2020 Golden Globes reliably rewarded the year’s best TV and film

by Willem Gerrish | 1/7/20 2:05am

Ah, the Golden Globes. The boozy, raucous, often unpredictable version of the Oscars with a hint of the Emmys, handing out awards for both film and television to Hollywood’s chummy elite as they plow themselves on prominently placed bottles of Moët. 

This year, comedian Ricky Gervais returned as the ceremony’s leading degenerate, walking onstage to begin the show with a glass of beer in hand. Gervais has always been a contentious figure in Globes history, known for his scathing comments to the otherwise-lauded Hollywood elite that aren’t always well-received. I, for one, have always loved his brashness in the face of star-powered ire, and was glad to see him back for the first time in four years and his fifth time overall. As a whole, I didn’t find his performance as electric as some of his past attempts at hosting (remember when he introduced Robert Downey Jr. not as an actor but as a former drug-addled heathen?), but the off-color jokes still made an appearance, including a censored riff on Dame Judi Dench pleasuring herself like a cat and a meme-worthy “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself” reference. 

Gervais also lamented politics and morality in acceptance speeches, urging would-be political pontificators to “accept your little award, thank your agent and your god and f—k off” — a request that nonetheless went unheeded by a few of the night’s recipients. His reckless attitude was a welcome slice through the entertainment industry’s shiny veneer, yet it felt stifled as the show went on, with Gervais only getting a few more moments on stage after the monologue. He claims this is his last go at hosting the Globes, but I would certainly be glad to see him back in the future. 

But on to the awards themselves. Movie and television marketers would like you to believe that a Golden Globe is something like an “Oscar Lite,” but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association holds nowhere near the prestige of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Globes are better understood as a fun little party where actors get plastered and winning an award is a secondary joy. I don’t say this to minimize the Globes but rather to put them in perspective, especially when it comes to the film categories, where the Oscars hold the real power. A Golden Globe is nonetheless an impressive achievement, and the gilt statuette usually ends up in the hands of an extraordinarily talented individual. Here are some of the big winners and my thoughts on each:

Best Television Series — Comedy or Musical: “Fleabag”

“Fleabag” unsurprisingly took home the win in this category, as this sharp, witty show written by the inimitable Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who also serves as lead actress) has been a critical and popular sensation. Waller-Bridge also took home the award for Best Actress in a Television Series — Comedy or Musical, rounding out the proper recognition for a worthy show. 

Best Television Series — Drama: “Succession”

“Succession” is incredible. Its writing feels like an enfilade of daggers — so sharp it is with its devastating tragedy tempered by biting humor — and the impeccable cast certainly doesn’t hurt. Despite a slew of worthy opponents, including “The Crown” and “Killing Eve,” “Succession” was always just a nose ahead of the pack, gaining an edge with every witticism and monologue. Much like “Fleabag,” the success of “Succession” saw a further boost with Brian Cox’s win for Best Actor in a Television Series — Drama. Cox’s portrayal of a ruthless media mogul and family patriarch clearly draws on his esteemed work playing King Lear in England, but he adds a cutthroat flavor that feels decidedly American. 

Best Screenplay — Motion Picture: Quentin Tarantino for “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

Quentin Tarantino is a genius, not just behind the camera, but on the page as well. His movies have always featured rapid-fire dialogue that’s equal parts vulgar and refined, and I would normally be happy to see him win. But this year, he accepted the award for what might be the worst script of his career. It’s not bad — not by a long-shot — but compared to the elastic verbiage of movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglorious Basterds,” “Hollywood” felt like a dud. Noah Baumbach’s knockout punch of a screenplay for “Marriage Story,” meanwhile, is a career peak for the cerebral writer-director. It’s the best-written movie I’ve seen since, well, Tarantino’s heyday, and Baumbach deserves to feel slighted by a coterie of voters who fell into the Tarantino prestige trap.

