Any awards aficionado knows that the Golden Globes are a bit of a joke. They are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – a mysterious organization that has not only been accused of having bad taste but of being willing to trade votes for special attention and/or gifts. The truth is that it is a relatively small organization (about 90 members) for the standards of most televised award shows, which makes it particularly prone to make baffling decisions (a couple of dozen votes could be enough to win a Golden Globe.) It doesn’t help matters that, despite having the word “press” in its title, the identity and occupation of most of the HFPA’s members is kind of a mystery (there was a scandal not long ago in which a member was accused of publishing a fake interview with Drew Barrymore for an in-flight magazine.)
Despite all this, the Golden Globes are, by most measures, the second most prestigious movie-related award in the country. The reasons are not so hard to grasp: they’ve been around for a long time, so they have name recognition. Also, the ceremony seems to be a lot of fun, which means celebrities consistently show up to the event. But perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Golden Globes is that their own volatility can, every now and then, result in some pretty exciting choices. It’s not so much that a broken clock is right twice a day, but that said broken clock doesn’t take itself too seriously, and thus is willing and able to make choices that the most prestigious clock in town simply wouldn’t make.
And so, in the spirit of defending those crazy Globes, let me offer you, in chronological order, ten times when the Golden Globes actually got it right:
Best Actress 1993
One of the big differences between the Golden Globes and the Oscars is that they have a number of categories in which they separate movies into two camps: one for Drama and one for Musical or Comedy. This separation doesn’t always play out the way one would hope, but in ’93, it spared the Globes having to choose between two iconic performances. The Oscars went with Holly Hunter’s incredible work in The Piano, but by doing so denied Angela Bassett the chance to become the first black woman to win Best Actress for her tour-de-force as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It? The Globes, meanwhile, had their cake and ate it too: Hunter won for Best Actress in a “Drama” and Bassett for “Musical or Comedy.”
Best Picture 1995
This was the year that Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, somewhat unexpectedly, took the Oscars by storm. Let’s just say history hasn’t exactly been kind to the man (or the movie). And while the Globes did give Gibson the award for Best Director (being famously in love with actors-turned-directors), they did have the decency to pick two much better Best Picture alternatives: In Drama, the beautifully effective Jane Austen adaptation Sense and Sensibility. And perhaps even more impressively, the Comedy or Musical award went to the simply delightful Babe.
Best Actor in a Drama 1998
Never has the Globes’ propensity to award big movie stars paid off more handsomely than when Jim Carrey won the Best Actor in a Drama award for his work in The Truman Show – a movie that simply wouldn’t be the same without his performance. It’s an even more impressive choice when you remember that not only did Oscar make the immediately regrettable decision to award Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful, but that Carrey wasn’t even nominated.
Best Director 2001
Not only did the Golden Globes line-up in this category look better than Oscar’s (both groups nominated David Lynch for Mulholland Dr., but only the Globes had Baz Luhrmann for Moulin Rouge! and Steven Spielberh for A.I. Artificial Intelligence), but they made the better choice when it came time to hand out the statue. The Oscars chose Ron Howard for the appallingly middle-brow A Beautiful Mind. The Globes, in contrast, went with the delightful murder-mystery Gosford Park, thus giving a Best Director award to Robert Altman – something the Oscars never did.
Best Actress 2006
Again, the Comedy or Musical category comes to the rescue. Both Oscar and Globes saw fit to reward Helen Mirren for playing Queen Elizabeth II in the much respected The Queen, but only the Globes were able to simultaneously reward Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada. Mirren’s performance is good, but Streep’s turn as Miranda Priestley has become one of the most iconic and well-remembered performances of the past twenty years – and would’ve made for a much more deserved third Oscar than The Iron Lady.
Comedy or Musical Acting 2008
Not having a lot of Comedy or Musicals in the awards race can result in some pretty weird nominations from the Globes who can resort to lowest denominator big hits to fill up the spots. But in 2008, a relatively thin field gave way to nominations for independent British movies that might not have made the cut otherwise. It is kind of a miracle that Colin Farrell won Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for the tiny In Bruges the same year that Sally Hawkins won Best Actress for the wonderful Happy-go-Lucky. Neither, of course, were Oscar nominated.
Best Picture (and Director) 2010
Perhaps the most famous Oscar-Globe discrepancy in recent years: the Globes went with David Fincher’s critically acclaimed, complicated, and still relevant The Social Network. The Oscars went with Tom Hooper’s fuzzy-in-the-moment but not-much-else The King’s Speech. Fincher still hasn’t won an Oscar, but hey, the director of The Danish Girl and the upcoming Cats had to be rewarded!
Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical 2013
The award went to Amy Adams, who is admittedly the best performance in the messy American Hustle, and one of the spots went to Meryl Streep for August: Osage County which I don’t even think counts as a comedy… But look at the other nominees! Only the Golden Globes were able to rightfully spotlight Julie Delpy in Before Midnight, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said and Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha at the same time. Not even the Independent Spirit Awards dared to nominate all three!
Best Director 2014
Another pretty stellar lineup. The winner was Richard Linklater for Boyhood, nominated along eventual Oscar nominees Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman (meh) and Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel (yay). In the other two spots: Ava Duvernay for Selma and David Fincher for Gone Girl. Say what you will about those last two movies, but they make for a much more exciting pair than Foxcatcher and The Imitation Game, which is what Oscar nominated.
Best Actress Drama 2016
In conclusion, never forget that the Golden Globes were the only televised award show of the 2016 season to reward Isabelle Huppert for her career defining role in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle.
Conrado Falco is a New York-based playwright who loves movies. He publishes most of his film writing at CocoHitsNY, but the best way to keep up with him is to follow him on Twitter (@CocoHitsNewYork).