The 76th Golden Globe awards may not have been the free-wheeling bacchanal some craved. But Sunday night's first major installment in what will be a prolonged entertainment awards season managed its usual share of surprise winners and political commentary, with a sweet topping of nostalgia for two beloved entertainers.
The 2019 version of the first big entertainment awards of the year might best be remembered, though, for a lighter political touch than the recent past and a bit of sentimentality — with the entertainment industry elite saving its greatest applause for groundbreaking television comedian Carol Burnett and for character acting titan Jeff Bridges.
An awards show long known for its iconoclastic choices didn’t disappoint, not only choosing “Bohemian Rhaposody” over “A Star is Born” for best dramatic film, but picking several lower profile performances — like British actress Olivia Colman as best actress in a comedy/musical for her role as Queen Anne in “The Favourite,” over Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns;” and Glenn Close as best actress (drama) for the title role in “The Wife,” over Lady Gaga and other luminaries, including Nicole Kidman (“Destroyer”) and Melissa McCarthy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”)
The biggest upset of the evening may have been that "A Star is Born," a marquee entry with nominations in four major categories, managed only a single gold trophy. The movie won best original song for "Shallow," written by the film's star, Lady Gaga, and three co-writers. That proved to be a consolation for the film, which lost out in the best actor (Bradley Cooper), best actress (Gaga) and best director (Cooper, again) categories.
The portrait of the rise of one rock music star and the fall of another has been discussed for much of 2018 as a prohibitive best picture Academy Award favorite, but the ascendance of other films in Sunday’s Golden Globes will at least broaden the debate about other possible big winners when the Oscars roll around on Feb. 24.
The 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., who present the Golden Globes, have a number of quirks, including dividing the best picture category in two: drama and comedy/musical. This year, the deadly serious (though comedic) "Vice"— about former Vice President Dick Cheney — was dubbed a comedy, while the musical bio-pic "Bohemian Rhapsody," — a biopic about rocker Freddie Mercury — was dubbed a drama.
Given that split, "Rhapsody" still had to beat out another big music film, "A Star is Born," for the best drama award, while the comedy-musical award went to the race-relations exploration "Green Book," about the life of African-American jazz pianist Don Shirley and his white driver.
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"'A Star is Born' has been the frontrunner in the eyes of many people all along and there is only one way that you can go, when you are in front, and that is down, or at least into a more challenging place," said Russell Schwartz, a film marketing professor at Chapman University.
Schwartz pointed to "The Social Network" and "La La Land" as other films that failed to win the Academy Award for best picture after early hype.
"I would say that ‘A Star is Born’ is still the favorite this year," said Schwartz, who has worked in film marketing for more than 20 years. "But now Warner Brothers has its work cut out for it to secure a win."
Women at last year’s Globes wore black to signify that they wanted to talk about their work and bigger issues in the world, not about fashion, as had long been the custom during red carpet interviews. This year, color and talk about designers returned to the red carpet and inside the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom, some of the most warmly received moments centered on nostalgia, not politics.
The Globes introduced a new award for lifetime achievement in television and named it for Burnett, the longtime host of a comedy and music variety show in the 1970s and 80s. The entertainer pronounced herself "gobsmacked" when comedian-actor Steve Carrel named her the first recipient of the honor.
After a long standing ovation from the audience, Burnett described how lucky she and the rest of those in the room were to work in entertainment. "We have been granted a gift, a canvas to paint with our talent," she said. "We can make people laugh or cry and maybe do both."
Receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award for his own life’s work as an actor, Bridges also had the Hollywood crowd misty-eyed with a rambling speech in which he said everyone present and watching at home had been given "a gift…We are alive." He urged his fellow performers to use that gift "toward love creating a healthy planet for all of us."
Hosts Andy Samberg ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine") and Sandra Oh ("Killing Eve") had pledged not to get political themselves, regardless of what winners and other presenters intended. They drove that point home, opening with a bit that killed the butts of their jokes with kindness. But Oh then turned serious, saying that she had pushed aside her fear of hosting a show, because her presence would be notable. She became the first female host of Asian descent in the three-quarters of a century since the Globes were born.
"I said yes to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here to look out into this audience and witness this moment of change," said Oh. "I’m not fooling myself: next year will be different, it probably will be. Right now, this moment is real. Trust me, it is real. Because I see you and I see you — all of these faces of change — and now so will everyone else."
More overtly political appeals grew as the 3 1/2-hour show wore one. Regina King, named best supporting actress in a film for her role in "If Beale Street Could Talk," said she would hire women in 50 percent of the jobs in future projects she produces. She urged others to make a similar push. "I just challenge anyone out there — anyone out there who is in a position of power, not just in our industry, in all industries, I challenge you to challenge yourselves and stand with us in solidarity," King said, to warm applause.
Missing from the evening was one individual who has been a frequent foil in other recent Hollywood extravaganzas. President Donald Trump did not get a single mention, at least directly. But it surely was no accident that at least two prominent speakers argued against building walls, in the second week of a government shutdown triggered, in no small measure by Trump's demand for money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Those forces of hate are still with us,” said Brad Simpson, executive producer of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” as he made note of political repression in the time of the fashion icon. “They tell us we should be scared of people different from us. They tell us we should put walls around ourselves. But as artists we must fight back by representing those not represented. And by providing a space for people for new voices to tell stories that haven’t been told. As human beings, we should resist in the streets. Resist at the ballot box. And practice love and empathy in our everyday lives.”
Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, won two awards for his film "Roma," about an indigenous woman housekeeper working in an affluent, but broken, Mexico City home. The winner for Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film told the crowd his view of the power of film.
"Cinema at its best allows us to tear down walls and builds bridges to other cultures," he said. "As we cross these bridges, this experience and these new shapes and faces, we realize that while they may be strange, they are not unfamiliar. We begin to understand exactly how much we have in common."
The director, who won a Golden Globe in 2014 for directing "Gravity," ended with: "Gracias familia, gracias Mexico."
James Rainey is a reporter for NBC News, based in Los Angeles.