Credit: NBC

You know the Golden Globes are, well, golden; you know they’re globular; you know you love watching your favorite celebrities bag a few of these precious statuettes at Hollywood’s booziest awards show year after year. But the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — the non-profit journalistic organization that hands out the Golden Globe — does more than just recognize excellence in film and television; they play a vital role in shaping the annual awards conversation itself. So, how does it all come together? Before Thursday’s Golden Globes nominations announcement that will change the game for the long awards season ahead, EW breaks down how the HFPA’s nomination process works and why it’s a vital piece of the puzzle in the run-up to the Academy Awards.

Unveiling Of The New 2009 Golden Globe Statuettes
Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Who votes during the Golden Globes nomination process?

Launched by several Los Angeles-based, foreign-born journalists in 1943, the earliest incarnation of the HFPA was founded as a means to network with each other as representatives of foreign cultural markets living in the United States during the turbulence of World War II (and the public’s subsequent hunger for escapist cinema and news about it). Their first awards were given out the following year in the hopes of winning foreign journalists the same access to studios, stars, and other Hollywood figures as their local, American press peers.

The group didn’t take on its HFPA moniker until the mid-1950s, when two separate sub-factions of the original group with clashing ideologies — The Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association and the Foreign Press Association of Hollywood — united over concrete guidelines for membership as the group evolved over the years into a prominent recognizer of cinematic achievement (as well as contributor to entertainment-related charities) on the world stage.

Today’s HFPA is made up of approximately 90 active members from 55 countries with an estimated total readership of more than 250 million collectively across their respective publications, which include newspapers and magazines from Britain’s The Daily Telegraph to German Vogue and the China Times.

How does the HFPA nominate movies and determine category placement?

All active members of the HFPA are eligible to vote in all categories. But before they get there, studios and publicists must submit entry forms. This year, documents were collected between July 15 and the end of October. Once the forms are collected, HFPA membership meets as a whole to go over the list of submissions to make sure all entries are in the proper categories (they have the power to switch films between the comedy/musical and drama categories as well as performances from supporting to lead and vice-versa, as they did with Natalie Portman’s performance in Vox Lux this year) and that they contain no errors. The group also checks to make sure supporting performances appear in at least 5 percent of their parent film and that foreign language contenders contain at least 50 percent non-English dialogue.

This process produces the “reminders list,” a compilation of all eligible projects and talent. That list then goes to an accounting firm, Ernst & Young, which reviews it for mistakes before distributing it to all active members for nominations voting. All active members select five nominees in each category. This year, ballots — along with the reminders list — went out on Nov. 21 on a return deadline of Sunday, Dec. 2 at 8:00 p.m. PT.

Though the HFPA does not use the Academy-favored preferential ballot ranking system to determine its nominees and winners, members rank their five respective nominees in each category on a 1-5 scale. The majority system is used to tabulate nominees unless a tie for fifth place occurs; then, the preferential system is used as a tie-breaker for the final nomination slot. Ernst & Young then tallies the results and keeps them secret until the nominations morning announcement.

Hasn’t there been past controversy around the HFPA?

Though they’re undoubtedly one of the foremost influencers of the Oscar race, the HFPA has come under fire in recent years for seemingly favoring celebrity over the merits of individual films and performances. As the group’s membership is so small, it’s easier for studios and publicists to screen their films for the HFPA as a whole. This likely makes the awards body more susceptible to groupthink and favoritism when it comes to voting on their year-end picks — especially when the HFPA has been accused (particularly by Peter Howell of the Toronto Star in this 2010 editorial) of hogging press time from other journalists at industry events, as the teams behind Oscar campaigns know winning an HFPA member’s affections could potentially spell a gilded nomination on the road to an Oscar nomination for their project.

Celebrities have also attempted to woo the HFPA in the past. In 2010, several outlets reported that Sony flew HFPA members to Las Vegas for an all-expenses-paid-trip complete with a private concert performed by Burlesque star Cher. The film flopped both commercially and critically, though the HFPA still nominated it for three Golden Globes — including one for best picture in the comedy/musical category — anyway. Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp’s critically panned dramedy The Tourist similarly showed up among the Comedy/Musical nominees with two of the biggest stars on the planet at its center — both of whom showed up to the red carpet event (garnering celebrity attendees is always an effective audience draw) after receiving individual acting nods from the HFPA that year.

What role do the Golden Globes play in awards season?

Unlike industry collectives with fancy awards shows that share crossover membership with the Academy (like the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild of America, and the Directors Guild of America), the HFPA’s voting base comprises strictly non-industry journalists. This means its tastes in movies and television — as reflected in the nominees — do not inherently blend with the Academy’s.

The keys to understanding the Globes’ importance in the awards machine, however, are time and dates. Visibility is the most important thing the HFPA can provide for a film in the Oscar race. For example, this year, the HFPA announces its nominees on Thursday ahead of its highly publicized awards ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 6. The Academy’s nominations voting begins the day after, on Monday, Jan. 7. This means receiving a Golden Globe nomination (and particularly a win) can make a project or performance a must-see for an Oscar voter heading into Academy Awards voting.

When Oscar voters have mountains of screeners to sift through during awards season, the Golden Globes’ stamp of approval (whether it be a nomination or victory) and subsequent publicity immediately makes that title a priority. And the proof is in the Globes’ track record of anointing best picture winners that follow up with Academy Award nominations.

It’s also acknowledged that the Golden Globes ceremony is a “testing ground” for acceptance speeches, giving contending actors a chance to make their case (and show their gratitude and general likability) on a winners’ podium viewed around the world as a means to gain industry (and popular) support en route to a potential Oscar nomination or win. Acceptance speeches are performances in the machine, too, and landing one can give any Oscar campaign a much-needed boost of publicity ahead of Academy balloting.

The 2019 Golden Globe nominations will be announced on Thursday morning, followed by NBC’s live broadcast of the 76th Golden Globes awards ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 6 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

This post has been updated to address past criticism of the HFPA.

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