EW's awards experts debate the importance of the Golden Globe nominations in an increasingly unpredictable Oscar year.

By Joey Nolfi and David Canfield
February 03, 2021 at 12:53 PM EST
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Dawning gilded excellence bright, early, and stronger than a shot of espresso, the Golden Globes injected a jolt of energy to wake up the long and winding awards race on Wednesday morning.

Snubs (Da 5 Bloods, Minari's Yuh-Jung Youn) and surprises (Kate Hudson for Sia's controversial Music movie? Three women in Best Director!) abound, but they mean more this year than in any other, with the longer-than-usual awards stretch leading up to the April Oscars closely relying on precursors to present potential contenders to the Academy amid a year with considerably less in-person campaigning and theatrical releases fighting for attention.

Through the chaos, EW's awards experts David Canfield and Joey Nolfi discuss the Golden Globes' significance in an unorthodox year, and what the nods signal for potential Oscar excellence (or snubbery) in the weeks ahead.

Credit: Focus Features

JOEY: David! What a morning. The biggest surprise (zero justice for Queen Naomi Watts' Penguin Bloom) aside, we saw the Globes stay the precursor course in many ways, but they went (sometimes hilariously) off-script in a year when pre-Oscars visibility matters more than perhaps it has in any other recent awards stretch. The big story here is clearly the Promising Young Woman boost and Da 5 Bloods snub (Spike Lee's children will surely have loads of fun handing out those awards), but who else should be celebrating (or tending to wounds) today?

DAVID: In terms of how this impacts the Oscar race, that's our headline: Promising Young Woman asserts itself as an across-the-board player, making good on months of great buzz, while Da 5 Bloods hits a roadblock. The HFPA always doesn't take to a movie or two that eventually becomes a bigger Oscar player (see last year's Little Women), but given how visible the film was, and that Lee's children had been selected as Golden Globe ambassadors (ouch!), these snubs are worth looking into, especially Delroy Lindo missing out in an increasingly crowded Best Actor field. I'm hoping he still pulls through, but he doesn't feel like a lock.

But to me the biggest story is that director category: Three women nominated in one year, when only two would have been a record! It's also completely different kinds of filmmakers recognized for wildly unique films, a thrilling step forward that puts the onus on the Academy to follow the HFPA's lead (something we don't exactly say too often). Along with Promising's Emerald Fennell, who has a real shot in the equivalent Oscar category for a nod, we've got Chloé Zhao of Nomadland and Regina King of One Night in Miami, both of whose films did about as well as they needed to: Nomadland maintaining its overall frontrunner status, and Miami emerging as the preferred stage-to-screen showcase to Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which was blanked outside of acting nods. What else caught your eye immediately?

Credit: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios

JOEY: Obviously, the Promising Young Woman love shook me to the core (in a good way). The HFPA is made up of only dozens of voters, but the film scoring four major nods — Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress — clearly indicates across-the-board momentum, even in the tiny vacuum of Globes voters. It's a buzzy, timely masterpiece that the HFPA teed up for an appropriate Oscars answer. It also feels as if (mostly) the films are succeeding on quality this year, as the trio of female directors don't feel obligatory, but rather in celebration of superb, diverse work across different genres and tones.

Elsewhere, while Meryl Streep was never going to be an Oscar contender for her lively roles in two films this year, The Prom and Let Them All Talk, I'm gobsmacked over the HFPA completely ignoring the 32-time nominee among the musical/comedy set for separate performances in one musical and one comedy. The inclusion of Kate Hudson for Sia's Music still blows my mind (this just proves that these groups operate in a bubble, free from worrying about potential controversy), but I'm elated that Rosamund Pike squeaked into the category for I Care a Lot. It's her best work to date, and if there's any justice in the world, she will also be recognized by SAG (it's a SAG-leaning performance and you know it!).

DAVID: Did Streep cancel herself out? I guess I can't rule the possibility out, since I find it unfathomable one would vote for James Corden before her for their work in the film.

JOEY: I'm also surprised that Judas and the Black Messiah didn't show up more, but I think it's safe to assume the Academy will pick up that slack, as the film will have had more time to generate a healthy cycle of press and digital viewership ahead of the Oscar nods (that Sundance reception was undeniable). But, when it comes to surprise nominees, do any of the unexpected pop-ups — Jared Leto, Hudson, Tahar Rahim, Helena Zengel — have legitimate shots at Oscar glory, or are these just wild Globes offshoots that will fade away into the awards vortex?

DAVID: As to whose hopes suddenly came alive: Jared Leto feels pretty exclusively Globes-y to me (remember Aaron Taylor Johnson? This is that), just given the movie's quiet reception, and The Mauritanian still has a lot of work to do to prove itself to a larger body. When it comes to those smaller, otherwise unacknowledged movies, an HFPA nod is a small step on a long journey. Tahar Rahim is particularly phenomenal in it, so I hope he gets a bit more push in the next few weeks. But the one I really have my eye on is Helena Zengel in this utterly unformed Supporting Actress category. The HFPA evidently didn't go for Minari, but Youn remains a strong Academy contender; you mentioned Judas, which I think just screened too late, but Dominique Fishback is one to watch after the superb reviews that broke out of Sundance. With that, and even if we expect folks like Jodie Foster and Glenn Close to hang on, Zengel still feels more strongly positioned overall to me, with News of the World likely to strongly appeal to industry groups in the coming weeks.

