A war in the Middle East, Ricky Gervais hosting the Golden Globes — maybe we’re not getting a new decade after all. Maybe it’s always going to be the same sorry state of affairs.
In a monologue that included all-too-easy digs (or attempted digs) at helicopter mom and ex-convict Felicity Huffman, height-challenged actor Joe Pesci (and the length of Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”), Catholic Church pedophiles, Leonardo DiCaprio’s dating habits, and just about anything having to do with the “Cats” movie — including calling late-night gasbag James Corden “a fat p---y” and then making a joke about “Cats” co-star Dame Judi Dench that made sure the highly skilled technicians who press the bleep-out button earned their keep.
But so what?
“So what” was Gervais’s tongue-in-cheek refrain. (“It’s the last time,” he said, about his hosting gig. “Who cares?”) He shouldn’t be up there, you shouldn’t be watching — this is entirely known. If the evening seemed flat in some indescribable way, let me once again describe the problem for you: We can’t start awards season this close to the holidays. The stars aren’t ready. The audience isn’t ready. Give me one good reason (besides the forthcoming chain of events that includes the Sundance Film Festival, scores of other awards shows and the unexpected arrival of World War III) why the Golden Globes couldn’t hold off for a few weeks? (Oscar night this year? It’s Feb. 9. This is madness.)
Yet here we are, rolling out the red carpets.
Gervais’s best work was a brutally blunt (and also heavily bleeped) twist on his faux disdain for Hollywood and the Industry: “Apple roared into the TV game with ‘The Morning Show’ — a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing,” Gervais said, “made by a company that runs sweatshops in China.”
Yikes! Okay. “The companies you work for,” the host scolded. “Apple, Amazon, Disney — if ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?
“So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech,” he said. “You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than [teenage climate activist] Greta Thunberg. So if you win, come up and accept your little award, thank your agent and your god, and f--- off. It’s already three hours long.”
Fittingly, the evening’s first winner (and one of its surprises) was Ramy Youssef, the creator and star of the semi-autobiographical Hulu dramedy “Ramy,” who very happily thanked his god in his acceptance speech for best actor in a comedy series. “Allahu akbar, this is thanks to God and Hulu — look, I know you guys haven’t seen my show,” Youssef said, and he’s sadly correct about that. “Everyone [in the audience] is like, ‘Is this guy an editor?’ . . . My mom was also rooting for Michael Douglas.”
(Other surprise wins included Awkwafina, who beat out such veterans as Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson for best actress in a comedy film, “The Farewell”; and Taron Egerton, who won best actor in a musical or comedy for playing Elton John in “Rocketman,” beating Eddie Murphy and DiCaprio.)
Several others winners ignored Gervais’s contempt for celebrity causes and relevance.
Michelle Williams, accepting the best actress award for a limited series (FX’s “Fosse/Verdon”), gave a very personal voice to why she supports abortion rights, counting her own right to choose as an important piece of her career and life trajectory (while award presenter Tiffany Haddish shouted and applauded her support).
Patricia Arquette accepting best supporting actress award for a TV miniseries (Hulu’s “The Act”) asked the audience to think of the children — hers, yours, everybody's, inheriting a world of war and ruin — and to get out the vote in this year’s elections. Russell Crowe, who won best actor for a limited TV series (Showtime’s “The Loudest Voice”), sent words from Australia, which is burning, urging viewers to help save the planet. (Also worth noting: He won for playing the late Fox News Channel impresario Roger Ailes, who did everything he could to debunk climate science.)
And Joaquin Phoenix, accepting the best actor (drama) award for “Joker,” tried to make a coherent and meaningful speech about the state of the world, but was played off while he implored his fellow celebrities to cut back on taking private jets to Palm Springs so much.
Hollywood in 2020 does an excellent job at pretending that the Golden Globes — which are given by the bizarrely arbitrary whims of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — amount to much more than a hill of beans. “As you know the meal tonight was all vegetables,” Gervais said during one break. “As are the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press.”
The most memorable awards of the evening, and most entertaining interludes, involved the HFPA’s heritage prizes: Ellen DeGeneres accepted the second annual Carol Burnett Award (meant to be the television equivalent of the Cecil B. DeMille Award that it has long given to movie legends). DeGeneres toyed with the Globes audience the same way she tortures her game-show contestants, letting them think she was going to give a dreadfully long speech and thanking her nonexistent husband, Mark, and their kids.
Finally she pretended to get serious, offering a personal tribute to the award’s namesake, Burnett, who was in the audience. “Every time she pulled her ear, it’s like she was saying, ‘It’s okay. I’m gay too.’ ”
Actor Tom Hanks accepted the DeMille Award with a speech that was moving, if rambling, which Hanks blamed on “a cold the size of Merv Griffin’s ‘Jeopardy’ royalties.”
As for the awards, most seemed to barely move the excitement needle for viewers at home as the show nudged past 11 o’clock. In films, “1917” won best picture in the drama category, while Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon in Time in . . . Hollywood” won best picture in the musical or comedy division. Renée Zellweger won best actress (drama) for “Judy.”
The television category winners were hard to argue with. HBO’s biting rich-family drama “Succession” won best drama series, while its paterfamilias, Brian Cox, won best actor for drama. Olivia Colman won best actress (drama) for Season 3 of Netflix’s “The Crown.” Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag” won best comedy and best actress (for Waller-Bridge). HBO’s “Chernobyl” won for best limited series; Stellan Skarsgard won best supporting actor for his role in “Chernobyl,” to which he credited the makeup artist who gave him something he’d never had before: eyebrows.
Eyebrows are something the Golden Globes are supposed to raise. Maybe next year, if we’re all still around.
A previous version of this story noted the wrong category for Awkwafina’s acting victory. It has been corrected.
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