The Golden Globes are a mess. Notice I don’t say “broken”; the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual award show is flawed from the jump, allowing a small and shadowy group of industry observers to have outsized influence over the lead-up to the Oscars. It’s hard to say a system has gone off track when it seems practically designed to yield bad outcomes from the start—and has.
This year’s honors won’t be dealt out until Sunday, yet they already seem especially cursed. A chaotic mix of nominees celebrated the inept (Music, Emily in Paris) and snubbed the noteworthy, especially works by Black storytellers (I May Destroy You, Da 5 Bloods). The pandemic has robbed the HFPA of its chance to throw a big, boozy, star-studded party on camera, traditionally the silver lining to the Globes’ lack of substance. And to put the cherry on top, the Los Angeles Times released a comprehensive investigation of the HFPA as an organization, outlining a culture of quid pro quos, a dubious history of compensating its membership, and a complete lack of Black voters on its current roster.
Like all Globes scandals, this one finds us in the middle of a vicious cycle. Once again, the Globes prove themselves unworthy of being taken seriously; the cognoscenti once again complain that we enable the Globes by taking them seriously in the first place; and yet the Globes persist in being taken seriously, fueling a fresh annual round of outrage. All this discourse belies the rather simple fact underlying the Globes’ stubborn place in the news cycle: People care about the Globes because a lot of people watch the Globes, and a lot of people watch the Globes because the Globes have a piece of prime TV real estate on NBC.
In reality, that state of affairs isn’t changing anytime soon; NBC and the HFPA inked an eight-year deal in 2018 on the strength of the broadcast’s ratings, which remain relatively strong even as most major live events see their audience shrink. But what if the state of affairs did change? What if, with the snap of the fingers, we could simply deprive the Globes of their oxygen—and then give that oxygen to another, more deserving slate of awards?
If you’re the kind of person who watches the Oscars with religious fervor, you already know the Globes are a relatively poor indicator of how the Academy will eventually decide. You also know that the HFPA is just one of a slew of voting bodies that have their own picks for the best films and TV shows of the year. (We’ll largely focus on films for the purpose of this thought exercise, since TV operates under a totally different award calendar.) Those bodies, from critics’ groups to craft guilds, sometimes televise their awards—you can watch the Independent Spirits on IFC, or the Screen Actors Guild honors on TBS and TNT. But none of them rival prime-time NBC in terms of exposure. Picking any single award show to replace the Globes is as tricky as it is pointless. Still, pointless debate is the entire point of award season, and in its spirit, we’ll evaluate the candidates through their pros and cons.
Independent Spirit Awards
Pros: Granted by the Film Independent and held shortly before the Academy Awards, the Independent Spirits are a deliberate counterpoint to the Oscars. The premise is both self-explanatory and a corrective to a key problem with both the Globes and awards writ large: There is an inherent bias toward big films with big budgets and big backers, who can then afford to wage costly awards campaigns. Neither major studio releases nor films with a budget of more than $22.5 million are eligible, which eliminates some worthy contenders (including, this year, Da 5 Bloods and Judas and the Black Messiah) but also opens up the field.
The nominees this year—led by Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Minari, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Nomadland—are pretty great, and the Spirits have a solid track record with actual awards; last year, for example, it gave Uncut Gems a slew of honors while the Oscars snubbed it entirely. But it’s worth noting the broadcast itself is a ton of fun. The whole thing takes place during the day in a Santa Monica beachside tent, lending the proceedings a casual, low-key feel. Past hosts include John Mulaney, Nick Kroll, Kumail Nanjiani, Kate McKinnon, and Aubrey Plaza. A tribute to Laura Dern, written by Jordan Firstman and performed by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, went viral early last year. Don’t you want this on your TV?
Cons: If the whole point of the Independent Spirits is to be small, unpretentious, and antiestablishment, giving them a Globes-level platform sort of spoils the fun. Everyone loves an underdog, and it’s rarely much fun when an underdog joins the mainstream.
The Writers Guild Awards
Pros: The director may generally get credit as a film’s auteur, but as writers love to remind you, movies can’t exist without them. On principle alone, then, there’s a case for elevating the profile of the Writers Guild Awards, where the membership of the titular union celebrates the achievements of their own with a quirky bicoastal ceremony to reflect the guild’s two major wings. (Full disclosure: The staff of The Ringer is organized with the WGA East.) Like some other groups on this list, the WGA also has a substantial overlap with the Academy, making it a far more trustworthy indicator of the Oscars in general and of specific honors like Best Original or Adapted Screenplay. So while it’s hardly shocking that Aaron Sorkin’s colleagues find him worthy of praise, it’s also a promising sign for Judas and the Black Messiah, nominated this year for the WGA’s Original Screenplay award.
Cons: The reason writers get so defensive of their role in the filmmaking process is that they’re traditionally undervalued and marginalized at the expense of directors and cast. (See the plot of Mank, which is somewhat hilariously not nominated at this year’s WGAs for reasons we’ll get into shortly.) That’s both a point in favor of hyping the WGAs and a point against their value as televised entertainment. By their very nature, the WGAs have less of the star power that earns award shows a good chunk of their audience—and without the Trojan horse effect of the Oscars, which present technical categories like Sound Editing in the same broadcast as Best Actor.
