A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Now it should all get interesting.
Two months later than usual, thanks to Covid, the Golden Globes are finally being handed out Sunday night in a ceremony that is likely to look different than any GG party in the previous 77 years. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association swooped in and grabbed this date after the Oscars, also battling the coronavirus lockdown, moved to April 25.
Coming off a week in which the Los Angeles Times brought up, through three separate articles, complaints about a lack of diversity in the HFPA and lucrative compensation for its 90 or so members who vote for the Golden Globes, some of which had been circulating for decades (the current name recognition of Pia Zadora now seems solely dependent on these kinds of pieces). In response, the organization promised it will do better and diversify its membership — a good thing to be sure.
As I said in this column last week, the HFPA has a significant charitable organization and supports the preservation of film more that most groups of its kind (something the Academy should be doing more of). No negative press, however, is likely to take away the place the Globes have secured in the movie and TV awards game, as long as they have a network deal that is. However, this year at least Covid just might.
The HFPA’s unabashedly fun ceremony — no one takes it too seriously — with movie and TV stars packed in the Beverly Hilton’s ballroom is definitely going to have a different look come Sunday. Like September’s Emmys, all the nominees will be at home around the (golden) globe. Only presenters and hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, booked before the pandemic hit, will reportedly be on site, and for the first time bicoastal with Fey (said not to want to fly to the West Coast right now) coming from New York City’s Rainbow Room, and Poehler from the usual Hilton digs in Beverly Hills.
This ceremony, airing on NBC, has steadily become on of TV’s highest-rated awards shows, due largely to the freewheelin’ fun atmosphere of all those stars imbibing their Moet champagne, crunched together in full view. This year, “Hollywood’s Party of the Year” as NBC has always billed it, will have nothing like that going for it. So what are the Globes going to do when it is all about the dispersal of their actual awards? You mean viewers will really have to pay attention to those? Should be fascinating. And coming five days before Oscar voters get their nominating ballots, might the 78th annual Golden Globes have more influence than usual, handing a platform to their chosen winners to set themselves nicely up for judgment by the Academy? Or not? I doubt Sia’s dreadful Globe-nominated Music will repeat that feat at the Oscars, but overall the GGs, as the first nationally televised shot of the season, might give us some real clues. All four acting Oscar winners last year took Golden Globes first, so that’s something.
GLOBE NOMINEES READY TO PARTY ON ZOOM
On Wednesday I got an up-close clue as to how these largely virtual Globes are going to keep the idea of stars partying together going. Not being able to gather them in person, the Globes powers-that-be corralled nominees in the next best way — on Zoom of course. Well, actually it was for “first time” Golden Globe nominees. A total of 18 first-timers beamed in from points around the world including Amanda Seyfried, Andra Day, Elle Fanning, Helena Zengel, Jane Levy, Josh O’Connor, Leslie Odom Jr., Maria Bakalova, Nicholas Hoult and Tahar Rahim among others.
The gathering was billed as a place nominees, in lieu of a physical red carpet this year, will be able to “virtually mingle, congratulate each other, and have fun ahead of the show on Sunday.” Veteran Hungarian journalist and HFPA member Aniko Navai did a swell job trying to make them all talk and keep the party vibe alive. Globes balloting actually ended Tuesday, so no motivation here to politic for votes from members, but all seemed humbled by the honor of being nominated, at least judging by answers to Navai’s not-quite hard-hitting questions like “What was your reaction when you heard you were nominated?,” “How do you plan to spend your day?” and “Will you dress up or just wear your jammies?” (that is a question I never expected to hear asked of a Globe nominee).
In terms of how they learned of their nom, Day said “I cried. I am so grateful”; Odom Jr said, “I was asleep even though I was told to be a grown-up and keep my phone on”; and Bakalova said, “I think I blacked out.” Tiara Thomas was one of many saying they will spend much of the day sipping away: “I plan to enjoy my bottles of champagne I have been receiving so I am just going to drink and enjoy the Globes.”
Several in London said they plan to pull an “all nighter.” Vanessa Kirby says she plans to share the night at home with her sister, while Best Song nominee for “Seen” Laura Pausini will be in Bologna at her parents’ home, and at that moment dad Fabrizio turned up to say hello to all the nominees. Soul music score nominee Jon Batiste plans to watch with his blind dog, Lulu and his other dog, Oscar (an omen for the Academy Awards?). “Our creator has a master plan and he put us in this Zoom together today,” he proclaimed. Before Day had to cut out early she assured Navai she loved her, while Levy in Vancouver shooting Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist put it all in perspective for everyone: “I miss parties. I am going to dress up and I don’t care how hungover I am the next day.”
WHO WILL WIN AT THE GOLDEN GLOBES?
