The Hollywood Foreign Press Association loves to be, if not quite as radical as they once were, a bit aspirational. This is a small, quirky group that takes their role as Oscar prognosticators seriously. You can sense when they’re lobbing for a movie or performance they admire more than love, when they’re going in hard for a movie that might be more of an Academy question mark. This group of global journalists has no overlap with the Academy, isn’t comparable in terms of size, and used to provide quite a bit of comic relief in the larger conversation around Hollywood campaigns. (The Tourist!) Yet they have increasingly managed to set the stage for the Big One. In both of the last two years, they have successfully awarded all four Oscar acting winners.
It helps, of course, that the HFPA has more big trophies to dole out — by separating comedy/musical and drama, they can champion heavyweights and underdogs alike. They did it in 2017, honoring both supposed frontrunner La La Land and the seemingly less likely (but ultimately, infamously triumphant) Moonlight. They did it in 2018, splitting between Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Lady Bird. They did it last year by giving their stamp of approval to two critically derided, but ultimately Oscar-winning, period movies: Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book.
And they did it again this year. One Oscar heavyweight, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, came away with a leading three Globes including Best Picture (Comedy/Musical), while another fast-rising underdog, 1917, arguably had the biggest night of any film, winning two huge trophies: Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director (Sam Mendes). Here was the HFPA vaulting 1917 to the fore of the Best Picture conversation, where the one-take WWI pic had skirted until this point, unable to dislodge The Irishman, Once Upon a Time, or even Parasite from their secure spots.
At this point, I think that changes — 1917 is in the thick of that conversation. Of course, a Globe does not make an Oscar — just ask the aforementioned Three Billboards, or The Revenant, or The Grand Budapest Hotel, all of which beat the eventual Oscar Best Picture winner. But it does signal a shift in momentum that began outside of the HFPA bubble: The town is starting to really talk up this movie; they just needed to play a bit of catch-up. Plus, getting a national Best Picture spotlight doesn’t exactly hurt. Seeing Mendes accepting these awards for the first time in two decades, humbly and warmly, surely won’t have a negligible impact.
The news is not bad, exactly, for The Irishman, which was shut out; if anything, its underperformance here indicates that their snub of De Niro had more to do with their thoughts on the film than we expected. But it’s a reminder that the road to the Academy Awards is, even in a shortened season, a long and windy and unpredictable one, and it has some stiff competition. The news was only good this weekend, too, for Parasite, ineligible for a Picture prize but inarguably the absolute star of a bevy of pre-Globe events.
As for the acting categories, once more, the HFPA did not live up to their Aaron Taylor-Johnson-tinted reputation, instead keeping mainstream and as-expected. Oscar frontrunners thrived here. They didn’t even give Jennifer Lopez what seemed like a gimmie Best Supporting Actress boost — perhaps because likely Oscar champ Laura Dern (Marriage Story) gave the Globes a chance to save face and give Netflix something, after showering its movies with nominations before shutting them out of the victories otherwise entirely. Brad Pitt, far ahead in Supporting Actor, was meanwhile one of those four-quadrant choices this group would have never resisted. If there was a lock Sunday night, it was him.
Word was that the HFPA loved Marriage Story, but they went for Joker more, with Joaquin Phoenix beating Adam Driver in a close race sure to mirror the battle at the Dolby come February. Joker in general felt like a wild card — could Todd Phillips win Best Director? — and this group’s love for it will not necessarily translate to Oscar love. (We’ve heard mixed things.) But it’s undeniably a central player at this point. Our Drama Actress winner, meanwhile, cannot be stopped, it seems. Renée Zellweger‘s quiet, lovely speech about being welcomed back struck just the right tone.
In the comedy acting categories, we saw some more advocacy. Two leading contenders who have felt a bit more like longshots by the day — Taron Egerton and Awkwafina, respectively — got essential platforms here. EW still doesn’t have either predicted to make the Final Five, but this puts them in the thick of contention for pretty murky categories that could go in a lot of directions. And Rocketman winning original song allowed Elton John and Bernie Taupin to hit the stage together; hard to imagine Academy voters won’t work toward a similar moment.
So these are how things go — some affirmations, some boosts, some snubs that will sting a little less when the Globe dust settles. Arguably the biggest (pleasant!) shocker of the night occurred in a race paid least attention to in these matters: Best Animated Film. Laika’s beautiful, gorgeous Missing Link somehow triumphed over four studio heavyweights, each either a remake or sequel, an upset in the best way that translated to a genuine (and genuinely stunned) speech from its winners. It may be but a footnote when the 2020 awards history books are written. But it provides a crucial reminder as we head into the home stretch: Anything can happen.