In the end, it was “Argo” that beat out “Django Unchained,” “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty” for Best Motion Picture, Drama, and Ben Affleck who bested the auteurs behind those films for Best Director, a category for which he’s not in the running at the Oscars, while on the TV side “Homeland” received more plaudits after the series’ September Emmy success. But awards wise, the Golden Globes have always felt like hoodoo painstakingly crafted to maximize celebrity presence, spanning the big and small screens, with those sometime separate categories for “comedy or musical” allowing for added nominees. A general bewilderment about who the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and its 100-odd members are led hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to make a crack about the organization as if it were a disease — “There’s no known cure,” muttered Fey. And as has become a tradition, the easily nudged group had yet another off the radar, WTF pick in the running, and in multiple categories — Lasse Hallström’s “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” the attention paid to which even star Emily Blunt, nominated for role in the film in the comedy/musical division, seemed amused by.
As a meaningful measure of film or television quality, the Golden Globes are and continue to be goofy and erratic at best. (At worst? Pia Zadora: never forget.) But as an awards show, last night’s iteration — the 70th — was uncommonly entertaining, filled with unexpected weirdness, humor, poignance and honesty along with the usual backpatting (and all of it coming in on time at three hours!). The Oscars tend to be polished, stiflingly classy and imbued with self-importance — the Globes were boozy, haphazard and left presenters Salma Hayek and Paul Rudd staring awkwardly at a blank teleprompter for long seconds on live TV before rolling right into the nominees for Best TV Series, Drama. There was a sense, even when accidental, of that Beverly Hilton ballroom actually being filled with human beings who work together and know each other and share history, of the public face of the industry being an engagingly incomplete veneer.
And nowhere more so than in Jodie Foster’s bold, scattered, frank acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award, with began with presenter Robert Downey Jr. attempting an odd bit with a stuffed hamster and segued into a rare personal monologue from the fiercely private star in which Foster spoke of her fomer longterm partner and co-parent Cydney Bernard while saying “I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age.” Foster’s giddiness, her vulnerability and her anger — “Now I’m told, apparently, that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show,” she said — were by far the most memorable portion of the evening, though one can’t help but feel, or at least hope, that Foster’s sorta coming out isn’t going to be nearly as big a deal as she seems to think it will be.
As the actress/director pointed out, Foster’s been working in the industry for 47 of her 50 years, and while unfortunately unlikely to be completely ramification free, being open about one’s sexuality is less fraught than it was a few decades ago. The saddest part of Foster’s speech is that it contained the assumption that she wouldn’t be unable to find work after going public with what had previously been a kind of open secret — “I may never be up on this stage again, on any stage for that matter,” she predicted, a line some took to mean she was retiring, an interpretation she quickly corrected to the press afterward. Maybe it’s naive, or maybe it’s even more cynical to say, but the lauded Foster’s probably facing more challenges, role-wise, in being an actress over the age of 35 in a film industry that has an incredibly dearth of roles for women in the gap between rom-com lead and grandmother than in being a semi-acknowledged lesbian.
It was, despite this, a strong night for the ladies, with Fey and Poehler serving as a hilarious, self-mocking and just biting enough pair of hosts overseeing a night in which “the beautiful people of film rub shoulders with the rat-faced people of television.” Poehler’s bit about Kathryn Bigelow being an authority on torture from having been married to James Cameron for three years was matched by Fey’s lauding Anne Hathaway’s turn in “Les Misérables” by saying she’d never seen “someone so alone and abandoned like that since you were on stage with James Franco at the Oscars.” (Poehler got the line of the night, though, when following up an appearance by Bill Clinton to present “Lincoln” by saying “That was Hillary Clinton’s husband!”) Claire Danes, accepting the award for Best Actress in a Television Series, Drama, acknowledged TV as “this wonderfully rich place for dynamic, complex, bold female characters,” adding that she’s “very proud to be working in this medium, in this moment, in this company.”
In her acceptance speech for Best Actress in Motion Picture, Drama, “Zero Dark Thirty” star Jessica Chastain told director Bigelow that in allowing “your character to disobey the conventions of Hollywood, you’ve done more for women in cinema than you take credit for.” And Lena Dunham, whose “Girls” kicked off its second season during the award ceremony, got to twice wobble up to the stage uneasily on heels like, well, a character in her show, snagging prizes for both Best Actress and Best TV Series in the ol’ musical/comedy category. “Congratulations Lena, I’m glad we got you through middle school,” snarked the fake drunk Fey and Poehler, who were both competing against her, afterward.
Kevin Costner was curiously melancholy as he accepted the acting prize for his miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys,” reflecting on his first visit to the Globes as an unknown actor who walked down the red carpet as no photographers called out his name (“No one said anything to me”), while Daniel Day-Lewis joked that the Queen would follow in Clinton’s footsteps, parachuting in “to make a last-minute pitch for ‘Skyfall.'” And in what may be the oddest on-stage gathering of the night, aging action icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger presented the Best Foreign Language Film award to Michael Haneke for “Amour,” with the director admitting he never thought he’d “get an award in Hollywood from an Austrian.” (One can only hope the three went out drinking afterward.) Fey deliberately butchered the names of both her old “SNL” cohorts Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig for a bit in which the two made up plots for the Best Actress, Comedy or Musical nominees, made all the more amusing by a cut to a dramatically unamused Tommy Lee Jones in the audience.
Awards are both maddeningly meaningless, considering how often ideas about the best films from a certain year line up with the ones that received trophies, and undeniably meaningful in doing, as sad Kevin Costner put it, what they can to call attention to “movies that people might not have ever seen before, and now they will.” But as award shows go, this year’s Golden Globes were a pleasing balance of the inward and outward looking, from the inevitable droning thanks to agents and dialect coaches to Hathaway’s calling out of Sally Field as a “vanguard against typecasting,” pointing out the that “the ‘Flying Nun’ grew up to be Norma Rae,” from Quentin Tarantino’s (telling) shout out to the friends he uses as sounding boards for scenes from his screenplays without allowing them to give feedback (“I don’t want you to tell me if I’m doing anything wrong, heavens forbid”), to Fey and Poehler’s fake nominees for roles as psychics who solve their own murders and volleyball players battling restless legs syndrome. They may not be as glossy as the Oscars, but as entertaining live TV goes, the Globes have set the bar plenty high.