In terms of potential winners, and since we have all been stuck at home and not hobnobbing with Globes voters, it is hard to get a beat on what the buzz is on the inside. That could make for some surprises. From what I hear though, Best Picture – Drama is between Nomadland and The Trial of the Chicago 7, but I bet the latter takes it. Drama Actor looks to be the late Chadwick Boseman, but the HFPA didn’t nominate his film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom beyond him and co-star Viola Davis, so I might say Anthony Hopkins for The Father which is also up for Picture, a good indicator of HFPA love.
Carey Mulligan likely will pull out Drama Actress for Promising Young Woman, while Borat could dominate the Comedy categories, though the filmed stage version of Hamilton’s presence there is intriguing. Daniel Kaluuya may well be their gift to what diversity there is, other than Soul winning for Animated film, by handing him Supporting Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah, or that might go to Odom Jr. in One Night In Miami, and I hear Mank’s Amanda Seyfried is a likely Supporting Actress choice. What nearly everyone with whom I talked agrees is that Chicago 7’s Aaron Sorkin will take Screenplay and Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao will, after Barbra Streisand’s 1983 Yentl win, become only the second woman to win the Globe for Best Director, and the first not from Brooklyn. Pop the champagne corks, folks. It is all starting to look like awards season.
MEET THE TRUE SOUL OF ‘SOUL’
As mentioned Batiste, best known these days as bandleader for Late Show With Stephen Colbert, also is a Golden Globe nominee, as well as Oscar shortlisted, for his jazz contributions to the score of Disney/Pixar’s Soul, which also counts the team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on its composing team. What people probably don’t know that there is another Oscar-winning musical legend who made a key contribution to that film’s distinct musical sound, and really is the one who sparked the whole notion that lead character Joe Gardner’s passion should be jazz in the first place. That icon would be Herbie Hancock, who was brought on board as a consultant after filmmaker Pete Docter and writer Kemp Powers heard the master’s jazz-focused class on the online platform MasterClass.
It remains a fact to this day that, incredibly, Hancock’s unique score to the 1996 jazz-infused movie Round Midnight not only won him the Original Score Oscar, but also that he remains the only Black composer to have ever won in the category. Batiste could be the second. Even Quincy Jones never was able to pull off that feat.
So what was it that Hancock said that gave Soul its soul? I went to the source himself and got the answer in this exclusive interview. It all had to do with one wrong, very wrong, chord that Hancock hit during his concert tour of Europe with Miles Davis. Just one chord, but it took decades for him to get the answer of the key to jazz.
“We were like maybe three fourths of the way through the concert, which is a great place to have that audience in the palm of your hands. And Miles was, you know, playing his solo on this particular piece and he got to the second part of it where he’s building his solo, and I hit this chord. And I thought I was going to drop to the floor of, like, three levels below me,” Hancock recalled in horror at the thought. “I hit this chord that was so wrong I felt like I destroyed everything and Miles didn’t flinch. He took a breath and he played some notes that made my chord right. It made the chord fit, you know, and it blew my mind. I couldn’t even play for almost a minute after that, because I was wondering what kind of sorcery did he use to get that? And it took me years to figure that out. And actually I’ve been practicing Buddhism now. Actually it’ll be 50 years at the end of next year, and through my Buddhist practice I was able to finally understand what it was that Miles did. He didn’t judge what I played, I did. He just heard it as something that happened and he did what jazz musicians always do, you try to make whatever happens work.”
As for Soul, does Hancock think it lived up to his expectations in bringing the art of jazz to new generations? “I even teared up a little bit. It went way beyond anything that I had ever expected. They did such a masterful and incredible job and well, it’s Pixar ,everything they do is spectacular,” he said. “But this had something even more special, something that I certainly didn’t expect the kind of appeal that it can make regardless of your age, you know — that’s what I was really happy about. And that subject material and the circumstances were about, you know, whatever’s in the life of a jazz musician.”
As for that history-making Oscar, and perhaps a connection to another history-making Academy Award should Soul actually win for Original Score, Hancock just remembers who he almost forgot to thank. “First of all, I went to the Oscars with my wife. I was sitting next to Jerry Goldsmith, and Henry Mancini was a couple of seats behind me, you know? So, I mean, all of these amazing Oscar-winning film scorers. And actually when Bette Midler, who was the one that announced the category of scoring, she made a joke about that, which was pretty funny,” he recalled. “Anyway, I mean, I was shocked when she said my name. And then I remembered that my wife’s name was not in the speech I prepared and I thought I’ve got to do something really quick, I mean, I was thinking really, like, lightning fast. So, I just reached over, grabbed my wife and kissed her before I walked down the aisle to go to the stage. And I figured, ‘OK, I’m glad I got that done’. ”
JUST DON’T CALL ‘MINARI’S GRANDMA THE “KOREAN MERYL STREEP”
Another person who could be making history at the Oscars is Yuh-Jung Youn, who plays the somewhat unhinged Grandmother Soonja in the Korean-American family drama Minari. Although not nominated at the Globes, this 50-year veteran of the business, primarily in South Korean cinema, is front and center everywhere else including upcoming SAG and Critics Choice nominations for Best Supporting Actress.
