Something remarkable happened at the Golden Globes. In 1998, that is.
Ving Rhames won the award for Best Actor (Miniseries/TV Film) for playing boxing promoter and legendary blowhard Don King in Don King: Only In America. The 39-year-old actor bawled as he held his well-deserved trophy, only to then invite fellow nominee Jack Lemmon (nominated for William Friedkin’s remake of Twelve Angry Men) to the stage. The crowd got to their feet as the bewildered 73-year-old legend made his way to the stage. “Being an artist is about giving, and I’d like to give this to you, Mr Jack Lemmon,” said Rhames, handing Lemmon the trophy. That marvellous moment, overwhelming and unrehearsed, led to a friendship between Lemmon and Rhames, who refused to take the trophy back even as Lemmon pleaded.
That is why we watch award shows. To watch artists get swept up in emotion, to feel the palpable love of the art, and for the spontaneous moments of movie magic at its most unscriptable. To witness Jack Nicholson, sitting in the audience with that almighty grin and ever-present sunglasses, look at these actors passing an award back and forth and mouth the words “Give it to me, I’ll take it.”
It really is special. I urge you to hunt it out on YouTube.
This year’s Golden Globes were infinitely less worthy — and I’m not saying that only because Emily In Paris was among the nominees.
As awards, The Golden Globes have never held credibility. Gary Oldman — nominated for Best Actor this year for his sensational turn in David Fincher’s Mank (Netflix) — once described the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the body that hands out the Golden Globe awards as “90 nobodies having a wank,” and this year it was revealed that the 87 dubiously selected members of the HFPA did not include a single black person. An LA Times investigation revealed widespread financial irregularities within the HFPA ranks, and none of it honestly came as a surprise.
Yet we watch The Golden Globes because they are one of the only film award shows to be widely broadcast around the world, and because, arriving early in award season, this boozy affair allows A-listers to cut loose while knowing the whole thing is a gag. We watch not because of excellence rewarded, but for someone famous (eg Ricky Gervais) being mean to someone famous-er (eg Mel Gibson) while a legend (eg Tom Hanks) tries his best not to laugh.
This year, however, the show was a Zoom call we could all do without. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler disconcertingly hosted from different stages via splitscreen, award-winners couldn’t be heard, and despite the sight of Jason Sudeikis in a splashy hoodie, there was absolutely no reason to tune in and watch the ceremony. There was the odd spark — like Best Director nominee David Fincher pouring and downing a shot to celebrate the Best Director prize going to Nomadland director Chloe Zhao — but the night remained forgettable and tedious. Several people you and I like may have won trophies, but the losers were those who had tuned in.
The thing to note is that the Emmy Awards a few months ago, also conducted primarily through video-conferencing, got it right. The show felt intimate and surprising and warm, with the inclusive little gem Schitt’s Creek sweeping the awards the way and being hailed the way it may not have been hailed if not for the pandemic. The Golden Globes felt strikingly amateurish in comparison. As Tina Fey said to wrap up her opening monologue: “Could this all have been an email?”
It could indeed. But then came Jane Fonda.
The fearless icon and activist took this unimpressive stage — she was being given the Cecil B DeMille Award for lifetime achievement — and decided to elevate it. She spoke to her “community of storytellers” and lavished praise on films and shows that increased her empathy, immediately singling out and lauding the momentous works of art egregiously absent from the Globe nominations:
“Just this year, Nomadland helped me feel love for the wanderers among us, and Minari opened my eyes to the experience of immigrants dealing with the realities of life in a new land. And Judas and the Black Messiah, Small Axe, United States vs Billie Holiday, Ma Rainey, One Night in Miami and others have deepened my empathy for what being Black has meant. Ramy helped me feel what it means to be Muslim American. I May Destroy You has taught me to consider sexual violence in a whole new way. The documentary All In reminds us how fragile our democracy is and inspires us to fight to preserve it and A Life on Our Planet shows us how fragile our small blue planet is and inspires us to save it and ourselves. Stories. They really can change people.”
Here, then, is to seeking out more stories, and less spectacle. There is no reason to watch or care about The Golden Globes. They are out of touch, out of sync and out of ideas. They don’t have Jack.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.