And who knows, then, how “Bohemian Rhapsody” pulled off a stunner Sunday night in Beverly Hills by winning best motion-picture drama? Coming into the weekend, the Freddie Mercury biopic had the longest odds of all of the nominees for the prize, according to bookmakers — 21 to 1, per one such establishment. Few awards pundits thought it had a shot.
And yet it walked away with the night’s top prize. It beat out every other choice, including the favored “A Star Is Born.”
Certainly some explanations were called for, and in the air.
There’s the HFPA’s supposed contrarianism, the idea that the Golden Globes don’t like following the choices of other award telecasts. It’s why six of the past seven TV shows to win best comedy were first-year series, most of which hadn’t won a big prize before.
And why, by this logic, a populist choice such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” — getting attention in few awards quarters — wins the prize over a front-runner such as “A Star is Born.” (“Bohemian Rhapsody” star Rami Malek also won best actor in a drama Sunday night.)
There’s the “good screening” hypothesis — a point made by those who worked on the film, who noted that many of the HFPA members saw the film with general audiences. The movie is best experienced with a large crowd, so there may be something to that.
There’s also the music theory — that, given a choice, the HFPA will always go for a music-based film. Of course it doesn’t explain why the group didn’t choose “Mary Poppins Returns,” a musical, in the comedy/musical category. Plus “A Star Is Born” has, you know, a couple of songs in it, too.
Some wackadoodle journalist even tried to come up with a theory about the crowd-pleasing nature of the film from the movie itself.
Then there’s this. An old Globes saw has it that when a European- or British-flavored movie goes up against an American movie, the European-flavored movie usually wins. This theory isn’t without precedent. There was 2008, when “Atonement” edged out favorite “No Country for Old Men” for best drama (“No Country” went on to win the Oscar), and a few years later “Les Miserables” beat out “Silver Linings Playbook” for best comedy/musical. The theory explains, inasmuch as anything does, why “Les Miz” won a big prize.
This hypothesis is supported by membership numbers: More than 20 percent of HFPA members come from Britain, France or Germany. That’s certainly enough to swing a vote to a British-based pic like “Bohemian,” if one assumes members go for stuff that reminds them of their home country. Still, that’s a big assumption.
So what else could explain how a movie not really regarded by pundits as a Globes front-runner and not really in line with the HFPA’s recent choices for best drama — more-traditional awards fare such as “Moonlight,” “Boyhood” and “12 Years a Slave” — made the grade?
It turns out there’s another British element the HFPA often sparks to. And like that “Under Pressure” riff, it’s hiding in plain sight: “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King.
If you’re not in the film business, you may not know King. A longtime top-tier producer, the 57-year-old has been making prominent movies for years. (That’s him in the photo above, next to Mike Myers.) King has worked with Johnny Depp and Martin Scorsese, with Ben Affleck and Angelina Jolie. “Bohemian Rhapsody” has been his baby for a long time — this journalist talked about it with him seven years ago. And he was deep into it then.
And the HFPA really likes King.
Scorsese was historically 0 for 4 in best-director nominations at the Globes, striking out with classics such as “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “The Age of Innocence” and “Casino.” But he won for “Gangs of New York,” the first movie of his on which King worked. Scorsese then won again for “The Departed,” which was produced by King. And then he won for “Hugo,” which was produced by — you guessed it — King.
Six years ago, Affleck won best director for “Argo,” which King worked on. Affleck wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar in the category. (A publicist for King would not comment on the HFPA’s affection for the producer’s work.)
It’s hard to quantify which HFPA members have relationships with which film-business figures. But the King connection is there. HFPA member John Hiscock hasn’t written many pieces this season for the website Film Journal. But he published this long and admiring (and rather interesting) interview with King on the occasion of “Bohemian Rhapsody” being released.
HFPA members have traditionally close relationships with many in Hollywood (Harvey Weinstein, to name one). But certainly the history with King’s movies and the HFPA didn’t hurt “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And it may have helped it tremendously.
What viewers of Sunday night’s Globes witnessed was a crazy moment, and a rare one at that. For all the talk of Globes' nuttiness, in recent years the HFPA has been relatively conventional, even respectable, in its choices. Half of the best-picture winners for drama in the past six years went on to win best picture at the Oscars.
In fact, before “Bohemian Rhapsody” won for best drama, you have to go back a number of years to find the last major jaw-dropper. It came in 2011, when the much-maligned Euro spy dramedy “The Tourist” was nominated for best comedy/musical as well as several lead acting awards. The producer of “The Tourist”? Graham King.