most awards, unfortunately) do a pretty terrible job of rewarding people who do good work in an equitable way, which means even deserved wins can feel bittersweet.
What's more, Sunday night's awards didn't do much to narrow down the Oscar contenders, if that's your angle. In fact, the film awards were spread around among a lot of contenders that are expected to be kicking around when the nominees are announced on Jan. 13. The best motion picture drama, generally considered the top prize, went to 1917, a film that's not even widely available in theaters until this Friday. It's a World War I epic made by best-director winner Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins to resemble one long and continuous shot, and while it's on awards radar and has been for a while, it's only in about 10 or so theaters nationwide right now. It can only feel strange to win your big award before your real opening day.
Meanwhile, Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time In ... Hollywood started what could be a 2020 awards roll with wins for its screenplay, supporting actor Brad Pitt and then the award for best musical or comedy film. Best actor in a drama went to Joaquin Phoenix for Joker, and best actress to Renée Zellweger in Judy. Best actor in a musical or comedy went to Taron Egerton, who played Elton John in Rocketman, while best actress in a comedy (or a comedy-ish?) was Awkwafina in The Farewell. Best supporting actress in a film was Laura Dern for Marriage Story. And Bong Joon-ho's stunning tale of class and family, Parasite, was named best foreign language film — which it could very well pick up at the Oscars, too, along with a best picture nomination. That's a lot of noise to sort through if you're looking for a predictive signal. (Which you shouldn't, really, since the Globes are given out by a bunch of journalists, none of whom are Oscar voters.)
The television haul was similarly scattered: HBO's buzzy Succession was best drama series, and Fleabag was best comedy series. Honored actors included Succession's Brian Cox, The Crown's Olivia Colman, Fleabag's Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and — delightfully — Ramy Youssef of the Hulu series Ramy. (If you want a reason to root for the Globes, every now and then, they give an award to a new face on an underdog show precisely like Ramy, and whether that should be a source of publicity or not, it generally is one.) Supporting winners in TV were Chernobyl's Stellan Skarsgard and The Act's Patricia Arquette. There were limited series wins for Russell Crowe in The Loudest Voice and Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon in Fosse/Verdon, and Chernobyl was best limited series or movie.
There are many deserving winners on this long (long) list, if few surprises other than Youssef — and perhaps 1917, simply because it's not familiar to audiences yet. Still, the failure to nominate more than a handful of actors and creators of color — or any female directors in a year that offered a number of solid contenders — makes the wins themselves a little hollow.
What made this ceremony stand out was what a number of winners and honorees chose to do with their time, perhaps a reflection of the heavy news cycle of the past weeks, months or years, depending on the matter at hand. Several speakers mentioned the fires burning in Australia and their link to climate change, and Arquette was explicit in talking about the need to vote in 2020. But perhaps Michelle Williams gave the most personal speech about a matter of concern, explaining that she could not have had the life she's had if she hadn't had the right to choose, as she put it, when to have her children and with whom. She addressed women "from 18 to 118" directly: "Vote in your own self-interest; it's what men have been doing for years."
But it wasn't only when current events came up that the speeches were the best reason to watch. Tom Hanks received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, and he spoke at length about collaboration and professionalism in precisely the way you might want Tom Hanks to speak on those matters — right up to a mention of what he learned from Peter Scolari and Holland Taylor, two of his Bosom Buddies co-stars back when he was just a pup. And Kate McKinnon presented the Carol Burnett Award, inaugurated just last year when it went to Burnett herself, to Ellen DeGeneres. McKinnon spoke of the way it felt to think she might be gay, and how much less scary that was after she saw DeGeneres come out on television.
Bong Joon-ho used his time to tell Americans to get over the "one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles" and open up a whole world of film. Skarsgard talked about how he doesn't have noticeable eyebrows. Colman noted how many famous people she'd been pointing out from her table. Presenter Tiffany Haddish not only cheered on Michelle Williams, but she put mustard on the word "Chernobyl" that it's probably never had before.
Oh, and also: The less said the better about the surly, resentful, too-cool-to-put-in-any-effort hosting turn from Ricky Gervais, who swears that his fifth time hosting the Golden Globes — which he always insists he's not a natural candidate to do at all, repeat invitations and acceptances of those invitations aside — will be his last. Let's hope so.
It wasn't the tipsy, silly Globes ceremony we've sometimes had in the past — but then, we don't live in the world we did then, either. Maybe we'll never see Emma Thompson toss her Louboutins away again, and more's the pity.
All in all, a surprisingly earnest evening that continued some narratives that already had forward momentum. Yes, Joaquin Phoenix is a powerful pick for Joker, Once Upon A Time is going strong and Tom Hanks becoming overwhelmed with emotion is just about all we can take on a Sunday night.