After a grim year, the Globes have a rare opportunity this awards season: to spotlight the films that brought us joy.

By David Canfield
January 12, 2021 at 09:00 AM EST
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Credit: Illustration by Ben Kirchner for EW

Movies, like the rest of us, had a rough go of it in 2020, but the art has kept strong amid the madness. There have been great dramas in this supremely dramatic year, enough to make for fierce competition at the 2021 Oscars. As to what's permeated the culture, however — not only surviving the near-absence of theatrical buzz, but emerging as word-of-mouth successes — titles that matched the bleak national mood don't quite come to mind.

This gives the Golden Globes (for which voting starts Wednesday) a unique opportunity to say something about what did define the year in film (plus a little extra, with eligibility extended through to February 2021; the show takes place Feb. 28). With categories split as always between drama and comedy/musical, on one side we'll see the usual prestige players duking it out for pre-Oscar glory — acclaimed pics like Nomadland, Mank, and One Night in Miami. On the other, a nod to the stuff that brought us a little solace, and maybe even joy.

Films like Palm Springs, which went from being a blockbuster entry at the Sundance Film Festival in January to a gloriously meta commentary on our ongoing lockdown existence when it premiered on Hulu in July. The clever, sunny spin on the Groundhog Day formula hit just the right sweet, lackadaisical notes in its meditation on how to find meaning when every day starts feeling (literally) the same. If cited in the lead-acting categories, former winner Andy Samberg and potential first-time nominee Cristin Milioti will give some representation to us quarantined folk.

Every streamer, it seems, has a big comedy contender offering a particular kind of resonance for this moment. On Apple TV+ there's On the Rocks, Sofia Coppola's latest; made as an intimate father-daughter comedy starring Bill Murray and Rashida Jones, it landed in October as a bittersweet ode to a pre-COVID New York, with Murray's scampish patriarch winding through Manhattan's busy streets in his bright-red Italian roadster. Netflix's The Prom, which shows off Meryl Streep's impressive vocal range — opposite an all-star cast including James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and more — arrived this holiday season as the big, broad, colorful musical we were otherwise denied in 2020, with anticipated theatrical titles like In the Heights and West Side Story migrating to the (hopefully) safer terrain of 2021. (Disney+'s Hamilton is also eligible here, filling a different Broadway-sized void.) And for those looking for a little horror in their comedy, there was also Hulu's sharp Bad Hair, delivering B-movie jump scares and cutting satire.

But Amazon may be the COVID-proof studio best positioned to go all the way with the most surprising — and the most watched — comic blockbuster of the year: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Sacha Baron Cohen's sequel to his 2006 phenomenon captured everything wild about the past several months in one very nice package, as its deluded hero traipsed through a locked-down United States before winding up embarrassing — exposing? — Rudy Giuliani, the personal attorney to the president, in a scene that took over cable news for days. The movie arrived weeks before the Nov. 3 election, and arguably qualified as more of an October surprise than anything either the Trump or Biden campaign put out. The secret: The scene was as funny as it was mortifying. What better way to digest the worst year of our lifetimes? Take note, voters.

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