Best Director — Motion Picture: Sam Mendes for “1917”

I thought Scorsese would take this prize in appreciation for both the extraordinary “The Irishman” and a career of prodigious talent and achievement. Tarantino and Baumbach felt like the safe alternatives, but Sam Mendes surprised with a Globe for “1917,” a World War I film that’s shot to look like one single take (or so I’ve heard — the movie doesn’t have a full theatrical release until this Friday). If it’s anything like the swirling camerawork of “Birdman,” a film shot and edited with a similar single-take idea, I’ll be able to retrospectively call Mendes the right recipient — for now, I’ll trust the HFPA on making a solid choice.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Brad Pitt

While my opinion on “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” remains to be fully formed, even after two viewings, Brad Pitt’s understated performance as Leonardo DiCaprio’s disgruntled stuntman took no longer than a few seconds to stand out. Pitt has an onscreen gravity unlike anything I’ve seen — just watching him walk across a dusty ranch in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt is enamoring. Despite being in the most stacked category of the night — Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Tom Hanks and Anthony Hopkins were his opponents — Pitt was the proper winner in a crop of revelatory film performances. 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Laura Dern

Laura Dern’s turn as an incisive LA divorce lawyer in “Marriage Story” is pitch perfect. She can flip the switch from kind-hearted sympathy to viperous legal action in an instant, and despite the abhorrent nature of her character, she stands out as one of the film’s best. Another quality choice by the HFPA. 

Best Motion Picture — Drama: “1917”

“Marriage Story” is the best movie I’ve seen in three years. Heartbreaking and cathartic, it’s a wallop of a film, written and acted with the utmost excellence. Yet I didn’t have high hopes for it in the motion picture category, as its unfussy naturalism tends to get awarded in writing and acting categories rather than the overall prize. This left “The Irishman” as the favorite, a career-capping achievement for America’s greatest living director, Martin Scorsese. Somehow, though, “1917” pulled off the win, as surprising as Mendes’s win for Best Director. I’ll know for sure when it comes out later this week, but it’s hard to picture “1917” besting the quality of “Marriage Story” or “The Irishman.” 

Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

This was almost a no-contest category, as Tarantino’s love letter to the golden age of Hollywood exceeded its opponents in both prestige and quality by a significant margin. Despite the fact that I think it belongs in the lower half of the Tarantino canon, “Hollywood” is still an impressive film by a great director. 

Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama: Renée Zellweger

Renée Zellweger was the favorite from the start for her transformative portrayal of Judy Garland in “Judy,” and this was really her award to win. Similarly worthy would have been Scarlett Johansson, whose performance of naked emotion in “Marriage Story” is a career highlight. 

Best Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama: Joaquin Phoenix

I was pulling for Adam Driver in this category, as his raw, pulsating performance in “Marriage Story” is a tear-jerking display of humanity, but the HFPA has a penchant for showiness, and Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck, also known as the Joker — a modern-day Travis Bickle with a comic book twist — had the kind of bravura shine the HFPA loves. I still think Driver will take home the Best Actor Oscar in a month instead of Phoenix, so I’m okay with Joaquin getting the Globe for a phenomenal performance.  

Other Notable Wins

Rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina received the Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical. This makes her the first person of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe in an acting category — no small feat indeed, as many bright days are ahead for this erumpent star. Another big win was Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” taking home Best Foreign Language Film, bringing attention to an innovative masterpiece that could be a legitimate contender in the Best Picture category at the Oscars. 

Looking ahead, the Globes results generally serve as a solid litmus test for the Oscars, with the caveat that the HFPA leans toward intrigue while the Academy leans toward classical cinematic greatness. This means that a movie like “Marriage Story” is in store for the love it deserves, likely in the screenplay and acting categories, while a movie like “Joker” — the Academy has a traditional disdain for comic book movies — will have a much harder time. Awards shows are always unpredictable, though, and even though this year’s Globes gave the statuette to the right people most of the time, its future iterations — and the Oscars later this year — can always come out swinging.