Because of membership and eligibility requirements, the WGAs also aren’t synonymous with writing as a discipline. This year’s nominees celebrate the likes of Sound of Metal and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, but they also left The Assistant, Minari, Nomadland, and yes, Mank out of contention entirely. Placing writers at the center of an awards show is a worthy goal, but the WGAs may be an imperfect vessel for doing so at the scale of the Globes.
The Screen Actors Guild Awards
Pros: Parasite’s Best Picture win in 2020 remains shocking in the context of Oscars history. But for awards observers, it was less surprising given Parasite’s victory at the SAGs, where it took home the ceremony’s highest accolade for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. The SAGs also predicted every other acting award that year, going four for four on Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. The reason is simple: Actors make up the biggest voting bloc in the Academy’s 8,469-strong membership, and as they go, so often do the Oscars.
But the most obvious draw of the SAGs are the faces and names. A bunch of famous people in the room high on the supply of their colleagues’ praise is about as close a recipe as one can get for the Globes’ infamous sloppiness. Last year gave us that iconic Pitt-Aniston hand clutch, a single picture worth hundreds of thousands of page views. If we’re really looking for a one-to-one substitute, for better or for worse, it’s hard to do better than the SAGs.
Cons: Do actors really need any more of the spotlight than they have already? And if the SAGs have such a penchant for predicting the Oscars, is it really as much fun to see the same group feted twice? Besides, actors can show the same deference for fame and big names as other, less well-regarded bodies. It’s one thing when the HFPA decides Jared Leto gave one of the best performances of the year. What’s his peers’ excuse?
The New York Film Critics Circle (or Any Critics’ Circle)
Pros: As a critic myself, I’m obviously biased. But one of my favorite days of the year is the December date when public relations firm Falco Ink. gives live updates on the hourslong, multi-ballot voting process of the New York Film Critics Circle, a collective of individuals with strong opinions forced to settle on a consensus. In non-pandemic years, there’s also a proper party to present the awards in person, but the real fun is in watching decisions get hashed out in almost real time. There are also analogous processes in place for critics’ groups in Los Angeles and other cities.
Critics may get a bad rap, but they also evaluate works of art for a living, and they don’t have the personal stake in the industry that can sometimes distort the decision-making of other award-granting bodies. (It seems like Glenn Close’s fellow actors still feel for her The Wife loss; how else do you explain the SAGs putting her up for Hillbilly Elegy?) And while the Critics Choice Awards already exist, that show’s voters largely consist of critics employed by broadcast outlets, a narrow and not especially representative sample of the field.
Cons: Most people hate critics, and a daylong livestream wouldn’t fit neatly into a three-hour telecast.
The Governors Awards
Pros: Let’s call them the “other Oscars,” a mini-category that also encompasses the Academy Scientific and Technical Awards. These accolades are granted by the same body as the Oscars proper, often in practically the same location. (The Governors Awards ceremony takes place in the same complex as the Dolby Theatre, just in a smaller space.) But rather than commemorate films released in the past year, thereby tying themselves to the calendar, these parallel Academy Awards are retrospective ones—for humanitarian efforts, for technological innovation, for a body of work as a producer, or for lifetime achievement.
The upside is obvious: Rather than confining themselves to a limited slate of films, these broader awards can simply pick talented people worthy of celebration, regardless of their recent output. The most high profile of these is the Academy Honorary Award, given in recent years to David Lynch, Agnès Varda, Jackie Chan, and Spike Lee. Others, like the Sci-Tech Award of Merit or the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, aren’t even handed out every year. This gives these awards a specialness that even the regular Oscars can’t replicate, and communicates how they’re often not tied to a single achievement, but decades’ worth of efforts.
Cons: The Oscars are already the centerpiece of award season. Why not just add an extra five minutes onto the main telecast, give Governor’s and/or Scientific and Technical honorees the spotlight they deserve, and save the Globes spot for a show that isn’t affiliated with the Academy?
Pros: The royals often show up. The trophy itself is a giant, weird face. Sometimes a national treasure like Olivia Colman talks about how trashed she’s about to get after the ceremony. What’s not to love?
But mostly, the BAFTAs could help rectify the relentless self-absorption of American award shows and American culture writ large. Parasite winning was a huge step in the right direction, but what if, in addition to celebrating international films at our own ceremonies, we also broadcast ceremonies from abroad? Conducted in English, the BAFTAs are an easy entry point, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. What about the French Césars, or the South Korean Grand Bell Awards? The rise of global streaming services like Netflix has helped train audiences to expect truly global entertainment, and maybe it’s time our award calendar reflected that.
Cons: Bong Joon-Ho wasn’t kidding. Subtitles may be one inch tall, but they might as well be an insurmountable wall for a large portion of the American viewing public. There are also more basic logistical hurdles; catching the Grand Bell Awards live would all but require an all-nighter, and those of us in L.A. would be watching the BAFTAs over brunch.