Quick: Who won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama last year?
And while you think about that one, here's another question: Who hosted the Golden Globes last year?
The answer to the second question, I'd imagine, came a lot faster than the answer to the first. And that tells you all you need to know about the Globes, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and the spectacle that will take place on Sunday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
This show is not really about winners and losers. It's about water-cooler moments and celebrities and ratings. The HFPA, a group of 80-odd foreign journalists of no particular insight or distinction, are not in this to gain credibility; they’re in it to get ratings points and make money and keep those junkets and photo-ops coming their way.
So what we remember about last year's show is not that "The Social Network" beat "The King's Speech" for Best Motion Picture – Drama; or that "The Kids Are All Right" triumphed over a ridiculously slight field to be named Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical; or that Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Paul Giamatti, Annette Bening, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo took home acting awards.
It's that Ricky Gervais said rude things about Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.
And really, that's all that people are truly interested in about this year's show: What's Ricky going to say?
Gervais and NBC and yes, even the HFPA certainly know this; all of the advance promotion has centered on how naughty the host is going to be. The constant message: very naughty, so tune in!
While Gervais' best-known comments were his slaps at individual celebrities, he also savaged the Globes themselves in his two prior appearances as host, as when he remarked that a Globe couldn't be bought – and then paused, grinned and added, "officially."
The voters didn't give him quite as much irresistible comic fodder this year as they did last, when "The Tourist" received three nominations and "Burlesque" got three more, but they did show an embarrassing amount of George Clooney love (four nominations), while sandwiching Jolie into the Best Foreign Language Film category for directing "In the Land of Blood and Honey."
That last choice led to a bizarre lineup at Saturday afternoon's Globe-nominated Foreign-Language Seminar at the Egyptian Theatre: Spain's Pedro Almodovar, China's Zhang Yimou, Iran's Asghar Farhadi, Belgium's Dardenne brothers … and Angelina.
But don't expect the HFPA to be embarrassed by its stranger choices. This is an organization that revels in the clout bestowed by its television show, and that has always shown an ability to go about its odd business without worrying about what anybody else thinks.
Last year, for instance, at a time when the HFPA's longtime president Philip Berk was under fire in court and in the media, and a time when the organization itself as being accused of being corrupt and old and out of touch, they elected a successor to the 33-year HFPA member Berk – and rather than opting for anybody who might be considered fresh blood, they went with Aida Takla-O'Reilly, an 82-year-old Egyptian-born journalist (for a teen magazine) who has been a member of the HFPA for 57 years.
Gervais mocked Berk last year by saying that he had to help the prez get off the toilet and put his teeth in; one shudders to think what he'll come up with for Takla-O'Reilly.
As for the awards themselves, it's pretty much a no-brainer to think that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will go for "The Artist."
But "The Artist" is in the comedy/musical category – and in the drama category, things are fairly wide open, with "The Descendants," "Hugo," "Moneyball," "War Horse" and "The Ides of March" all in the running. The first of those films might have a slight edge, but will Clooney love win out over the urge to celebrate Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg?
With this group, you need a scorecard to keep track of the agendas.
And with the lead acting categories separated into drama and comedy/musical as well, it means they'll be able to celebrate Clooney and Jean Dujardin, Meryl Streep or Viola Davis and Michelle Williams.
If anybody stands to gain from a Globes speech, which in some circles is considered a dress rehearsal for an Oscar speech, it might well be Williams, whose remarks tend to be unusually heartfelt and genuine, and Davis, who is uncommonly eloquent.
So the Globes will go on as a showcase for Ricky, a chance for a few winners to score points, and a three-hour prelude to the after-parties. And for a while, we'll ignore the fact that the HFPA is engaged in one lawsuit with Dick Clark Productions and another with its former publicist, and that nobody in the Academy really cares about what these 84 people think are the year's best cinematic accomplishments.
A year ago, on the day of the last Globes ceremony, I wrote this: "As the 68th Golden Globes approach under a cloud of suspicion and derision, Hollywood is looking the other way and treating the Globes the way it always does: as an excuse to throw a lot of parties, and as a looser, livelier tryout for those speeches folks might have to deliver six weeks from now, when the pressure will be higher and the gratitude more heartfelt."
Substitute the word 69th for 68th, and you pretty much have this year as well.
The ball is in your court, Ricky. Make this one a Globes to remember, because the HFPA certainly can't do it on their own.