What the Golden Globes Really Mean for the Oscar Race

What the Golden Globes Really Mean for the Oscar Race

It was the speech that turned last year’s awards season around. At the Golden Globes, the envelope for best actress (drama) was opened, and the winner was Glenn Close. The campaign for her performance in The Wife had gotten off to a wobbly start, but even before the surprised and touched actress took the stage, it was clear that those in attendance, including her competitors, were enraptured. They rose to give her a standing ovation. The kiss she gave Michael Douglas on her way to the podium was a reminder to everyone of her 45 years in the industry, and in her elegant, moving speech, she praised her “category sisters” as they beamed back at her, noted the 14 years of effort it took to make the film, paid tribute to a character who lived her life in the shadows, then connected that to the struggles of her own mother and of women to be heard and seen. It was pitch-perfect. Everyone from Melissa McCarthy to Janelle Monáe nodded in approval, and Laura Dern led a mid-speech second standing ovation. By the time Close finished, it was clear that the narrative had changed. As the world now knows, she was on her way to her long-overdue first Academy Award…

…which was won by Olivia Colman. Why? Because as much as we would like to believe otherwise, the Golden Globes mean nothing. They do not confer legitimacy; they do not change narratives; they are the first line of nobody’s obituary. They give us something fun and boring and entertaining and appalling and excessive to watch for three hours, and they evaporate moments after the last winner’s name is read, as the carnival moves on and the 90 or so foreign journalists who decide the winners vanish for another year.

As true as it has been in the past, it’s truer this year, since there simply isn’t enough time between the handing out of the Globes and the end of Oscar-nomination voting on Tuesday to shift any story lines or create momentum. It is likely that thousands of Oscar voters completed their ballots before the Globes were given, and of the rest, the majority will probably make up their mind without letting a great (or disappointing) speech serve as the deciding factor. In the moment, Close’s acceptance looked like it would inspire a wave of “I want her to have that Oscar!” Instead the wave was, “How nice that she had this moment.”

So the news from the Golden Globes may not be as newsy for some of the winners as it might at first appear. On the surface, last night’s big winner—the movie that gained the most—was unquestionably Sam Mendes’s 1917, which beat The Irishman and Marriage Story to win best motion picture (drama) and also won best director, asserting its centrality in the race for nominations. But the correlation between best picture at the Globes and best picture at the Oscars is incidental at best; even though the Globes give out two top prizes every year, they’ve missed the eventual best-picture winner five times in the last decade. (It’s almost as if the few dozen votes it takes to pick a Globe winner have less than no connection to the couple of thousand it takes to secure an Oscar.)

That said, what does correlate somewhat to the Oscar votership is the population of Globe front tables at the Beverly Hilton, which are packed with eventual Academy Award nominees and AMPAS members, and reading the enthusiasm of the room can be revealing. Clearly, Laura Dern and Brad Pitt were both popular winners; last night they continued to stride toward the possibility of their first acting Oscars without missing a beat, and with warm applause from their peers. Best actor remains more of a scramble, and if Rocketman’s Taron Egerton, who beat both Leonardo DiCaprio and Eddie Murphy to take best actor (musical or comedy), gets an Oscar nomination, people will retroactively read his Globe win as a portent. In reality, it’s more the reflection of a likable and persistent presence on the campaign circuit making a well-targeted impression with a very specific votership.

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