The Golden Globe awards may have recaptured their party spirit on Sunday after last year’s strike-induced cancellation, but by the end of the evening the awards flirted dangerously with national irrelevance – rewarding one small film seen by few moviegoers, and indulging long, earnest speeches by well-lauded celebrities.
“Slumdog Millionaire,” a raucous, inspirational tale of love from India, came the closest to being the star of the moment, winning Best Picture, Best Director for Danny Boyle, Best Screenplay for Simon Beaufoy and best score. The film was distributed by Fox Searchlight.
But the film won no acting awards, had no known movie stars in it and has taken in just $38 million worldwide.
The movies nominated for Best Picture have had a hard time connecting with audiences this year. Indeed, only one of the best picture nominees broke the $100 million barrier at the box office, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which won no awards. And only “Slumdog” seemed to win the hearts of Globe voters – a collection of 85 foreign journalists and freelance writers who make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
With Hollywood no closer to finding a horse worth backing in the Oscar race, and the TV awards offering a replay of last year’s Emmys, with “30 Rock” and “John Adams” dominating, just as worrying was the lack of dramatic interest in the three-hour show in prime time on NBC.
Sunday’s show came just a year after the Golden Globes ratings hit a historic low as the show was replaced by a bare-bones broadcast announcing the winners, due to the Writers Guild Strike. This year, despite the bottles of champagne visible on the dinner tables, no one seemed drunk or unhinged. It was an evening in which Mickey Rourke thanking his agent David Unger “for having the balls” to represent him had to pass for an edgy moment. Rourke won best actor for “The Wrestler.”
The Globes ratings plunged to 5.8 million in 2008, after a high of 20 million viewers in 2007, according to Nielsen ratings. The Oscars have also been struggling in the ratings.
Kate Winslet won two Golden Globe statues, best actress for playing a restless housewife in “Revolutionary Road,” and best supporting actress for playing a German woman with a secret in “The Reader.” She burst into tears at each win, and thanked her husband, Sam Mendes, the director of “Revolutionary Road,” “for killing us every single day… It made me love you more.” She also confessed her love to her costar Leonardo DiCaprio.
But as the ceremony dragged on, even Martin Scorsese presenting a lifetime achievement award to Steven Spielberg could not lift the pace, or make the show feel like a necessary event. Spielberg spoke at great length, and even the stars in the room appeared to have a hard time maintaining interested expressions as he traced his life in film back to a train set in his basement. It was hardly Spielberg’s fault – instead of a long speech, why couldn’t we get, say, a montage of his work, showing us why it’s meant so much to Globe voters?
It was a night in which the dresses were far more interesting to look at than anything up on stage. (Renee Zellweger appeared to wear her drapes, while Drew Barrymore was apparently channeling Marilyn Monroe shortly before her death.)
On the TV side, Tina Fey topped her year of triumph, winning the statue for best actress in “30 Rock.” The actress dominated pop culture with her impersonation of Sarah Palin; she scored a multi-million-dollar book contract, graced the cover of Vanity Fair, won an acting Emmy, and now has a Golden Globe as well. The show, which once struggled in the ratings, won Best Comedy on TV.
Taking the statue, Fey murmured, “Gravy.” Then she added: “I know how lucky I am to have the year that I’ve had this year. If you ever start to feel too good about yourself, they have this thing called the Internet. You can find a lot of people there who don’t like you. I’d like to address some of them now: Dianefan, you can suck it.”
The Globes did experience a moment of drama when Heath Ledger, who died last year just after filming a fierce performance as the villain Joker in “The Dark Knight,” was honored early in the evening with a statue for best supporting actor.
The ballroom filled with A-list actors and directors stood to honor Ledger after his name was called by presenter Demi Moore. Chris Nolan, the director of the blockbuster film, said that he accepted the award with “an awful mixture of sadness, but incredible pride.”
He continued: “After Heath passed on you saw a hole ripped in the future of cinema. With the extraordinary response to his death, I look a bit less at that gap, and a bit more at the incredible place he built for himself in the world of cinema.
But otherwise, the stars seemed almost giddy in returning to the Globes after it was cancelled in 2008 because of a strike by the Writers Guild. Attendees leaped out of their seats at every commercial break.
This year, none on the red carpet dared to breathe a discouraging word about a strike that may well be looming for the Screen Actors Guild, with completed ballots on a strike authorization vote currently in the mail. Instead, the red carpet was wall-to-wall stars, with Globe nominations covering every major film and television category, including drama, musical, comedy and animated too. There was Tina Fey in a black halter gown with a plunging neckline, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, Brad Pitt gliding by with Angelina Jolie. Tom Cruise – nominated for a comic turn in “Tropic Thunder” – lounged on the shoulder of a gum-chomping Robert Downey Jr., as fans screamed for “Iron Man.” There was rock star Sting in full bushy beard, and Bruce Springsteen.
HBO dominated the TV side of the evening, taking awards for “John Adams,” “Recount” and “In Treatment.” “John Adams,” a series about America’s second president, won not only best TV miniseries, but acting awards for Paul Giamatti in the title role, Laura Linney, who played Abigail Adams, and Tom Wilkinson, who played Benjamin Franklin.
Other winners early in the ceremony were “Wall-E” won for best animated feature and Laura Dern for best supporting actress in a TV miniseries or film, for her turn as Florida official Katherine Harris in the HBO film “Recount.”
In announcing an award, comedian Ricky Gervais deadpanned that he was angry at not having been nominated: “That’s the last time I have sex with 200 middle-aged journalists.” The Foreign Press is smaller in number, and on average older in age than that, as Hollywood insiders know well.