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17th of January 2018


How can the Golden Globes nominate a movie that critics haven’t even seen yet?

When the Golden Globe nominations were announced this week, there was the usual breathless reportage and head-scratching analysis by pundits. How had Greta Gerwig not been nominated for Best Director for Lady Bird? Is the satirical horror flick Get Out really a “musical or comedy”? And why were there three nominations for All the Money in the World, a film no one has yet seen?

But what if our attention was focused in the wrong place? Instead of trying to unravel the machinations of the Golden Globes wizards, maybe we should pull back the curtain and see who’s running things?

For almost 75 years, the Golden Globes have been decided on and handed out by a Byzantine body called the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. It’s a secretive cabal, numbering fewer than 100 people with membership restricted to those who live in Southern California but work for publications outside the United States.

That tiny membership is important when you consider that the Golden Globes have evolved into one of the most prestigious awards shows, second only to the Oscars. But the Oscars are voted on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a group of more than 8,000 industry professionals with a lot of name recognition – 2017’s list of 774 invitees includes Justin Timberlake, Jordan Peele, Chris Pratt, Adam Driver, Elle Fanning and Gal Gadot. The Academy’s Board of Governors alone has 51 members.

The HFPA, in contrast, are regularly referred to as unknowns or “total randos” in the trade press. They include Ray Arco, Dagmar Dunlevy, Andre Guimond and Noemia Young, whom I only mention because they’re the Canadians among the group. Recognize anyone? An Infomart search turned up exactly one article by any of them, Young’s 2017 piece in Le Journal de Montreal about Rupert Grint.

So on the one hand we have an industry body of thousands, voting to reward the work they understand because it’s their livelihood. On the other, a minuscule group of entertainment writers – not, it should be noted, critics – whose outsized influence (100 to one, given the numbers in each group) on the annual awards season raises regular accusations of graft and mismanagement.

Sometimes the charges are official, as in 2011 when the HFPA’s outgoing publicist, Michael Russell, sued the group, saying he was fired for trying to stop corruption among its members. He said they regularly accepted cash, holidays and other gifts from studios in exchange for nominations, and that they secretly profited by selling prime real estate on the red carpet to media organizations. The suit was settled in 2013, but details were kept secret.

Less easy to hide is the group’s history of questionable nominations and winners. One of the more infamous was in 1982, when the HFPA named Pia Zadora “New Star of the Year” for her role in the movie Butterfly, which received two other nominations for Supporting Actor Orson Welles and the song “It’s Wrong for Me To Love You.”

But the movie had been widely panned and received 10 Razzie nominations, including the same three categories as the Golden Globes, with Zadora winning “Worst New Star.” The movie had been financed by her multi-millionaire husband, and prevailing wisdom is that he somehow paid for her Golden Globe as well.

But you don’t have to go back 35 years to find controversial nominees. How about Hugh Jackman in – wait for it – the forgettable time-travel rom-com Kate and Leopold from 2001? Or The Tourist from 2010, with three nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor (Johnny Depp) and Best Actress (Angelina Jolie). The HFPA must really like those two; they’ve been showered with 15 nominations over the years.

This raises another frequent criticism of the group: they nominate not based on worthiness but on sexiness. Granted, most actors are beautiful people, but the Golden Globes do seem to go out of their way to invite the best of the bunch, performances notwithstanding. And they like to get their photos taken with the talent, something unheard of in film critic circles until quite recently. (I blame the rise of the selfie stick.)

Viola Davis even called the group out on this last year, when she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress for her work in Fences. “Thank you to the Hollywood Foreign Press,” she said from the stage. “This is my fifth nomination.” Then, shrugging, she added: “I took all the pictures, went to the luncheon …” Knowing laughter from the crowd. “But it’s right on time.”

Which brings us to All the Money in the World, which has been shut out of critics’ groups awards such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Toronto Film Critics Associations (I’m a member of both) for the very good reason that it wasn’t ready to screen; director Ridley Scott has been frantically reshooting scenes after Christopher Plummer took over the role of John Paul Getty III from the now-disgraced Kevin Spacey.

The Shape of Water, Big Little Lies lead 2018 Golden Globes nominationsHow All the Money in the World will actually work to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer

The Hollywood Foreign Press members, however, were treated to a special screening of an unfinished cut, and decided based on that to nominate Plummer, Scott and also Michelle Williams. And while there have been no allegations of impropriety, it’s arguably difficult to be given such front-of-the-line access and not want to reward the film in kind.

Word is that the last-minute reshoots cost the studio an extra $10 million on an already tight budget of $40 million. Thousands of Academy voters will get their chance to weigh in on the results soon enough, but in the meantime, it’s a minor line item to strike a print and show it to 80 or 90 foreign journalists who can get the awards season ball rolling.

All the money in the world indeed.

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