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The 2021 Golden Globes Won’t Be As Messy As Usual, but May Still Be Predictive

Sunday’s virtual event will be missing its typical celebrity sloppiness, but it may carry more weight as an Oscars precursor

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The Golden Globes are—historically and sometimes problematically—the chaos child of award season. Although the Globes mark the unofficial start of the season and serve as a reference to see which films and performers will later be recognized at the Oscars, there are a few asterisks working against the event as a predictive model. For one, the Globes are voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which has fewer than 100 members, whereas the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences now has more than 9,000 eligible Oscar voters. Plus, that small HFPA voting body splits its film and lead acting nominees between drama and musical/comedy categories, which means even Globes winners can find themselves totally shut out of the Oscars. (Taron Egerton and Awkwafina failed to earn Oscar nominations last year, despite winning Best Performance in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy for Rocketman and The Farewell, respectively.) But this is all part of the Globes’ appeal: The ceremony’s novelty is more about getting a bunch of stars together in a room with an open bar than being a surefire Oscars predictor.

This year, of course, the Globes’ biggest selling point will be hard to replicate. The show will be fully remote, so as far as typical Globes chaos goes, our best hope is probably getting some technical difficulties between Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who’ll be cohosting from opposite ends of the country. (To the Emmys’ credit, their remote ceremony in September went off without a hitch.) But while the Globes may not have the same in-ceremony intrigue this year, its standing as an Oscars bellwether carries a bit more weight than usual because, well, there hasn’t really been an award season.

The pandemic has thrown award season out of whack; at this point in the year, we should’ve already crowned a new Best Picture winner. Instead, with various award shows being pushed back to later dates, the typical narratives feel like they’ve been in stasis. Then there’s the fact that most Oscar nominations will likely go to streaming releases and indie titles, as many major studio films are being delayed until theaters can (hopefully) reopen at full capacity later this year. Rather than, say, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake or Denis Villeneuve’s star-studded Dune adaptation making waves, the three current Best Picture front-runners heading into the Globes are a Netflix courtroom drama (The Trial of the Chicago 7), a semi-autobiographical A24 indie about the Korean American immigrant experience (Minari), and Searchlight’s meditative neo-Western about post-recession nomads (Nomadland). This isn’t a complaint—it’s great to see films of Nomadland’s and Minari’s stature get this much attention—but it shows just how unprecedented and unpredictable this year’s Best Picture race is shaping up to be.

The lack of a clear front-runner in late February comes, in part, from having only a handful of nomination slates to feed off of: In addition to the Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild of America nominations are helpful Oscar precursors. But these nominations haven’t pushed the needle yet; instead, they’ve been more useful in determining which movies, directors, and performances could already be on the outside looking in. Sadly, having been snubbed by the Globes and the SAGs, Delroy Lindo would do well to even get an Oscar nomination—let alone win—for his career-defining performance in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. Da 5 Bloods may struggle to get any Oscars love outside of a Supporting Actor nod for the late Chadwick Boseman, as Spike Lee also failed to garner a WGA nomination for his screenplay. All told, it’s a disappointing outcome for one of the best films of the year. (Granted, the Academy doesn’t have the best track record at recognizing greatness—Green Book won Best Picture just two years ago.)

The Globes should provide more clarity for the presumptive Best Picture front-runners, but only to a point. While success at the Globes for The Trial of the Chicago 7 or Nomadland could swing momentum—or build a dark-horse case for The Father, Mank, or Promising Young Woman, the other nominees in the drama category—the controversial ineligibility of Minari doesn’t mean the film should be counted out. (Especially not a year after Parasite’s historic Best Picture win under similar Globes constraints.)

The SAG Awards will run into a similar roadblock with the three front-runners. While Parasite won for its ensemble last year, it was the first time SAG’s biggest award was handed out to a future Best Picture winner since Spotlight in 2015. This matters, too, because even though The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Minari’s respective ensembles have been nominated, this isn’t a death blow for the omitted Nomadland. Chloé Zhao’s film is very much a star vehicle for Frances McDormand, whose character is mostly surrounded by real-life nomads playing fictionalized versions of themselves—in other words, Nomadland isn’t the kind of project that lends itself to ensemble recognition.

In a non-pandemic year, the results of the Golden Globes would be taken with a grain of salt. The HFPA has given a future Best Picture winner one of its Best Motion Picture honors only five times in the past decade—and while the Globes have a much better success rate when it comes to its acting winners taking home future Oscars, they can literally nominate twice as many lead performers. But this isn’t a normal year, and aside from being the Globes’ first remote ceremony, the HFPA might have a bit more sway within an award season that’s laid dormant months longer than usual. The actual Golden Globes might not be its usual messy self, but Sunday night’s results could still create chaos and swing the fortunes of several Best Picture hopefuls. In that sense, at least, the Globes will get to stay on-brand.