Golden Globes Have a Prime Position on the Awards Calendar, but Do They Matter?

The Academy’s shortened season has helped, not hurt, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual bash — but there’s a difference between perception and reality

If you’re looking for a strong indicator of what might have the upper hand in this year’s Oscar race, it will arrive soon.

Just not on Sunday, and not at the Golden Globes.

No, the clues will be provided by the Writers Guild nominations on Monday, by BAFTA in the wee hours on Tuesday, and particularly by the Directors Guild and Producers Guild also on Tuesday. Those are the groups that also contain a fair number of Oscar voters, and the ones whose nominations can help predict the directions in which the Academy could go.

As for the Globes, they can mostly just change the perception of the race. And the main reason they can do that is because when the Academy tried to hurt its rival show by moving up the date of the Oscars, it ended up putting the Globes in a better position on the awards calendar.

In the past, the Golden Globes were ancient history — the way Hollywood keeps time, that means they were a couple of weeks old — by the time Oscar voters had to turn in their nomination ballots. But by moving the Academy Awards from the end of February to Feb. 9, and adjusting the voting accordingly, AMPAS has given the Globes a prime slot: It will now take place during the truncated six-day Oscar voting period, which began on Thursday and ends on Tuesday.

In this accelerated season, it’s likely that many and perhaps most Oscar voters will not have turned in their ballots by Sunday night, which gives Oscar-watchers free rein to speculate about how what happens on Sunday will influence what happens on Tuesday.

I don’t think Sunday will really have any influence on Tuesday: The Globes voters are 87 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, not 8,469 film professionals. The only way they can really affect Oscar voting is if one of their winners gives such a great speech that Oscar voters move that winner’s film to the top of their screener pile or the front of their streaming queue.

And yet given the timing, the way people look at (and write about) awards season will be influenced by what happens on Sunday evening.

If “The Irishman” and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” win in the Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy categories, respectively, those two films will remain the Oscar frontrunners in everybody’s eyes. But if “The Irishman” loses to, say, “1917” (or even more dramatically, to “Joker”), then its position as the presumed favorite will take a hit, despite the fact that the opinion of HFPA 87 members doesn’t really matter to Academy voters.

And if “Once Upon a Time” loses to “Jojo Rabbit,” people will suddenly see signs of weakness in Quentin Tarantino’s movie and signs of strength in Taika Waititi’s.

Still, the statistics suggest that any perceived weakness or strength will be largely illusory. Despite the fact that it essentially gives out twice as many Best Picture awards as the Academy, one of the two top Golden Globe winners has gone on to take the Oscar for Best Picture only twice in the last five years. Over the last 20 years — which is to say, every Globes ceremony in this century — one of the Globes winners has taken the Oscar 11 times. But that stat is skewed by the fact that between 2000 and 2005, the Globes and Oscars agree five straight times — in the 15 years since then, they’ve only done so six times.

This is, perhaps, a roundabout way of saying that you shouldn’t turn to the Globes expecting to learn anything about the Oscars.

Instead, you turn to the Globes looking to see whether Ricky Gervais’ schtick has worn thin; how much of the alcohol at each table gets consumed, and by which winners; and whether the show lives up to its trademarked reputation as Hollywood’s Party of the Year®, a useful identity to embrace since it absolves you from having to scrutinize the awards themselves too closely.

To be fair, though, Globes voters have for the most part made quite respectable choices in recent years, with every head-scratcher — “Bohemian Rhapsody” as Best Motion Picture – Drama??? — counterbalanced by smart choices like “Moonlight,” “Boyhood” and “The Social Network.”

So while people tune in for the fun ‘n’ games, it’s fine to also watch the Globes to see whether those fourscore and seven voters prefer “The Irishman” or “1917,” “Once Upon a Time” or “Jojo Rabbit,” Joaquin Phoenix or Adam Driver, Renee Zellweger or Charlize Theron — and on the TV side, whether their desire to celebrate the new (say, “The Morning Show”) overcomes their affection for “The Crown” or “Big Little Lies.”

Just don’t expect the answers to give you much clarity about this crazy awards season. That’ll come later, after the party’s over.

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