A just-right blend of great moments, goofy speeches, sharp-tongued comedy, Love Boat references, and odes to cinema.

By Darren Franich
January 06, 2020 at 08:50 AM EST
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Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Years pass, we all get older, the awards show must goes on. Yesteryear’s movie star fallrises into this year’s comeback narrative. One young ingenue works so hard that she practically becomes a recurrent weather event. A promising career disintegrates, reforms, dominates. Pinup idols wrinkle into aging movie guys on their way out — though they don’t have any wrinkles, and does anyone still pin anything up?

You go away for tax evasion, you come back with a purple tuxedo. A continent burns. Dinner trends meatless. A rallying cry sounds: No more private jets to Palm Springs! Charlize Theron explains videotapes. Tom Hanks explains how filmmaking once involved making film. New James Bonds sequelize into old James Bonds, and Joe Pesci unretires just in time for a Baby Yoda joke.

“Y’all look pretty good 17 years later,” said Renée Zellweger, collecting a Golden Globe for her work in Judy, her twang reappearing for a Cold Mountain callback. “My first time here I was 14 years old,” Laura Dern declared on the same stage. “I’m gonna keep it quick,” Ellen DeGeneres promised when she accepted the Carol Burnett career-achievement award, “I was born in New Orleans in 1958, Jan. 26….”

It was a reflective night for the Golden Globes, you could say. There were political speeches, visceral words about climate change, some self-criticism. “No one goes to the cinema, no one really watches network TV,” said host Ricky Gervais, on a network TV event honoring cinema. “We all know there’s no f—ing competition between us,” Joaquin Phoenix bleeped after winning his f—ing competition, “It’s this thing that’s created to sell advertisements for the TV show.” (Missed opportunity, not mumbling “maaaaaaan” at the end of all his sentences.)

And then there were moments of joyful celebration, half-buzzed improvised thank-yous, two separate references to Stellan Skarsgård’s non-existent eyebrows. Michelle Williams got Tiffany Haddish clapping about reproductive rights. Tom Hanks demanded to know who else ever guest-starred on The Love Boat, and Kathy Bates raised her hand. “Look, I know you guys haven’t seen my show,” deadpanned TV Comedy Actor winner Ramy Youssef, who proceeded to elevator-pitch his stellar sitcom Ramy. “I’ve never been to the Golden Globes,” said Awkwafina, accepting a Best Actress prize for The Farewell. “And I’m here now, and it’s this, and it’s great.”

It was great: A night of showbiz generations, full of laughs and memories, anger and whimsy. Martin Scorsese didn’t win anything, and everybody kept on talking about Martin Scorsese, and the camera cut to him next to Robert De Niro so often that the Statler & Waldorf comparisons practically memed themselves.

Some victories were baffling, which is what you want from the Golden Globes. Some ridiculous moments were righteous, which is also part of the curious fun the Hollywood Foreign Press Association can cook up.

Ten years after his first hosting gig, Gervais openly begged the stars not to get political: “You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world.” I know that, for some people, his whole anti-host posture has gotten old. I’m not sure you should take his cynicism at face value, though — and I think Gervais is always up to something sneaky when he jumps on this glitzbomb grenade. He must have known the camera had only just close-upped on Apple CEO Tim Cook when he cheerfully described the tech megacorp as “a company that runs sweatshops in China.” And he admired the process of preparing to star in a superhero movie: “Going to the gym twice a day and taking steroids.”

“You say you’re woke,” he chastised the assembled stars, “But the companies you work for, I mean, unbelievable: Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent.” Not exactly an apolitical statement, that shading capitalist juggernauts into terrorist villainy.

