The Golden Globes vs. The Academy Awards

Posted Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM PST by Mike Attebery

High-Def Digest sets its sites on two prizes, taking a look at the rivalries, trends, and glaring gaffes of the Oscars and the Golden Globes.

Please welcome David Krauss to High-Def Digest! David has been a film and home video critic for more than 20 years, most recently for He has also written film-related articles for a host of national and regional magazines. A film history major at Northwestern University, he especially looks forward to sharing his love and knowledge of classic film with the readers of HDD. David's first reviews will appear next week, in the meantime, to commemorate yesterday's Academy Award nominations, he's put together an editorial that we hope will encourage some healthy debate!

They have the red carpet in common, as well as signature golden statuettes that each year a host of tearful and triumphant honorees clutch with pride to their swollen (and often surgically enhanced) breasts. But if you look past the stars' designer duds and the witless palaver of broadcast bozos like Billy Bush, you'll find the Oscars and Golden Globes are two different animals with two distinct voting blocks, and their annual choices for the "best" in the motion picture industry often reflect their respective histories, backgrounds, and organizational biases. In the eyes of the world, Oscar still reigns supreme, but over the past several years, its country cousin has given the stuffy Academy a run for its money, gaining fans, notoriety, and well-deserved respect.

So is one body "better" than the other, or a more reliable barometer of cinematic quality? We all have our preferences to be sure, and when push comes to shove, most of us would probably side with the trusty, venerable Academy Awards. But don't let Oscar's stature diminish the importance and influence of the Globes, which often preview what's up the Academy's sleeve. Handicapping both is a favorite pastime, as is bashing their boneheaded decisions. And, Lord knows, there've been plenty of those to go around.

Let's start with the Academy Awards. Show me a true-blue movie fan, bring up the Oscars, and it won't be long before age-old arguments rage anew. 'Ordinary People' over 'Raging Bull?' (Are you kidding me?) 'Titanic' over 'L.A. Confidential?' 'Crash' over 'Brokeback Mountain?' (A festering sore that still hasn't healed…) And lest we forget the three most shocking words in all of Oscar's vast and storied lexicon…'Chariots of Fire!?' I mean, what was up with that?

Analyzing such decisions isn’t too difficult, but that doesn't make the discussions any less contentious. Come on, are we really surprised the Academy chose to honor golden boy Robert Redford and his wrenching domestic drama instead of audacious Martin Scorsese and his searing portrait of an enraged Neanderthal brute? And surely Oscar would prefer to salute sweet home Los Angeles and all its sun-kissed warts rather than validate the love between two sensitive, tortured men in rural Wyoming. And since Mr. Gorbachev had not yet torn down that infamous wall in Berlin in 1981, can anyone in their right mind really envision the Academy's conservative old fogeys bestowing its highest accolade on 'Reds,' a movie that glorifies Commies? Wouldn't such an act be tantamount to saying that Senator Joseph McCarthy was right about the film industry's pinko tendencies after all? No, no, much better – and safer – to vote for a film that resembles an elongated episode of Masterpiece Theater. (All those British accents in 'Chariots of Fire' really do lend the movie that requisite Academy élan, don't they?)

Thankfully, AMPAS has progressed over the years, and maybe the furor over 'Crash' in 2005 gave the stodgy Academy the swift kick in the ass that it deserved. Wake-up call or no, 2006 proved to be a watershed year for the organization. You could have knocked me over with a feather when It's Hard Out There for a Pimp from 'Hustle & Flow' won Best Song. That's gotta be a joke, I thought, as I watched the telecast from my comfy recliner; kind of like my grandmother taking a surreptitious, late-night peek at Cinemax. But it turned out only to be a prelude to the night's biggest surprise (and delight) – the anointing of 'The Departed' as Best Picture over far more typical Academy fare like 'The Queen,' and 'Letters from Iwo Jima.' The word "shocking" just couldn't do it all justice. This was the Oscars on an acid trip! Sure, Marty was long overdue, but there was more than a hint of irony in honoring the indulgently violent 'Departed,' littered with a litany of four-letter words and slang references, and snubbing those noble gay cowboys the previous year.

