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The PreCurse of the Golden Globes Rides Yet Again

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'Tis the season for awards - and that means on Sunday it was time to read and hear (repeatedly) how the Golden Globes matter because they are "precursors to the Oscars," remarkable for their mystical ability to predict the Academy Awards. Of course, if you repeat any mantra enough, people will believe almost anything But then reality rears its pesky head and gets in the way.

Indeed, the dirty little secret about the Golden Globes is that they're the biggest flim-flam scam on the American public today. Okay, other than "Mitt Romney is a far-right conservative."

(And one of the main reasons that keeps it such a "secret" is because most people don't have the slightest clue who in the world the Hollywood Foreign Press is that gives these awards. That's a little sending a congratulations gift to someone who was named "Man of the Year" and not realizing that the honor was given by an online website that sends out the certificates for $18.)

I have absolutely no idea who "won" what last night. Alas, the depth of human caring simply doesn't stretch that low. Mind you, it's not because they're just awards - hey, awards are entertainment, and can be as fun as anything. It's because the Golden Globes are to awards what a Black Hole is to French toast. There's no connection, but at least with French toast you can pour on syrup and not have human existence sucked out of the universe.

When someone said, "The show must go on," clearly the Golden Globes hadn't been invented yet.

Four years ago, I wrote about the Golden Globes, and because they keep coming back unrelentingly like a crazed zombie, I updated and edited it a year later. And now it's become a bit of an annual tradition, the same as one calls in a gardener to stop the crab grass from spreading any further. Because the foolish hype gets more out of control each year - and since if I saw someone crossing the street into an oncoming truck I'd always yell to stop - I figure it's worth revisiting that piece.

* * *


Until recently the Globes were so comatose that even a new health care system couldn't have diagnosed them to life. But three things changed: movie studios realized they could get massive free publicity. Television recognized that if celebrities attended, people would watch anything. And actors grasped they'd get to appear on TV and receive awards. It was the Holy Trinity of PR.

Before even attempting to dismiss or defend the Golden Globes, however, it's important to understand what exactly what it is. And it starts with a bit of flim-flammery.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Golden Globes, has always had only one thing going for it - an incredible-sounding name. That name comes across like A-list journalists in trenchcoats from Paris Match, Die Welt and the Neptune Gazette. In fact, however, the HFPA, while representing many fine, individual, full-time reporters, is largely comprised of stringers (part-timers whose day job is other than journalism). And many are neither foreign, nor active in the press. Membership is whimsical: some get permanent status; others are inexplicably refused even entry. (The London Times is not a member. A reporter from the renowned Le Monde has been turned down for years. Happily there is a representative from the movie hotbed of Bangladesh. Honest.)

Yes, of course, movie awards are utterly pointless to all human life forms, except the winners. It's just faflooey. Nothing more than fluff. And the Globes are the fluff on top of the fluff. But before dismissing them further, remember: around 20 million viewers tune in to the Golden Globes. If that many people are going to spend their time on Earth watching the circus, it's at least nice to know who sent in the clowns.

And that's the kicker. At last count, the Globes are voted on by just...get this...86 people. Yes, you read that correctly. 86. For comparison, the Oscars, Emmys, and Writers Guild/Directors Guild/SAG awards are each voted on by about 6,000 professionals of their respective industries.

The good news is that with only 86 people voting it cuts down on the hanging-chad problem.

Any club is entitled to give awards. But most don't get to take over three hours of prime time on national network television.

The history of the Golden Globes is peppered with so many scandals about buying awards that Frequent Shopper points should be instituted. The most famous is when Pia Zadora's then-husband gave lavish parties to the HFPA, and she won New Star of the Year - for the ridiculed disaster Butterfly. For the 2000 Awards Sharon Stone's representative sent gold watches to all then-82 voters. Only after this became a public embarrassment was the plunder returned. And Ms. Stone received a best actress nomination for The Muse.

But the big myth about the Golden Globes - indeed their one false hope to even a wisp of validity - is that they are an impeccable predictor of the Academy Awards.

(Why anyone cares about predicting the Oscars is another matter entirely.)

But the reality is - the Golden Globes as a "Precursor to the Oscars" is not only not close to true, it's worse than not close to true. Which is near-impossible.

Keep in mind that six of the 13 Globe categories are split into drama and musical-comedy - which allows for twice as many chances to be "right." Some categories have had as many as nine nominees. People watching at home eating cheese dip probably get half the Oscar winners right by pure guessing. (My mother correctly predicted Philip Seymour Hoffman's win, and she hadn't even seen Capote at the time.) Yet it's almost impressive how wrong the Globes are at "precursing."

Last year, the Golden Globes did well in all the acting categories, picking all four winners (keeping in mind that they give twice as many acting awards as the Oscars, so they have twice as many chances to be right). But they got Best Picture wrong, Best Director wrong, Best Screenplay wrong, and Best Foreign Language Picture wrong.