Two other films earned much-needed boosts, for different reasons: First, The Father, which after multiple release pushes seemed to completely disappear from campaign chatter, and had been lagging in precursors, was clearly right up the HFPA's alley, in a way that reminded me of the way they went big on another Anthony Hopkins vehicle just last year, The Two Popes. Of course, while that one missed out on the Oscar Best Picture nod, the HFPA did foreshadow several multiple major noms for that movie as other groups did not. Then there's Mank, which had so much heat ahead of its November launch on Netflix, only to fade into the Film Twitter ether. David Fincher and Amanda Seyfried felt assured for nods, but bubble contenders like Gary Oldman and the film itself in Best Picture made their way through. That's crucial as it enters the homestretch.

But on to the big question: Is a two-horse race for Best Picture between Nomadland and Trial of Chicago 7 solidifying?

Credit: Searchlight Pictures

JOEY: I'm still not convinced that Trial is much of a contender. It feels like The Irishman to me — an old-fashioned, talky, prestige snoozer that, in 1996, would've swept, but in 2021, I just can't see enough people in the Academy getting excited about to give it a victory in any category. The respect for that movie is there, but the passion to give it a win is not. Nomadland, on the other hand, is a movie that digs into your soul and nestles there, whereas Trial feels like a brief, clinical, one-and-done firecracker. There's excitement, fire, and hunger for something new fueling Nomadland's relatively unscathed performance with the precursors so far. It's not just a great film, it's a film people want to see do well, and they're enthusiastic to vote for it. I don't see the younger crowd populating the Academy feeling that same progressive sentiment for Trial, a traditional film in an untraditional year that has everyone longing for stimulation versus the status quo. It'll show up at SAG, where all the actors went supporting, but the translation into Oscar gold seems unlikely to me.

DAVID: I think Trial has a broad claim for relevance that is going to click with that Green Book segment of the Academy, so I don't quite agree with you there. This is the awards body that rewarded Green Book and Parasite in back to back years, of course; there are varying tastes and competing factions, and I think Trial has established itself pretty firmly in one corner. But I agree that Nomadland still feels like the movie to beat. Zhao feels overwhelmingly ahead in Best Director, for instance, and that kind of filmmaker momentum tends to trickle down.

Who needs a good day with SAG tomorrow? I smell trouble for Ma Rainey if it doesn't get that ensemble nod, and I suppose alternately the same is true of One Night in Miami. I'm not as worried if Judas and the Black Messiah still is a little quieter there — like Little Women last year, it's a late-breaking critical darling that has broad enough appeal to hit a wide segment of voters; not expecting too much tomorrow. Ditto Andra Day, who got the nom she needed this week.

JOEY: As thrilled as I am for our beloved Maria Bakalova breaking into the lead set here, she needs to show up with the guild to keep the momentum going. "Ingenue" breakouts like her need to hit every mark along the way, but luckily her work in one of the most widely seen titles of the year seems square within the SAG wheelhouse, thanks to that group's more general (and much larger) nominating committee made up of thousands of actors around the country.

In any other year, I'd say Andra Day and Zendaya are out of the race if they miss a SAG nod, but we've seen crazier things happen. The Academy's branches work in mysterious ways, often plucking things they simply like out of awards season obscurity, like Marina de Tavira, who earned zero precursor nods for her work in Roma, but pulled off a stunning Oscar nod in 2019. Granted, she was probably swept up in the vast sea of Roma support, but it's not entirely unfathomable for the rapidly diversifying Academy — after inviting record numbers of young people, women, and people of color into its ranks — to have their eye on a youthful superstar like Zendaya, who gives a jaw-dropping turn in Malcolm & Marie that, on merit alone, is worthy of a Best Actress victory.

Credit: Takashi Seida/Paramount Pictures

DAVID: Well, I think a few Best Actress Oscar campaigns ended here today with the Globe nods, beginning with Streep; it's still slightly possible she shows up at SAG tomorrow, given its ensemble appeal, but that still won't be enough. The support isn't where it needs to be. As I see it, ditto Zendaya, a Globe contender if there ever was one, missing out to Day, a likelier Oscar player by the day. And Kate Winslet, too: The HFPA adores her, and not even they could reverse Ammonite's fading.

JOEY: Sadly, if the instantly iconic Youn doesn't end up among SAG's nominees, she could fade out of the race as little more than a critical favorite, despite giving one of the most heartfelt and moving performances of the year. While any awards group that doesn't include Mamaw can, to quote one of the greats, "perch and swivel," I'm afraid Glenn Close, who went from surefire winner to bubble contender, needs a SAG boost to stay afloat, even though she showed up at the Globes. We were also one of the few outlets still backing On the Rocks' Bill Murray in the Supporting Actor category, which paid off, and as one of Apple's first major film awards contenders, it's likely he remained on SAG voters' radar, too. So don't be surprised if Murray — an actor that actors love to love — pops up there.

I expect SAG to carry the momentum Promising Young Woman has built with an ensemble nod for such an expertly cast film (am I talking myself into thinking this is a bigger Best Picture contender than we initially presumed, even with all the social media buzz giving it a boost?). As Mank bounded back with the Globes, I also think it has potential to rise through the ranks with a SAG ensemble nod, as does the legendary collective cast of Penguin Bloom, with Watts and Jacki "Thank goodness for Gaye!" Weaver leading the charge.

DAVID: I'm watching for movies to build on their Globe momentum, too, like Promising Young Woman and Mank. The ensemble race is packed this year and that renders SAG's top five a bit more relevant than they would be in a typical year. I could also see SAG veering wildly from the Globes. This season is comparatively disparate and, at last, we're getting the choices of a big industry group with Academy overlap. Expect more shocks to come. (Sadly, Joey, that will not include Penguin Bloom.)

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