Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr. worked together for two decades at Daily Variety. In this occasional column, two old friends get together and grind their axes, mostly on the movie business.
BART: With the Golden Globes fiercely embracing the Big Issue (empowerment) and the Big Speech (Oprah), that gives the Oscar planners precisely two months to create a new and better theme for their show. Could it be Big Entertainment? The Globes arguably was lean in that category — eloquent remarks, nervous jokes. Are the tensions of the moment imposing inhibitions and constraints? A clumsy joke or inadvertent faux pas could prove terminal.
FLEMING: I was pretty critical of the funereal feeling that surrounded the Globes when I watched, but honestly, the evening reflected a moment in time and how could the show have been anything else? The theme was — Men Bad, Women Outraged. Men came up to accept awards practically with heads bowed, and they seemed to get played off a lot faster than women, especially those who had politically charged things to say. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg captured it perfectly in this Facebook note: “Not trying to be a dick here, but I am not fully understanding this Golden Globes ‘Let’s All Wear Black’ movement, in solidarity against sexual harassment, unfair wages, diminished opportunities, poor treatment, etc. It’s the patriarchy that ought to suffer, no? So shouldn’t all the women wear whatever they love? And All the men be forced to wear Mario Batali orange Crocs, Harvey Weinstein-style suspenders, and Roy Moore cowboy hats over hairlines trimmed back to Kevin Spacey/Louis C.K./Matt Lauer lengths?”
I think that the Globes, formerly a frivolous affair, got itself a measure of relevance. It also has taken a great weight off the Oscarcast, which is now free to be fun. When was the last time anybody thought the Oscars was a more fun broadcast than the Globes, where everybody is usually drinking liberally?
BART: I felt that, too, at the Palm Springs Film Festival Awards a week ago; since that event is not nationally televised the acceptance speeches often stray into untested waters (alcoholically induced), as did the Globes in years past. But this year caution prevailed. So will caution, too, rule the Oscars? Gil Cates, who produced the Oscar show for 20 years, always told me “this is about show business and I want to put on a show.” So perhaps the Oscars can steer a new path by being jaunty and loose and downright entertaining. Or is that too risky today?
FLEMING: My problem with the Globes was that Seth Meyers set a chastened tone with his monologue and then disappeared. He might have anticipated the proceedings needed a dose of comedy. It was like watching Batman V Superman all over again, and wishing for a Marvel moment of levity. Clips from nominated categories were so brief you missed them if you blinked. It was like the producers knew the evening’s bread and butter would be fiery speeches, and it hobbled the show as a globally televised piece of entertainment meant to showcase a lot of worthy films that are trying to gain traction against blockbusters like Star Wars and Jumanji. To me the big payoff was Oprah Winfrey’s speech. Reese Witherspoon’s introduction was so effusive, you thought she was introducing Pope Francis. But Winfrey then justified it with electric speech that said everything that needed to be said, in a not condescending way. The lightning rod speech reminded of when Illinois State Senator Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, or when the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo delivered his DNC keynote speech in 1984. Her speech was on that level, in my opinion.
BART: Given the understandingly intense focus on female empowerment, films with racial and diversity themes lost the spotlight at the Globes. Could part of their problem be traced to subtle industry intrigues? Mudbound, in my view, is an absorbing and moving film directed by an unheralded women, Dee Rees, but it’s also a Netflix project. The Academy is unsure whether it wants to include Netflix films for awards contention, but I didn’t think this would be an issue at the Globes (it sure hasn’t hurt Stranger Things). Amazon’s big “sleeper” this year, The Big Sick, dealt with sensitive ethnic issues with a comedic spin. It was not rewarded at the Globes. The new entries in the film business like Amazon and Netflix are buying plentiful ads and throwing good parties, but the fraternity does not seem to welcome newcomers.
FLEMING: Would Mudbound, or for that matter The Meyerowitz Stories, have fared better in the Oscar race — the latter would have been dinged by the Dustin Hoffman allegations regardless — if they had been standard prestige theatrical releases instead of Netflix films? Many think so, but this business is really about money and I recall that Mudbound had a low-seven-figure offer last Sundance, until Netflix swooped in and paid low eight figures for the film. So you won’t hear its financiers crying. I don’t think the Globes established at all a frontrunner in the Best Picture race. If anything, it confused the issue even further. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has to merit more serious consideration after its wins, as does Fox Seachlight’s other hot awards film, The Shape of Water. Also I, Tonya, for that matter. Meyers’ monologue joke mention that The Post’s Spielberg, Streep and Hanks were up for awards, with an assistant running out with a bunch of Globes only to be told “not yet” by Meyers was funny. But it was surprising that movie didn’t win anything. The Globes underscore how this is the most wide open race I can remember, a time when smart maneuvering by skilled awards-season distributors can mean a lot.
BART: The shortfall of big laughs at the Globes ceremony reflects the absence of truly comedic moments in the entire Globes comedy/musical nominations list. Here’s the list: The Greatest Showman, I Tonya, Lady Bird, Get Out and The Disaster Artist. OK, James Franco’s mordantly nihilistic sense of humor produced some pained smiles in The Disaster Artist — talk about dark humor! — but I wouldn’t call any of these films either musical or comedic. I never thought I’d say this, but this year’s movies made me miss Neil Simon. And certainly Billy Wilder.
FLEMING: I laughed, hard, several times at The Disaster Artist and the texting dialogue between myself and my kids these days usually consists of some Tommy Wiseau line from that movie. I thought his plunge into that eccentric character is his best career performance, but you wonder if his candidacy will be harmed by these recent published reports of tweets from women sorta, kinda making allegations. Franco deserves a Best Actor nomination, but I think nobody beats Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour, or Fran McDormand for Three Billboards. I will agree with you on quizzical Globe categories where Get Out was concerned. Comedy or Musical? I thought it was a horror film.
BART: Humor wasn’t the biggest missing ingredient in most of the nominated movies; empathetic characters led the “missing list.” Arguably, Dunkirk was truly the “best” movie of 2017 by most criteria, but it lacked a truly empathetic central character. And Three Billboards, starring the ferocious Frances McDormand, reflects surely the darkest comedic moments of any 2017 movie — and also the darkest characters.
FLEMING: The dark fabrics will be the lingering memory of the Globes. I’ve written for years about Harvey Weinstein and some others who’ve been run out of town and had no idea of the sordid things they’ve been accused of, so maybe I’m giving the male gender in Hollywood too much credit. But I think that if someone had asked all the men in the auditorium who had never sexually harassed woman to stand, there would still be a good majority of men who could have done that. At least I hope that is the case. But this awards show was defined as a night for a collective outraged female voice to dominate the stage, and it somehow seemed right.
BART: Will the Globes results influence the Oscar voting, which opened this week? As a long-term Oscar voter, I can attest that it doesn’t influence my selection. Sure, over the years it is instructive to review the list of winners of the various groups – critics and guilds and Globes alike. But inevitably I find myself rebelling against the semi-consensus, rather than going along with it. And I also find myself irritated by the way in which some films get uniformly ignored. Oprah can speak about the importance of the press, but then why do the critics fail to appreciate The Post – Spielberg’s finely wrought drama? Why do critics venerate del Toro’s fishy monster, but resist the extraordinary achievement of Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk? Several top critics list the Phantom Thread as Best Picture, but I find myself asking, what happened to the story line in that movie? So, yes, the results are interesting to review, but I usually react by going in another direction. It’s more liberating that way.