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January 08, 2018 at 11:08 AM EST

We gave it an A-

Must everything mean something? The Golden Globes rose to prominence as the fizzy alternative to the pageantry of Hollywood’s prizegiving Academies. More or less hostless until 2010, the show spent the first half of this decade fronted by Ricky Gervais and then by the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler dynamic duo. Love them or hate him, the collective comedy assault evolved the awards show from a boozily casual get-together into a boozily self-aware cultural event. The Globes have never had the built-in prestige of Hollywood’s trophy-granting Academies, but that meant the atmosphere could feel loose, free of the anxiety of history.

It was at the Globes that George Clooney made his dirty Michael Fassbender joke, still one of the best things anyone’s ever said about golf. It was at the Globes that Fey described Gravity as “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age,” still one of the best things anyone’s ever said about George Clooney. And it was at the Globes that Poehler could turn a simple “And the nominees are…” face montage into a comedy-classic GIF moment, receiving her applause from the lap of (him again!) George Clooney.

So it’s been my favorite awards show for years, not merely a celebration of the art form but an actual honest-to-god party. But what to expect in 2018, everyone dressed in black, with so many performers speaking for victims — or, courageously, as victims? On the red carpet before the show, Carson Daly threw Michelle Williams an interview softball, asking where she was when she heard about her Globe nomination. Joined by her guest Tarana Burke, the activist who created the #MeToo movement, Williams turned her answer towards the sexual harassment epidemic. “Thank you for bringing attention to something more important than film and television,” Daly concluded, because they didn’t teach this stuff in Cheerful Hosting School. I was inspired by the message, hesitant about the medium. The Globes have always honored Hollywood by capturing the mad willful anarchy this dream factory can produce. It was an awards show, sure, but it felt like a delightful backstage farce, starring everyone you’ve ever recognized. So the Globes have been important, which is different from being serious. Could they get real? Would anyone want that?

But there’s another angle on this Globes decade. Throughout Hollywood’s history, the boldest transgressive ideas have flourished in the shadows: the rugged moral ambiguity of film noir, the flagrant conformity-blasting ecstasy of High Camp, the possibility of turning a low-budget horror film into a year-defining indictment of American race relations. It’s possible to see how Gervais’ lacerations into Hollywood privilege and Fey/Poehler’s more meticulous (and triumphantly female-forward) comedy farce set the stage for this year’s Globes. There were inspiring speeches and provocative statements and poison-pen remembrances of bygone harassers, but the mood was ebullient, effusive, full of the cheerful possibilities of brighter days ahead. “I’m being seen for who I am, and appreciated for who I am,” said Sterling K. Brown, winning another award for This Is Us. “Please, let’s continue to hold each other accountable,” said Rachel Brosnahan, a confident TV star about five seconds into her stardom, “Invest in and make and champion these stories.” Seth Meyers started the show off with a monologue announcing a new day in Los Angeles: “Marijuana is finally allowed, and sexual harassment finally isn’t!”

Well… let’s hope. Jeff Sessions is coming for your vape pen. And it’s possible to support a movement and worry that a movement will become performative, a trendy pro forma act of public support with only the haziest actual private progress. In days gone by, hosts made sparkling fun of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the endearing cabal of comedy/musical-loving Ill-la-la-luminati that hands out these trophies. (Gervais joked that they accepted bribes.) This year, the HFPA was part of the noble cause. “The Hollywood Foreign Press,” said Meyers, “A string of three words that could not have been better designed to infuriate our President.” Oprah Winfrey impressively narrativized the HFPA into the ongoing struggle to uphold the First Amendment: “We all know that the press is under siege these days.”

This angle could trend unconvincing, self-regarding. It didn’t help that the HFPA was T-shirt-launching trophies toward Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, an empty revenge farce dripping with phony self-righteousness. They have also transformed “Miss Golden Globe” into the “Golden Globe Ambassador,” a sideways promotion that still sounds as about as important as “Associate Producer.”

But I was taken with how many winners used their moment onstage to speak plainly, to their industry and the audience it serves. “We can elicit change,” said Nicole Kidman, winning for Big Little Lies. Producer Bruce Miler made a plea to keep his dystopian drama fictional: “To all the people in this room and this country and this world who do everything they can to stop The Handmaid’s Tale from becoming real: Keep doing that!” Frances McDormand had little time for grandstanding — promising her fellow nominees tequila and cheerfully admitting she never quite knew who the members of the HFPA were. (The censors somehow managed to bleep every part of her speech, except for the part where she actually said a swear word: a sign of nerves in the control room, or proof that McDormand’s a ninja.) But she had a fine message for everyone who was listening: “The women in this room tonight are not here for the food. We are here for the work. Thank you.”

At the risk of making the cardinal sin of assuming anything on social media is real, I noticed certain Twitter narratives developing. Appearances by Kirk Douglas, Tonya Harding, Elizabeth Moss, and Gary Oldman inspired conversations about their respective histories, personal or religious or criminal. To go deeper would require conversations about rumors. (Rumor-mongering is either wrong, because everyone is innocent until proven guilty, or essential, because where there’s smoke there’s fire.) There was also some notice made of the lack of female directors nominated this year, all the more glaring given that Greta Gerwig’s incredible Lady Bird won the Best Comedy/Musical category but Gerwig herself didn’t get a Director nod. That, rather marvelously, became a Barbra Streisand pull quote when she took the stage in the closing minutes. “I was the only woman to get the Best Director award,” she said. “That was 34 years ago!” And of course, there was Get Out, a horror film competing against a musical about how Hugh Jackman invented the circus.

