Our Unconventional Awards Season

I enjoy awards season, even though I’m aware I probably shouldn’t. Objectively speaking, it’s a nightmare — mediocrities are inexplicably elevated, great work gets overlooked, and films have their individual complexities flattened out to fit into simplified, cynical media-constructed “narratives” (can we all now admit it was a bit silly to treat La La Land vs Moonlight as a replay of the then-recent 2016 US election?). Innovators like Martin Scorsese waited decades to triumph while down-the-middle hacks like Tom Hooper swept the board. In the acting categories, hackneyed, preferably prosthetic-assisted, impressions of recognisable real people repeatedly triumph over more nuanced works of character creation. The Best Director Oscar has still only gone to a female director one time. For goodness sake, Bohemian Rhapsody took home more golden statuettes than the entire filmography of Akira Kurosawa!


And yet, I can’t help but find the whole thing entertaining. Maybe it’s the annual suspense of seeing if they’ll get it right this time, or the fact that its one of the few occasions which gets the public seriously talking about film. Maybe it’s just the combination of grandiose sentiments with the ever-present possibility for human error. So, naturally, I was curious to see how this year’s awards season would navigate COVID-19 restrictions — which would seem to heighten the possibility for both grandeur and disaster.


Thus, it was with both scepticism and excitement that I awaited the 78th Golden Globe Awards. The Globes have long embodied everything both entertaining and exasperating about the awards circuit. Infamously, the event has an open bar, leading to a less formal, often more raucous atmosphere than other ceremonies, while the HFPA’s choices often make you wonder if they’ve been drinking themselves; they arbitrarily divide films into “Drama” and “Comedy or Musical” and then display no consistency about these criteria (Get Out is a comedy, but A Star Is Born somehow isn’t a musical?), and have a galling tendency to nominate big-name stars for simply showing up in second-string fluff (see: Cate Blanchett’s nomination last year for the seen-by-few, liked-by-fewer Where’d You Go, Bernadette?). As such, it’s somewhat appropriate that the Globes should serve as the crash-test dummy for a locked-down awards season — what’s one more oddity, right?


All things considered, they pulled it off relatively well. Returning hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler performed nobly, toeing the line between earnest commentary and good-natured absurdism. The remote acceptance speeches largely went about as well as one could expect. As for the quality of the winners themselves, well, I wish I could say more than I can. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of the nominees — including Nomadland, which was named Best Motion Picture — Drama and won best director for Chloe Zhao — have not yet been made available to UK audiences. Maybe they’re great, maybe they’re not — I have no way of knowing. This is only a slight exacerbation of a recurrent problem with these ceremonies, where the films honoured have only been nominally “released” in certain cities, with most of the general public having no way of seeing them. But, so far as I can tell, this year’s crop of winners were at least admirably heterogenous. Yes, there were some quintessentially Globes-esque head-scratchers — I May Destroy You being shut out of the television categories while hate-watch favourite Emily In Paris received two baffling nominations being the obvious example, as well as the appearance of throwaways like The Prom and Music. But in all fairness, there were also some predictable but deserved wins — Anya Taylor-Joy for The Queen’s Gambit, and Chadwick Boseman’s posthumous win for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — and a few of the admirably outside-the-box choices that occasionally make the Globes worthwhile, like Rosamund Pike’s victory for I Care A Lot (think of how rarely we see women nominated or winning for the kind of grotesque or unlikable performances that served as career coronations for Robert De Niro or Joaquin Phoenix), or Daniel Kaluuya winning for his performance as Fred Hampton in the just-released Judas and The Black Messiah. And while the nominees weren’t quite the free-for-all some predicted based on the sparse release calendar, it’s true that the likes of Nomadland and Promising Young Woman are admirably different from the typical image of awards fayre. 


I suppose my enjoyment of this most unusual ceremony gets to the heart of why I pay attention to awards season every year despite myself. This year, I couldn’t really bring myself to worry about whether they truly represented the best of the year in cinema, because there wasn’t much of a year in cinema to represent. Instead, I could focus on the challenge of the ceremony itself;  the ensuing triumphs and pitfalls of trying to put together one of the industry’s biggest gatherings at a time when no one can gather. I realise now that the reason I keep getting sucked into this annual circus no matter how often they get it wrong is because there is something inherently entertaining about the simultaneous pomp and awkwardness of the ceremony itself — and there’s somehow nothing more pompous or awkward than watching celebrities in formal wear give solemn, exhilarated speeches from their sofas.