Oscar, of course, does get it right more often than not, but it's only through the gaffes that we get that fleeting, revealing glimpse of the idiosyncrasies that shape and mold its choices. The Globes are no different, but its mistakes often get chalked up to the mercurial, devil-may-care attitude of its guiding force, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Whereas the formidable Academy is ruled by a complacent, impenetrable old boy network (emphasis on "old"), the Hollywood Foreign Press is more like a raucous college fraternity with an ever-shifting, younger, hipper membership. To them, it's the party (with its legendary open bar) that counts, and they prove it each year with a relaxed, jovial ceremony that could care less about political correctness or good manners. (Actress Christine Lahti was in the bathroom when she won her Globe; could you imagine anything so déclassé at the Oscars?) The Globes thumbs its nose at the Academy's pomp and circumstance; instead of presenting its awards in a cavernous mausoleum like the Kodak Theater, it hands out its prizes over dinner at the posh Beverly Hilton, where celebrities can gush and fawn and table-hop to their hearts' delight. (The Academy Awards began as a dinner-dance as well, but as the event took on more importance, the ceremony became more theatrical and changed venues – to its detriment.)

Remember, too, that the Globes are a product of the Hollywood Foreign Press, and the group's international sensibilities surely influence its decisions. (They do like to honor their own, which is often why you hear more accents during Globe acceptance speeches than you do at the Oscars.) Americans, as a rule, tend to be careful, imperious, and (sadly) square, while Europeans typically let their passions be their guide. Couple those fiery emotions with egotistical, impulsive journalists who like to make waves, ride trends, and buck the establishment, and you often get quirky choices. And with more categories (the Foreign Press recognizes excellence in both drama and musical/comedy, while the Oscars make no genre distinctions), the Globes have the luxury of spreading the wealth. How else could Madonna, Jamie Lee Curtis, Melanie Griffith, Paul Hogan (!), Kris Kristofferson, and Racquel Welch all take home statuettes? Or, for that matter, how else could the (very worthy) Kate Winslet pick up two in the same year, sweeping both major female acting categories?

For years, the Globes languished as the forgotten stepchild of awards, but like Glenn Close in 'Fatal Attraction,' they would not be ignored, and over the past several years have clawed their way to prominence. The game now is to set the Globes up as a standard by which to judge the Oscar nominations and, ultimately, the winners. Oftentimes, though, ornery Oscar doesn't like to play, and seems to relish thumbing its nose at or giving the finger to its fiercest rival. The Globes named 'Dreamgirls' Best Picture in the musical/comedy category in 2006; the Academy wouldn't even nominate it. Same with 'Walk the Line' in 2005. Turnabout, however, is fair play, and the two most controversial Oscar choices for Best Picture in recent memory, 'Chariots of Fire' and 'Crash,' weren't even on the ballot at the Globes. (I bet the Foreign Press still enjoys a good chuckle over that.)

So what can we expect this year? Well, not 'The Dark Knight' as Best Picture, that's for sure - though how many of us are really surprised Oscar snubbed it? At the moment, the feel-good 'Slumdog Millionaire' (the Globe winner) looks like a runaway train, but the Academy has a way of derailing early buzz. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Oscar instead ended up choosing the insomniac's delight, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' a film far more in keeping with the Academy's creed and a return to the kind of epic, classy productions it usually celebrates. (At this stage, I'm still regarding 'The Departed' and 'No Country for Old Men' as anomalies.) The Academy also likes to make amends, and wouldn't it be nice for it to honor a film adapted from a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who Hollywood spit on when he was a screenwriter on the skids in the 1930s.

And speaking of making amends, perhaps Oscar's ultimate mea culpa for 2005 would be crowning 'Milk,' a true story based on the life of a trailblazing gay politician, Best Picture. Interestingly, the Globes, which named 'Brokeback Mountain' Best Picture three years ago, ignored it (exhibiting a bit of a bias by favoring Brit Sam Mendes' 'Revolutionary Road' instead). Such a statement by the Academy would certainly resonate, especially in light of California's recent gay marriage ban. But does Oscar have the depth (and cojones) to go that route? Lauding the story of an impoverished Indian teen who battles against all odds for a better life certainly would be easier.

Yet however the awards go down on February 22nd, the love-hate rivalry between the Oscars and Globes will surely remain. And one other thing will be certain, too. We'll be watching, dissecting, and second-guessing them for years to come.

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Tags: Golden Globes, Academy Awards, Industry Trend (all tags)