If you thought the annual movie awards race exists in a Hollywood bubble, unconnected to the real world, Sunday night's Golden Globes should have changed your mind.
Not just because Meryl Streep and several other stars criticized President-elect Donald Trump -- though the fact that Trump felt compelled to respond shows that the remarks hit the real-life nerve they targeted. But also because of the movies themselves that are defining the contest.
Let's face it, the Academy Awards have always been political, and not just in the junior-high-lunch-table sense of which stars and directors are popular among their Hollywood peers. The Oscars are political because they present to the world the American film industry's idea of what its noblest achievements are. Inevitably, that means that more than just artistic merit comes into play.
For the last couple years, the face of industry achievement that the awards presented was so monochrome that it led to widespread complaints under the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. As it turned out, the debate in Hollywood mirrored the one the country at large was having about race, privilege, inclusiveness, merit, and opportunity.
This year, judging by the Globes, the awards race will look a lot more like America.
Streep's remarks about Trump got the most attention, but the earlier part of her speech, where she noted that everyone in Hollywood is from somewhere else, and that movies are made by people of all different backgrounds, seems to be this Oscar season's guiding principle. Indeed, even the makers of Best Animated Feature winner "Zootopia" pointed out the pro-diversity message of their movie.
Certainly the nominees and winners on Globes night -- including recognition for "Moonlight," "Hidden Figures," and "Fences" -- suggest that there will be some black faces among the Oscar nominees. White working-class strivers, the sort of people who might have voted for Trump, are represented too, in "Manchester by the Sea." Even the sci-fi drama "Arrival," whose star, Amy Adams, is likely to see her Globes Best Actress nomination echoed at the Oscars, is a parable about immigration and xenophobia.
Whether any of these movies and stars will ultimately score Oscar nominations or trophies, and whether they deserve to, are both still open questions. "Moonlight" may be the most critically acclaimed movie of the year, but it won only Best Drama and lost a much-expected supporting actor award (for nominee Mahershala Ali) to Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the little-seen "Nocturnal Animals." Granted, the tastes of the 90 foreign journalists who pick the Globes aren't necessarily predictive of the tastes of the 6,000 Hollywood insiders who pick the Oscars, but the Globes do influence the conversation. The film's lone victory, in the top category, will be enough to move to the top of voters' screener piles a movie they might otherwise have overlooked.
Similarly, after the Globes, "Manchester's" Casey Affleck is the front-runner for Best Actor, despite all the kudos for Denzel Washington's towering turn in "Fences." Does that mean awards voters have a racial blind spot? Hardly, since "Fences" co-star Viola Davis is also now the front-runner for Supporting Actress.
Then again, the British Academy of Film and Television Award nominations came out on Tuesday, and they look a lot like last year's Oscar nominations. Like the Globes, the BAFTAs snubbed Washington, and they didn't nominate "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins. They also ignored "Loving" star Ruth Negga, but they did nominate Brit Emily Blunt for "The Girl on the Train" -- a movie and performance that aren't getting any serious awards consideration on this side of the pond. Again, the British Academy's tastes aren't necessarily any indication of the American Academy's, but if Hollywood voters do make similar choices, you can expect to hear grumbling about race and merit.
Arguably, the boldest statement the Globe voters made was giving Best Actress to "Elle" star Isabelle Huppert. After all, foreign-language performances seldom get any recognition at American awards shows. Huppert is one of France's greatest living actresses, but over her four-decade career, she's never been nominated for an Oscar, an oversight that her Globe win will almost certainly correct. Still, what does it mean if Huppert gets nominated and Negga (or, say, "Hidden" star Taraji P. Henson) does not?
Meanwhile, Tuesday also saw the Producers Guild Award nominations, a list that's usually the strongest predictor of the Best Picture Oscar nominations. By and large, they also echo the Globes, even down to the inclusion of "Deadpool," a big hit but also an unconventional awards contender, certainly not a film that prompted thoughts of trophies when it opened last February. The PGA also liked "Arrival," "Fences," "Hacksaw Ridge," "Hell or High Water," "Hidden Figures," "Lion" "Manchester," "Moonlight," and "La La Land." (Oh, and any shot Martin Scorsese's "Silence" may have had is probably kaput now.)
"La La Land," of course, is still the awards-season favorite, especially after sweeping the Globes with a record seven wins. It's also a movie whose white stars (Globe winners Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) will be top Oscar contenders, and whose dreamy musical numbers and Hollywood setting make it the awards-season movie that seems least relevant to the real-world.
Then again, back during the Depression, politicians used to praise Hollywood for raising the spirits of demoralized Americans with glossy musicals and other escapist entertainment. (Yes, there really was a time politicians praised Hollywood instead of attacking it.)
If the Academy honors "La La Land," a movie that makes audiences feel good at a time of national strife, in part by ignoring that strife, that might be the most political statement of all.
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