Tina Fey once called the Golden Globes a beautiful mess, and I’d put all of the above into the latter category. But there was so much beauty in the 2018 Globes. I was touched by James Franco inviting both his brother Dave and his inspiration Tommy Wiseau onstage to share his award. I didn’t love The Disaster Artist; a better filmmaker would’ve crafted something darker and funnier, going further into Wiseau’s personality than Franco’s cartoon-character affectations. (The story of the making of The Room isn’t not the story of a rich boss who treats his employees like crap.) But Wiseau’s presence was so oddly right for what the Golden Globes can be, at once silly and tearfully sincere. Franco held him back from the microphone; I’ll wonder forever what he would’ve said.

I enjoyed the minor acts of rebellion, presenters transforming the act of presentation into playful defiance. Natalie Portman teed up “the all-male nominees” in the Best Director prize. Introducing one of the Best Actor prizes, Geena Davis cheerfully declared: “These five nominees have agreed to give half of their salary back so the women can make more than them!” I guess you could criticize these statements for diminishing some notional prestige attached to these awards, turning every nominee into a collaborator. Well, why not? All awards shows are goofy on some level, because quality is subjective and art transcends simple definitions, and honestly Get Out was pretty funny (but Three Billboards only really worked as a comedy, so it’s all a wash). Will presenters at the upcoming awards shows so purposefully deconstruct the prizes they’re handing out? One comedic aspect powering Fey, Poehler, and Gervais through all their hostings was the sense that they could get away with stuff like this, and now everyone can. The Golden Globes’ power is that they don’t have to matter, which is probably why they’ve never mattered more.

Am I talking too much about past hosts? I thought Meyers did a good job, setting a high bar for hosting in a time of tricky comedy. He freely named names, throwing out early mentions of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. The laughter could be nervous, but Meyers was borderline whimsical in his fury. Of Weinstein, Meyers said: “I’ve heard rumors that he’s crazy and difficult to work with” — eternal Hollywood code for blacklisted womanhood, reused here to deplore a man who allegedly constructed his own blacklist. (Meyers also insulted Spacey’s House of Cards accent, and surely the least important positive development of the last year is that nobody will ever again give Spacey an award for doing his best Foghorn Leghorn.) Meyers didn’t put a stamp on this Globes the way Gervais and Fey/Poehler did, but I appreciated how his playful instincts shined through. He described Michael Keaton and Alicia Vikander as “the next Tina and Amy,” an invasion of nigh-Adult Swim absurdism, either the funniest joke of the night or only barely a joke at all.

There was one off-note here, an act of point-missing self-effacement. “I’m a man with absolutely no power in Hollywood,” said Meyers, and I’m sure on some level he might feel that way, because the 12:35 guy on NBC can only look down on whatever sad sack’s hosting Last Call With Carson Daly. But to be a host — of a late-night talk show, of a tequila-friendly awards show watched by millions — is power. To deny that is silly, an attempt toward alliance that’s actually one final cover-up. We should be on the lookout for that: kind words that serve cruel purpose, sensitivity more performed than actualized. As an example: During one commercial break, I saw that awful advertisement for Facebook, the one with glossy global-citizen stock footage proclaiming “Hope Brings Us Together,” an unconvincing attempt to rebrand the social media giant as, like, anything but a totalitarian-enabling propaganda service.

“What are you gonna do,” shrugged Poehler, onstage to hand out a prize. “It’s a weird year!” True, but the weird years are memorable ones. Oprah Winfrey took the stage to accept the Cecil B. DeMille award and delivered a speech weaving so many disparate notion of resistance, from Sidney Poitier and Recy Taylor to Rosa Parks and the #MeToo movement. It was a speech so rich in oratory that everyone now assumes Winfrey is running for something. We’ll see. Politics isn’t entertainment, much as a certain TV-addled president wishes otherwise. There are more important things than film and television, no doubt, but the best movies will outlive us, and the best television will swallow us whole.

So I was inspired, too, by the speech that followed Oprah’s. Guillermo del Toro has spent his career on all fronts of cinema, in his native Mexico and his adopted United States, in superhero sequels and Gothic romances, and thank you China for saving Pacific Rim. “For 25 years, I have handcrafted very strange little tales, made of motion, color, life, and shadow,” he said. “Since childhood, I’ve been faithful to monsters. I have been saved and absolved by them. Because monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection.”

Del Toro was accepting the Best Director prize for The Shape of Water, a movie about a mute and a black woman and a closeted guy and a fishman, all of them beset upon by a mediocre white man so ludicrously self-confident that he doesn’t notice his fingers are falling off. It’s a movie for our moment that will survive into a better one. The orchestra tried to play him off, and del Toro convinced them otherwise. “Lower the music, guys!” he said. “It’s taken 25 years. Give me a minute!” Everyone got their minute at the 2018 Golden Globes. And even the imperfections left me blissful. A-

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