“This is the beautiful mess we hoped it would be,” Tina Fey toasted at the end of the 2014 Golden Globe Awards. Hear, hear. By that point Matt Damon had been labeled a “garbage person” in what I can only hope was a reference to Armond White, Julia Louis-Dreyfus participated in a bit involving refusing a selfie with Reese Witherspoon, Emma Thompson showed up carrying her heels in one hand and a cocktail in the other and Fey’s cohost Amy Poehler made out with Bono upon winning best actress in a comedy/musical TV series. There may not have been something on the level of Jodie Foster’s raw semi-coming out speech, but there was a verklempt Jacqueline Bisset, who upon winning an award for her role in Starz miniseries “Dancing on the Edge” struggled for long moments to speak, swore and then kept talking as the music tried to play her off, telling a disjointed anecdote about her mother’s advice that you “forgive everybody — it is the best beauty treatment.”
Yes, the Golden Globes reaffirmed their place as Oscar’s sloppy but far more entertaining cousin, with all the slip-ups and glimpses of humanity, charming and ugly, that role entails. And ably presiding over the shambling (but still neatly three-hour) ceremony were the delightful Fey and Poehler, who’ve continued to hit the right balance between affectionate and mocking in hosting, for the second time, an event that feels like a more genuine glimpse of the industry than the Academy Awards. Their obvious fondness for each other (“Congratulations to my friend Amy. I love you, and there’s a special place in hell for you,” Fey said when Poehler won for) added to the sense of chatty intimacy in the room, which rarely quieted in time for the returns from commercial breaks. “I got sent out wrong, I’m sorry!” Drew Barrymore laughed while Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie read their lines from a piece of paper after a teleprompter error. Johnny Depp seemed surprised to find himself presenting an award, as if he’d forgotten the actual televised aspect of the event. And even Cate Blanchett, regal as ever, broke to muse if people at home could hear the time’s-up music or “do they just think you’re talking really fast because you’re having a panic attack?”
Why was every single person who won so surprised and unprepared? Perhaps because the ceremony gave the impression that no one had been seated close to the stage, with winners taking what felt like forever to wind their way up there then their names were announced, shuffling between chairs and getting stuck in dead ends. Or maybe it was just that the Globes prizes always feel like they’re decided by a Ouija board (“We get how this works and we’re ready to play ball,” Seth Meyers and Julie Bowen said, joking offering themselves up in exchange for nominations). “12 Years A Slave” finally picked up the award for best feature in the drama category after getting shut out of everything before, with the other film awards getting divvied up between various frontrunners. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a perfectly nice show that still feels like a work in progress, won best comedy series over shows that were better, more ambitious or vastly more watched. U2’s “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” snagged best song over the irresistible “Let It Go” from “Frozen” only in order to give Bono a speech — and they gave a great one, sincere and largely free of self-congratulation as they spoke of Mandela’s legacy and what he meant to Ireland.
Not everyone came off so well. It’s hard not to wish that either Jared Leto or Matthew McConaughey had managed a mention of the devastating battle against AIDS that “Dallas Buyers Club” was about, especially with Leto going on about the efforts that went into his playing Rayon and having to wax his full body, the transformation positioned as an acting stunt rather than something that suggested any empathy for actual trans people. Diane Keaton, accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award on behalf of Woody Allen, was radiant in her signature menswear talking about her friendship with the director and singing “Make New Friends,” while on Twitter Allen’s estranged son with Mia Farrow, journalist Ronan Farrow, wrote “Missed the Woody Allen tribute – did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” It was a reference to his adopted sister Dylan, who several months ago spoke out about being abused by Allen when she was a child, an accusation Allen denies.
But… he’s still Woody Allen, the man who made, yes, “Annie Hall” — a filmmaking legend still turning out attention-worthy movies well into his 70s. And award shows are for celebrating the work and the films rather than the (sometimes extraordinarily flawed) people, a divide that can blur problematically as we enjoy gawking at the celebrities and what they’re wearing. Which may be why, in the end, the Globes remain the most fun of them to watch — because they provide continual reminders of how imperfect the people whose output we so enjoy watching are underneath the designer outfits and professional makeup, as they awkwardly squeeze between too-close tables and walk in front of the camera just as it cuts to a nominee, as an irritated Bono ducks away from a giddy Sean Combs (“Let it flow let it flow let it flow”), as the real Philomena Lee and Niki Lauda showed up to remind us of the real stories behind some of these shinier screen ones. And god bless Fey and Poehler for, amidst all the speeches and dresses and drinking manage the seemingly impossible — a joke about “12 Years a Slave” that also poked fun of Hollywood self-seriousness and obliviousness. “I can honestly say that after seeing that film, I will never look at slavery the same way again,” declared Poehler, before soldiering on through Fey’s unanswered “Wait, how were you looking at it?”