She also has a very good chance to become the first Korean actor ever to take home an Oscar. Even with all the success of Parasite last year, none of that fine cast was nominated individually, something Oscar bettors are counting on this 73-year icon of Korean cinema to do.
Many compare her to Meryl Streep (who is just two years younger), noting she is the Korean Streep. Just don’t tell her that, which is exactly what I innocently did when I hopped on the phone with her recently; I wouldn’t recommend making that comparison. “Well, I’m sure you meant it’s a compliment, but to me she’s far away from the other side of the world, the other side of the world and I don’t think she would like that,” the actress scolded me. “You cannot compare me with Meryl Streep, being Meryl Streep, so please don’t do that, she wouldn’t like that. To me it’s Youn Yuh-jung from Korea I’m a Korean actress,” she said, immediately telling me to call her “YJ.”
She is widely acclaimed for a variety of roles beginning with 1971’s Woman of Fire and continuing with highlights like Cannes favorites The Housemaid and The Taste Of Money, right up to the Netflix series Sense8. But it is Minari that has really brought her worldwide attention, particularly as it has thrust her into this awards season – and with good reason as she is a real scene-stealer.
“I never even dreamt about this kind of situation, so everything is unreal. It is craziness, I don’t know how to react, actually,” she said. “And being a Korean, of course, I’ve heard about Oscar or something, but actually to tell you the truth, what SAG means is harder, I didn’t know what that means. So, I asked my friend what does that SAG stands for and she explained it to me, it was a great thing from the actor for actor. So, of course, oh, yes this could be great for. That’s all I’m trying to gather now, so it’s very new to me and I never even thought about it. It’s just like I’m like a kindergartener trying to learn what it is.”
Asked how the role in Minari came about, she said for her it is all about the work. “Well, it’s just fun nowadays I’m just trying to enjoy my work. I don’t like competition or I don’t like having fame or you know I’m not rich, but I like to enjoy my working nowadays. So, my dear friend gave me this script and I trusted my friend, so I’m sure she had some taste or trust to give me the script. So, I accept it, I read it and I like the story. This was very real to me so I told her okay, I’ll do it. So, that’s what happened to me,” she said.
Actually this story of a Korean-American family moving to a farm in Arkansas has relevance for her as she lived in St. Petersburg, FL for about nine years while he husband had a student visa. She actually has two kids who were born in this country, so she says this story was very real to her, and she is actually playing someone based on writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s own grandmother. Was that daunting? “Good question. I actually asked Isaac first ‘should I just imitate your grandmother? I’m sure you have a vivid memory of grandma.’ And he said ‘No, no you don’t have to just do it your own way,’ and then he gave me the freedom, so I don’t have any pressure portraying her or something,” she said.
One harrowing scene involved Soonja accidentally setting a big fire that threatens the family home and barn. If you think it looks authentic, it was. “Our film was an indie movie — there’s no luxuries. And then we were all tense about that we had to take one shot, one take, and the flame is not going to right, of course, they don’t listen to the action. The flame doesn’t know what action means, so Isaac is concentrating over there and then the flame has to come over to my face, but the wind is not listening to Isaac either,” she said. “But I need to just put out the fire, but somehow the flame goes over my face. But I couldn’t hear the sound, Isaac’s supposed to say cut. He didn’t say cut so I was going on and on and then I almost barbecued myself. I said to him ‘It’s Korean barbecue, you almost made me Korean barbecue’.”
Fortunately it all worked out okay, and her career is, uh, hotter than ever. However, after Parasite was such a worldwide sensation and took all those Oscars, the feeling in South Korea is that this was a very big deal. Now YJ feels some tension with all this Oscar buzz.
“I’m very honored, pleased and happy about the situation, but in Korea we are very emotional people. They think you know I’m being nominated, actually I’m not being nominated yet, but all people (treat me) like Olympian, being an Olympic star. They cheer me up, so it’s my pressure in Korea,” she laughed. “Yes, I actually blame (Parasite director) Bong Joon-Ho. I left Korea I said all because of you. You just encourage Korean people too much. Before him we never even thought about what we can only watch on the television, Oscar show, or you know who is the nominee or whatever. We didn’t care about it. That’s a television program for us. Nowadays, wow, it’s ‘Bong Joon-Ho won the prize’ and ‘Youn can do that,’ so it’s all because of you, I told him. And we laughed at each other.”