Gervais didn’t appear often after the monologue, and a couple gags about Cats and Harvey Weinstein could’ve come from any social media snarkbot. Still, his truth-to-power spirit has emboldened the Globes. The more he makes fun of this nonsense, the more daring this nonsense seems to become. Sacha Baron Cohen introduced Jojo Rabbit by noting that the main character is “a naive misguided child who spreads Nazi propaganda and only has imaginary friends. His name is Mark Zuckberg.” Michelle Williams used her Fosse/Verdon victory to offer a passionate (if vague) personal narrative about women’s reproductive rights. She was not the only person onstage begging viewers to vote this year — and Patricia Arquette, a Best Actress winner for Hulu’s The Act, unveiled the most scathing critique, condemning “a president tweeting out a threat of 52 bombs.”

Russell Crowe couldn’t even pick up his award, so presenter Jennifer Aniston read his moving message from the front lines of the devastating Australian bushfires. And this is one of those years where a director of a World War I movie has to state, just to be clear, that he fervently hopes we never fight another World War.

Was this all too preachy for you? The balance was just right, I thought, personal and moving when it wasn’t fleet and absurd. A different president got a very different shoutout from regular winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Quentin Tarantino won the Screenplay trophy for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and gave us the full QT: Giggling egomania, pocket-filmschool adulation for John Milius and Robert Bolt, loud gushing over his star-studded cast. Ansel Elgort introduced the Best Song category with an impromptu musical number, an appropriate moment for the drugs to begin to take hold, I guess. There was a lot of love for Rocketman, so Elton John must be shaking a lot of hands this awards season.

It was an evening you could describe as “eclectic and ever-raucous,” if you were Brad Pitt, whose Once Upon a Time Supporting Actor victory allowed for the funniest speech of the night. Let’s see: He called Leonardo DiCaprio “LDC,” he casually dropped a sly Titanic reference, he worried that bringing his mom would launched dating rumors, and he begged everyone for a bit of kindness. The cutaway-cam seemed to keep finding Jennifer Aniston. I don’t think malice was intended. Those tables are crowded in tight — and with modern-day HD cameras capturing multiple planes of action, any coalition of celebrities will reveal a Marriage Story or three.

The show prepared its own internal counterarguments. “See, Ricky, it’s not all about Netflix,” said dapper Jared Harris, accepting another deserved Best Limited Series honor for HBO’s brilliant Chernobyl. Sam Mendes used 1917‘s climactic (and unexpected) win to beg everyone watching to come see it in a theater — where you should always watch movies, if you can.

The Globes do serve a legitimate artistic purpose, roulette-wheeling brilliant creators onstage when you least expect it. I really do think Youssef’s victory just won Ramy at least four seasons — and he took a sarcastic Gervais command sincerely, thanking Allah onstage. Worldbeating South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho got a trophy for his unbelievably great class-carving thriller Parasite. He mostly spoke via translator, but he switched to English for a final thought: “We use only just one language: The cinema.”

This is all what I love about the Golden Globes, when the ceremony’s on fire. Showbiz is goofy, and showbiz is profound. The creeping great powers of contemporary Hollywood are all-consuming monopolist monstrosities that will subvert union doctrine and addict viewers away from sleep. Yet somewhere in time and space, young Charlize Theron is getting inspired watching her Splash VHS with her pet goat on the family farm with a filthy duck pond.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do is make people feel good and laugh,” said DeGeneres in her sweetly straightforward speech, which sent at least three generations googling Mannix. Joaquin Phoenix rambled in multiple directions and came out strong against jetaway desert weekends. Cate Blanchett warned about a massive noxious disaster that could negatively impact the whole world, and then she introduced Joker. Hanks sang a few bars of the Love Boat theme tune through a cough-medicine rasp. Even the blissfully surprised winning directors of Missing Link barely seemed to know what Missing Link was. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were faces in the crowd. Brian Cox began his victory speech by apologizing for his victory. Many people claimed they didn’t bother to write speeches.

So this year’s Golden Globes were the right blend of silly and serious. I felt good, I laughed. We’ll look back on this night, I think, when we sort out how the Hollywood that was became the Hollywood that will be. “We’re all gonna die soon, and there’s no sequel,” said Gervais. “You never know where life takes you, huh?” said DeGeneres. Hopeless and then hopeful? Not a bad way to start a new decade. Grade: A

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