The Golden Globes — that marvelously meaningless mash-up of film and TV awards bestowed by a small club of foreign journalists working in Hollywood — got off to an energetic start Sunday night with a clever la-dee-da-dee song-and-dance ode to the film “La La Land,” which later took home just about all of the big movie awards, including best comedy film and actor (Ryan Gosling) and actress (Emma Stone) and prizes for best director, score, song and screenplay.
Host Jimmy Fallon was completely in his wheelhouse in the prerecorded number, which crammed dozens of pop-culture references from 2016 together in a flurry — everything from the resurrection of Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones” to the renewed fixation on the O.J. Simpson trial to those adorable adolescents from Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” (They even had a swimming pool full of Barbs doing a water ballet.)
But once onstage, Fallon was thwarted by a faulty teleprompter that, one presumes, held the jokes for a much better opening monologue than the one viewers saw.
“This is a great way to start the show,” Fallon said, trying to recover. “Whatever, I’ll make up this monologue.” He then tried a Chris Rock impression, followed by a “Game of Thrones” joke that compared the late King Joffrey to President-elect Donald Trump, followed by a quip that the film “Manchester by the Sea” was “the only thing in 2016 that was more depressing than 2016.”
Fallon was more or less a nonentity for the rest of the evening. The hands-down highlight of the show came from a hoarse-voiced Meryl Streep, who accepted the association’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement award with sharp criticism of Trump and the cultural forces that led to his victory. Recalling a moment from the 2016 campaign when Trump appeared to mock a New York Times reporter’s physical disability, Streep likened it to an effective movie performance. “I still can’t get it out of my head,” she said, with genuine sadness.
Streep also championed the diversity of the gathered film and TV actors in the room, challenging the idea that they are isolated from “real” America. She then gave words of support to the “principled press” and urged her peers to support journalists who will be covering the new administration.
Other big awards of the night: In the drama categories, “Moonlight” took home the other best movie award; Casey Affleck won best actor for “Manchester by the Sea”; and Isabelle Huppert won best actress for the French film “Elle” (which also won best foreign film).
In the TV categories, FX’s “Atlanta,” a mesmerizing half-hour dramedy about the rise of a rap artist in a low-income suburb, won two big awards — best TV comedy and a best actor award for its creator and star, Donald Glover.
“I grew up in a house where magic wasn’t allowed. So everybody in here is like magic to me,” Glover said. “Every time I saw a movie or Disney movies or heard your voices or saw you, I was like, ‘Oh, magic is from people.’ We’re the ones who kind of, in a weird way, tell a story or a lie to children so they do stuff that we never thought was possible.” It was the sort of affirmation Hollywood loves to hear from someone who never expected to grow up and have his own TV show.
The rest of the show was fairly brisk and contained a few surprise winners. Netflix’s “The Crown” won best TV drama series; its star, Claire Foy, won best actress (drama) for her absorbing portrayal of a young Queen Elizabeth II. In television comedy, Tracee Ellis Ross, co-star of ABC’s sitcom “Black-ish,” beat out an impressive field that included Julia Louis-Dreyfus (HBO’s “Veep”). As a TV critic, I don’t get out to the movies much, but even those who do seemed caught off guard by the best supporting actor win for Aaron Taylor Johnson in director Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals.” (Whatever did we do before Google searches and IMDb?)
The members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which awards the Globes, seem to like some of the TV shows with lesser amounts of buzz and nods on critics’ best-of-2016 lists. For example: Billy Bob Thornton, wearing sunglasses and whispering sweet nothings in his companion’s ear, won for his role as a down-and-out attorney in Amazon’s legal thriller “Goliath.” And all three stars (Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman and Tom Hiddleston) of “The Night Manager,” a British crime thriller based on John le Carré novel that aired on AMC, won acting awards. They didn’t give “The Night Manager” the best limited series award, however: That went to FX’s “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” as did a best actress award for Sarah Paulson’s performance as prosecutor Marcia Clark.
Viola Davis, who won best supporting actress for her performance in the film adaptation of August Wilson’s play “Fences,” gave another of her pitch-perfect acceptance speeches. (Meanwhile, what can be done with all these showbiz types who keep referring to some movie called “Hidden Fences”? NBC’s Jenna Bush Hager did it on the red carpet, then Michael Keaton did while reading the nominees for best supporting actress in a motion picture. It carries the unfortunate implication that one movie with a black cast is indistinguishable from any other. Don’t worry — outraged Twitter users were on it.)
Although “La La Land” ruled the evening, viewers could certainly pick up on a serious mood in the Beverly Hilton ballroom, where the event was held. Enough with the candy-colored upbeat singing and dancing. Brace yourself for movies and TV shows that will turn deadly serious. As Streep said in the conclusion to her speech, giving a tearful nod to the recent death of Carrie Fisher: “As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art.’”
Okay, Hollywood — there are your marching orders. Get busy.