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Golden Globe surprises: Robert Downey's humor and Liz Taylor's confusion

Ken Tucker reviews the strange, semispontaneous events of the Oscar precursors

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Robert Downey Jr., Golden Globe Awards 2001
Robert Downey Jr; Kevin Winter/Image Direct

Golden Globe surprises: Robert Downey’s humor and Liz Taylor’s confusion

Great artists go to extremes, so it was fitting that the two greatest artists on display as winners last night at the 58th annual Golden Globe Awards were Bob Dylan, who gave the night’s shortest speech (30 seconds by my clock), and Al Pacino, who gave the night’s longest (eight minutes plus).

Elizabeth Taylor — God bless her — lent some final minute tension to the tensionless victory of ”Gladiator” (Oscar nominating voters, take note: Steven Soderbergh’s more deserving ”Erin Brockovich” and ”Traffic” undoubtedly canceled each other out) by almost blurting out the winner before she’d read the nominees, but she gave us a helluva ”Good night!”

The Golden Globes are now regularly hyped as being more spontaneous and unpredictable a show than the Oscars because the Hollywood Foreign Press corps are notoriously goofy and sentimental in their choices, and the assembled film and TV stars are permitted access to alcoholic beverages before and during the live broadcast. But nearly everything that came before La Liz was pretty predictable, if occasionally annoying.

I don’t dislike HBO’s ”Sex and the City,” but no one’s gonna convince me that it deserved to win Best TV Comedy Series over Fox’s ”Malcolm in the Middle” or NBC’s ”Will & Grace,” or that Sarah Jessica Parker is a better comedian than ”Malcolm”’s Jane Kaczmarek — or, for heaven’s sake, and even given her lousy show, Bette Midler.

The most peculiar, nonspontaneous moment was that RenĂ©e Zellweger was in the bathroom when her ”Nurse Betty” win (for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Film) was announced — a repetition of Christine Lahti’s identical gaffe from a couple of years ago. And Robert Downey’s ”Ally McBeal” win permitted him to make a nice, if inevitable, self deprecating joke about his rehabilitation that also managed to suck up to bossman David E. Kelley — as artful a combination of multitasking as was performed all evening.

Among the more revelatory moments:

? Julia Roberts veered recklessly into Sally Field territory with her genially gabby ”Erin Brockovich” acceptance speech — I fear she will review the tape of this show before she picks up her sure bet Oscar and resolve to give a more dignified Academy Awards speech, which will only make the Oscars duller.

? I assume the ”Jesse” that ”West Wing” winner Martin Sheen invoked so warmly was Rev. Jackson, a more daring Bush era choice than George Clooney’s jibe at John Ashcroft (claiming to be anyone’s ”illegitimate love child” is SO Clintonesque by now).

? Sigourney Weaver (a presenter this time, not a nominee) really must not be allowed to choose her clothes for any public function in the future.

? Most well deserved, probably least noticed Globe: Vanessa Redgrave, beating out mismatching rivals like the terrific Allison Janney and Megan Mullally, for Redgrave’s spectacularly understated dramatic performance in HBO’s ”If These Walls Could Talk 2.” Redgrave didn’t get the chance to make a fiery acceptance speech, though: She’s onstage in London this month, performing Chekhov.

? And finally, NBC’s commercials revealed new entertainment president Jeff Zucker‘s classy way of promoting his anti- ”Survivor” strategy: expanded editions of ”Friends” as being ”super size.” I wonder how Matthew Perry and the gang feel about being promoted as a warmed over batch of french fries.

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