Going back to the year before, here are all the Golden Globe categories.

Best Picture (drama) - right
Best Picture (comedy) - wrong, not even nominated for an Oscar.
Best Actor (drama) - wrong
Best Actor (comedy) - wrong, not even nominated for an Oscar.
Best Actress (drama) - right
Best Actress (comedy) - wrong, not even nominated for an Oscar
Best Supporting Actor - right
Best Supporting Actress - wrong, not nominated for an Oscar.
Best Director - right
Best Screenplay - right, but the Oscar-winner for Original Screenplay wasn't nominated by the Golden Globes
Best Foreign Language Film - wrong
Best Animated Feature - right
Best Score - right
Best Song - wrong, not nominated for an Oscar.

It is unlikely that these results over the past two years would win your office pool. If you want to be considered a precursor, that would seem to be the minimum requirement.

And these were both pretty good years for the Golden Globes.

In 2006, the Oscar for Best Picture was Crash. The Golden Globes didn't even nominate it among their 10 finalists!

It becomes scary bad when you delve deeper. But having a limit on my Care-o-Meter, with zero interest to go back and check year-after-every-year, I decided to try an experiment. To be very clear, there is absolutely nothing even remotely scientific about it. Rather, it's the testing equivalent of throwing darts. No scientific meaning. Just picking a totally random year. But in its randomness, it has a separate meaning: it could have been any year.

I closed my eyes, pointed at the screen blindly and grabbed a year. The lucky winner was 2001. It looked good - it even had the name of a movie ("2001") about it. Alas, "lucky winner" turned out to be a contradiction.

The Globe winner in 2001 for Best Picture musical/comedy (Almost Famous) wasn't even nominated for the Oscar. The two Golden Globe winners for Best Actor were Tom Hanks and George Clooney. Swell actors, but the Oscar went to Russell Crowe (Gladiator) - and Globe-winner Clooney didn't even get an Oscar nomination.

Renee Zellwegger (Nurse Betty) won the Globe's Best Actress, musical/comedy. Alas, she didn't get nominated for an Oscar either.

It gets worse.

For supporting actress, Marcia Gay Harden won the Academy Award...but didn't even receive a Globe nomination.

In fairness, that was a random choice and therefore hardly definitive, as I said. Not proof of anything. Unfortunately, to be fair, I figured I'd at least go back one more year, and the results were as dismal. The year before, in 2000, the Golden Globes gave their two Best Actor awards to Denzel Washington and Jim Carrey - but the Oscar winner was Kevin Spacey (and Carrey wasn't nominated). Tom Cruise won the Globe for Supporting Actor - but Michel Caine got the Oscar. And remarkably, although there were nine Globe nominees for Best Original Score, their winner didn't even get nominated by the Academy, and the Oscar winner (The Red Violin) wasn't nominated by the Globes!!

Not good as far as precursors go.

Certainly, other years may show better results. Or...okay, maybe not. But the bottom line is not whether the Golden Globes are right some years or really wrong others. It's that if you're doing to be a "precursor," if you're going to be predictive, then you have to have a steady standard that can be relied upon. Every single year. And the only thing steady about the Golden Globes is that they do not "predict" anything. Set that in granite and plant the gravestone, once and for all.

All this said, this year the Golden Globes actually do have a reason to watch. Ricky Gervais is hosting again. It's why God created the DVR and fast-forward button.

Of course, underlying all of this is that the Golden Globes or Oscars are all just awards. They have no real meaning, except to those who win. For the rest of the planet, they're just entertainment. Still, even entertainment is more substantive when we value those behind it. There's a reason TV doesn't broadcast your office pool.

Further, for as little meaning that all awards shows have (including those given out by an industry to itself), the reality is that people watch the broadcasts. And they watch them because there's a perception - as in the Emmys, Tonys, Grammys and Oscars - that the people giving the awards know what they're doing. It's a perception the Golden Globes have falsely milked for decades, scamming the public.

In the end, for those who insist on watching the Golden Globes, watch them and accept them for what they are, and you can live in blissful peace - 86 members of a shaky organization that stumbled onto a goldmine with studios and networks, and who present a lively TV kegger.

And that's why Globe winners appear so goofy on the air. Because they understand what you now know. Everyone loves a good joke.


UPDATE:

One day after writing this above, Patrick Goldstein in the L.A. Times, wrote an article about a story broken by The Wrap about the longtime, former publicist of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association suing the organization.

"Michael Russell, who ran press for the show for 17 years, has charged the HFPA with fraud and corrupt practices. He claims that a number of members of the organization accepted money, vacations and gifts from studios in exchange for nominating their films in addition to selling media credentials and red carpet space for gifts. He also says the HFPA accepted payment from studios and producers for lobbying other members for award nominations."