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The Oh So Golden Globes

The Golden Globe nominations came in this week, and it's business as usual: everybody goes nuts over it, either treating the awards like they're second to the Oscars in importance, or treating them as the key to predicting the Oscar nominations. In fact, the Globes are neither.

The columnist David Poland over at Movie City News has written about this faithfully every year, including this year just before and just after the nominations were announced. Poland is an interesting guy to read, because he's prone to passionate opinions, ones that sometimes skew his objectivity beyond all reason. Yet at other times he can cut right through spin and publicity and analyze a complex situation in the industry with crystal clear insight. He's on point with the Globes, despite that, as a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Assocation (BFCA), which has their own set of awards, he's arguably a competitor. Anyway, I'm so used to reading his annual "the Globes don't matter" coverage, that it feels redundant to cover it here, but I'll try to recap the matter and infuse my own take on it.

The Globes are awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which is a exclusive group of film industry journalists. I can't be more specific than that, because the membership list is not public. They admit no more than five new members per year, often only one, and any current member can veto a new member. So, yes, it's very exclusive. But there doesn't seem to be a merit-based rationale to their exclusivity. I don't have a problem with secret memberships, but surely it should put a damper on the prestige of any awards given out, if you don't know who's giving them.

More to the point, the HFPA has a voting history that belies objectivity. As with the National Board of Review (NBR), though they're not nearly as bad as that, they hand out awards in order to curry studio favor -- or, perhaps more accurately, to get studios to curry theirs. The correlation between the awards and which studios court them with screenings and bashes and publicity is all too tight. Of course, one could make this same argument about Oscar, but at 6000 members, it's harder to appeal to it as a single political unit.

Why do we care about the Globes? How did the Globes get to be the second most watched awards show for movies? And, in particular, how did it get to be revered as such a valuable Oscar prognosticator?

Let's talk about its value as Oscar prognostication. For starters, the categories don't line up that well. Best Picture is split into Drama and Comedy/Musical, so the Globe nominations get ten shots at predicting five Oscar nominees. Sometimes they get all five. But think about that. If the Globes were always perfect at predicting Best Picture, that means if you land a Globe nomination, you have a 50-50 chance of landing an Oscar nomination. 50-50 isn't really much of a prediction.

The thing is, the Globes aren't always perfect at predicting the nominations, either. Last year, both Crash and Capote were missing from their 10 Best Picture nominees, which makes them three for five at predicting the Oscar nominations, one of the misses being the eventual Oscar winner.

A similar situation plagues the lead acting categories, which are also split into Drama and Comedy/Musical. The supporting acting and director categories, strangely, are not split, so the equal number of nominations makes them more comparable. In the last three years, Best Director went 4 for 5 in 2003, 3 for 5 in 2004, and 3 for 5 in 2005. Best Supporting Actor went 3 for 5, 4 for 5, 4 for 5. Best Supporting Actress went 3 for 5, 4 for 5, 3 for 5. These are not great figures. 3 out of 5 is easy for anybody paying attention to the industry. Slot 4 is harder but not uncommon. Slot 5 is what makes or breaks you.

By comparison, let's look at the BFCA awards and the guild awards. The BFCA is an absolutely huge group of journalists, and they have their own set of awards voted on by the body. They also give themselves 10 shots at Best Picture, though it is all lumped into a single category, not split out by Drama and Comedy/Musical. But they haven't missed a Best Picture nomination since Gosford Park in 2001. The track record in the other major categories is still not spectacular, but an improvement over the Globes.

The guild awards, however, are the ones I think that carry the most weight both for prestige and Oscar prognostication. The guild awards are given out by the unions. The DGA (Director's Guild of America), PGA (Producer's Guild of America), WGA (Writer's Guild of America), and SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) all have their own awards, voted on by members of the union. So directors are recognized by other directors, actors by other actors, and so on. In terms of prestige, it makes sense to me that the greatest honor would come from others who are familiar with the craft. In terms of Oscar prognostication, it's interesting because there is considerable overlap (a minority of overlap, but a statistically substantial sampling) between the memberships of the guilds and the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Oscars.

And the voting history speaks for itself. The DGA, in particular, is famous for being predictive of Oscar. Only six times in its nearly 60 year history has the winner of the DGA not also won the Best Director Oscar, although two out of those six times occurred in the last six years. Interestingly, the slate of nominees tends to line up more with Oscar's Best Picture nominees, rather than the Best Director nominees.

The other three major guilds are not as predictive, though certainly still prestigious, and they do a better job at predicting their respective Oscar categories than the Globes do, which brings me the long way around back to this year's Golden Globe nominations.

The weirdness this year is the asynchronicity of the ten Best Picture nominations and the five Best Director nominations. You'd think with ten Best Pictures, the five Best Directors would all come from those ten, but this year only three did. To be fair, one (Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima) came from the Best Foreign Language Film category; the film was disqualified from the Best Picture categories. The other rogue Best Director nomination was...Clint Eastwood, for Flags of Our Fathers.

Speaking of double nominations, two of the Best Actor In a Drama nominees are Leonardo DiCaprio, for Blood Diamond and The Departed. In Best Supporting Actor, both Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg were nominated for The Departed. Don't expect these situations to recur at the Oscars. For one thing, double Leo noms would be prohibited by Academy rules, unless one of the two performances were demoted to Supporting. Double director noms are allowed, but it won't happen.

Otherwise, this year's Globe nominations look like they might do a reasonable job of lining up with the Oscar nominations. But here's the key: some 90% of the Globe nominations were frontrunners in the field before the noms were announced. If the Oscar nominations line up by that same 90%, does that really make the Globes predictive, or just an echo of what others had been predicting all along?

I want to close with an important qualification. It's not bad if you, as an awards body, hand out awards that are not predictive of Oscar. If you and some colleagues band together and want to award something because it's what you genuinely think is great work that should be recognized, that's all anybody can ask for. I really think the guild awards do this, and their value as Oscar prognostication is a byproduct of the overlap in membership and, perhaps moreso, a common perspective. But if you tout your awards as Oscar prognosticators -- well, besides marring the prestige of your own awards ("We're giving you this award because it sure looks like you're gonna win this *other* award!" doesn't resonate as a great honor) -- have the voting history to back it up. And to the entertainment journalists out there: just because "everybody says" something doesn't make it true. Look at the stats. They speak for themselves.

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