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Hollywood’s biggest con job: why the joke’s on the Golden Globes

Have you seen director David O’Russell’s acclaimed comedy American Hustle? What a rib-tickler! Loosely based on America’s Abscam scandal, which brought about the conviction of a United States senator and six members of Congress in 1980, this side-splitting con artist caper stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper.

American Hustle was one of the big winners at yesterday’s Golden Globes ceremony. Its gongs include the much sought-after award for Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical and Best Performance by an Actress (Amy Adams) in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical.

Actually, hang on a moment. Perhaps that intro should be re-written to take into account the small inconvenient fact that American Hustle is in no way a comedy. Sure, there are a few chuckles (largely involving Christian Bale’s combover) but it is inconceivable any viewer would leave the cinema and say “boy, that was hilarious!”.

So if Russell’s “comedy” is not actually a comedy (and it is most certainly not a musical), how did it win Hollywood’s most revered award for a comedy or musical?

The reason comes down to strategy. Columbia Pictures, the company in charge of the film’s American distribution, submitted it into the Comedy or Musical category because it had a better chance of winning than in the Best Motion Picture — Drama category, against titles such as 12 Years a Slave andCaptain Phillips.

It’s hardly the first time a Hollywood studio has gamed the system. Films and performances that win in highly questionable awards categories is something that happens from time to time (for example, Jennifer Hudson won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2006 for Dreamgirls, even though she clearly played the lead role), but this year the Golden Globes plummeted to a new nadir — in turn demonstrating how conspicuously the system can be manipulated and how little regard they have for whatever shreds of integrity remain in it.

American Hustle competed against the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Spike Jonze’s Her and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Not exactly a line-up choc full of songs and belly-ups. To put it another way: this year no film in the comedy or musical category at the Golden Globes was a comedy or a musical. This says less about the subjective nature of comedy as it does the business end of Hollywood’s annual backslapping routine and the shameless role the Golden Globes plays in facilitating it.

Red carpets, fancy clothes and scores of smiling celebrities disguise the grubby PR mongering at the heart of the organisation behind the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The HFPA is a small and mysterious clique of California-based journalists who are generally neither film reviewers nor people who work in the film industry. According to The Star’s Peter Howell, the group includes real-estate agents, car salesmen, showbiz publicists and hairdressers.

The HFPA has less than 100 members (by contrast the Academy Awards are decided by around 6000 industry professionals and former professionals) who belong to the organisation for the same reason it was founded in 1943 — for easy access to celebrities. The reason the group is kept small is, as Howell put it, because “it makes it easier for studio publicists to court them with dinners, private screenings and valuable one-on-one celebrity interviews”.

Joining is practically impossible. A maximum of five new memberships are processed every year and any existing member has the right to veto new applications. In a 2008 op-ed for The Huffington Post, journalist, author and former Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times, Sharon Waxman, famously described the Globes as “the entertainment industry’s dirty little secret”.

Viewers who enjoy tuning in for a couple of hours of star-studded entertainment may wonder what’s wrong with appreciating the Golden Globes as a glitter-soaked guilty pleasure. Perhaps nothing, although the massive impact the small number of celebrity hunters who make up the HFPA has on the wider entertainment industry should provide pause for thought.

This year marks a special moment in the Golden Globes’ 70-year-old history. It is the year an organisation already starved of integrity publicly declared, with celebrities and spotlights and all the bells and whistles, it either has no understanding of a concept as basic as comedy — or, in the face of such unfettered access to the movers and shakers powering Hollywood’s PR machine, it simply doesn’t care.

17 responses to “Hollywood’s biggest con job: why the joke’s on the Golden Globes

  1. Nearly choked upon first paragraph till I understood the context.drama needs levity.levity should not be construed with comedy.good film but seriously?the Botox brigade have to listen sooner or later.i actually think iron man 3 had my best laugh ot loud moments because of its self deprecation. I’m only a punter mind you

  2. Some years ago there was a very illuminating doco about the Golden Globes sham…two memorable tidbits from that were that none of the major foreign press organizations with reps in LA, e.g. Frances Le Monde, or the London Times newspapers, have staff who are members of the HFPA, and that winners have to consent to interviews with HFPA members. The doco had a delicious scene where Tom Cruise was asked, in relation to one of his MI films, “Ah, Mr. Cruise, what is your role in the movie?” Tom’s gobsmackedness was classic!! The guy who asked the question was a Romanian press agent, whose day job in LA was as a delivery guy for an auto parts company.

  3. what on earth is the point of this article? awards are about marketing? goodness, what a revelation. thanks for the profound insight, luke.

  4. Actually, the problem for me is that I thought American Hustle was wildly over-praised. It was way way too long. Well acted but oh so boring in the middle.

  5. Oh my god, thank you! I always wanted to know why these bleak dramas were nominated as comedies or musicals – makes a lot more sense now!

