The Golden Globes — Who Cares?

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Mark J. Terrill / AP

Mary Hart presents the Best Motion Picture Award, musical or comedy, to Sweeney Todd at the Golden Globes in Beverly Hills, California.

It's not an awards show with the vibe of an all-star party; it's a party masquerading as an awards show. That's the Golden Globes when it's in full, fulsome flower. For one night, the TV viewer gets up-front gawking privileges, a chance to see George and Johnny and Julia and Jodie act, not like actors, but like movie stars — looking great, cracking wise, radiating celestial glamour. That's why the Golden Globes is the third-highest-rated of these annual bashes, after the Oscars and the Grammys.

The point was proved last night when, because of the actors' union's support of the writers' guild strike, the Globes show limped onto the small screen as a brief "news conference" covered by four networks instead of the usual three-hour bash on NBC. The Beverly Hilton Hotel was a mausoleum, no sexier than a high-school auditorium stage; and the reading of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's awards had about as much zazz as the principal's speech on fire safety.

The import of the awards was also reduced. Typically they are seen as leading indicators for the Oscars. This time, who knows? Will Atonement, deemed Best Drama, and Sweeney Todd, the Best Comedy or Musical (we say Musical), even be nominated by the Motion Picture Academy? And if Hollywood grandees don't ornament their big dinner, isn't the HFPA revealed as, let us say, one of the lesser critics' groups? Without the star-stacked, televised party, they're just 82 schlubs with funny accents.

For the record, the main winners in the dramatic acting categories were Daniel Day-Lewis (in There Will Be Blood) and Julie Christie (Away from Her). Johnny Deep (Sweeney Todd) and Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) won for comedy or musical. The Supporting prizes went to Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) and Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There). For you xenophobes keeping score, yes, that's five foreign winners — two Anglos, a Frenchwoman, a Spaniard and an Aussie — and an American who lives in France. All these winners are shoo-ins for Oscar nominations. So is Juno, the indie comedy that has that Little Miss Sunshine sheen and has already topped Sunshine's total box-office gross.

The foreign-language film award went to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, made in France by New Yorker Julian Schnabel, and Ratatouille, set in France but made by Pixar, was the animation winner. Schnabel was named Best Director, and Joel and Ethan Coen got the Screenplay nod for No Country for Old Men. Somehow, NBC —whose president Jeff Zucker has been a belligerent voice against the striking writers — didn't find time in its vacuous hour-long show to mention the writing award.

In other years I've parsed the portents of the Globe awards, and applauded or derided the winners' speeches. This time there was no star wattage; the announcers on the channels I watched all sank into a sea of blandness and blondness. As for hints of Oscar triumphs and upsets... honestly, does it matter? It's my job to care, and I don't. Movie audiences may feel similarly indifferent toward Feb. 24 Oscar show — and not just because, if the strike lasts, it too will be hobbled. Deprived of their usual chance to suck on the helium of the Globes' star quality, filmgoers may be less eager to catch up with the Oscar nominees when they're announced Jan. 22.

Last night's starless show underlines how much the awards hoopla, and the Globes as a free, high-rated showcase, mean to the "little" films that get nominations. The HFPA may have lots of stars, and several blockbusters, among their finalists; but like every critics' group it wants to remember the neediest, to reward the little movies that could. Producers of indie films often factor the "Globes bump" into their production and marketing budgets. Exposure on the Globes program puts their product in front of millions of new eyes and can mean millions at the box office.

But what happens when the worthy film that people haven't seen depends for its promotional push on an awards show that people didn't watch? Multiply this negative number by the missed opportunities for stars' late-night flackery on Leno, Kimmel and The Daily Show — all being boycotted by the actors' union — and the result may be a big, mass-audience yawn that will hurt the indie films' chance to make a few bucks.

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