  6. Gee, talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Are the so-called ‘Academy Awards/Oscars’ really any different? I will watch American Hustle again long before event contemplating watching the Woody Allen thing (a pity because there are some good actors caught up that web). If you think this of the Globes, I shall be facinated to see your tirade post-Logies, which are genuine cringe material.

  7. Another way to look at the Globes is that the product is not the awards themselves but the event.

    Looking at it that way, nominees and winners are merely cast members of the red carpet and the TV show. There’s nothing grubby or secret about that.

    What is bemusing is how so called industry insiders actually believe the awards, and the Oscars for that matter, have anything to do with merit. I worked that out the day Gwyneth Paltrow won her Oscar for Shakespeare in Love.

    1. Yes David – well said. It’s just a show and a bad one at that.

      These people actually believe in these awards. Gwyneth that night is a frightening flashback and what about when Kidman won best Wooden Actress – that was equally as ridiculous!

      And when it comes to Blanchett – she is sooooooo straight and chooses dreadful films to be in.

      I’m looking forward to a future where actors are just moving props and the myths around them are no longer of interest. I mean, it’s not like it’s such a great feat to ‘pretend’ which is all they really do anyway.

  8. American Hustle has a huge element of humour and exactly fits the classical definition of a comedy: it focuses on the lives of middle to lower class characters and ends with their success.

    No doubt the awards ceremonies are a load of rubbish from premise through to execution, but that was a daft thing to focus on.

  9. Totally agree with RACHEL. And loved the Princess Bride reference. Get it right Mr Buckmaster. If you think the Golden Globes are “Hollywood’s Biggest Con Job”; what must you think of the Oscars? I guess it would be something like:
    “Totally reputable, not influenced by star-power, money, spin or PR and an example of the highest level of basic human rights, possibly of a Nobel Peace Prize standard”…?

  10. The Aussie showbiz contingent of Rush, Kidman & Blanchett et al make the usual noises about being honored by their nomination, when in fact they’re well aware of the almost complete lack of credibility of these ‘awards’.

    For mine, this group have no personal credibility whatsoever… long as the money’s right, they’ll be in it…pewkworthy.

  11. I’ve pinged Mr Buckmaster before on his use of language (in his review of Avatar a few years back) and I’m going to be pedantic and do it again, because he’s a journalist and words matter.

    It is not “inconceivable” that people could regard American Hustle as a comedy. Self-evidently, it’s conceivable, because it was included in that category by people who considered it a comedy. To borrow from “The Princess Bride”, in relation to “inconceivable”, Mr Buckmaster, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    For whatever it’s worth, American Hustle is a comedy in the vein of a Billy Wilder rather than Judd Apatow, which may be why you didn’t recognize its strengths. It’s an extremely well made, and enjoyable, film. From the opening shot and the hairpiece, to the “magic science oven” to the sight of Jennifer Lawrence weeping in the arms of a mobster, it’s full over moments that bring a smile. It’s a careful film, so it’s not full of laugh out loud moments, but any film in which all five major characters are given elaborate and preposterous hair, mobsters fall in love, and microwave ovens catch fire is clearly setting out to provide smiles along with sympathy. The soundtrack alone is a key: an Arabic version of “White Rabbit”? Very funny.

    Now, as to whether you got the jokes, that’s another matter.

    1. Nicely said Rachel.
      The Golden Globes would have regulations for entries that would decide if a film like American Hustle qualifies in the Musical or Comedy category.
      For whatever its worth (and having been to many Australian film awards nights) the Golden Globes are considered the most fun awards night for those who attend – lots of drinking and table hopping

    2. Well written Luke. I agree – just because a film may make you laugh and smile a few times does not make it a comedy much in the same way that a film which contains a murder is not necessarily a murder mystery. Comb overs make me laugh but then again so do personalised number plates. Does this make every movie with a personalised number plate a comedy?

      Secondly, because words matter so much I would point out that Luke did not say that it it was “inconceivable” that people could regard American Hustle as a comedy.” Rather that “it is inconceivable any viewer would leave the cinema and say “boy, that was hilarious!”. Which I think is an important distinction given that you concede that the movie is not full of laugh out loud moments – a prerequisite I would assume for a hilarious experience.

      I got the jokes and I like the movie – but I still don’t think it was a comedy.

      1. Perhaps the stronger argument in favour of American Hustle being considered a comedy is one to do with its structure and mood. That is to say, the movie can be (in fact, should be) considered a comedy (as opposed to say, a tragedy or a melodrama) because throughout we have a sense that the world’s worst dangers will likely not come to pass, at its ending the various romantic couples are happily united, and we are left with a general sense that the movie’s world has been positively transformed.

  12. Yeah, it’s hardly surprising.

    This entire industry is unjust and grubby. I think Hollywood movies have had their day – they are boring and so are celebrities. Every script has been done and actors don’t really act in those 50 take big film clips coming out of that place. Most of them are way to long as well. And anything with Nick Cave as screenplay writer will move one to complete despair.

    Breaking Bad etc is the way forward.


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