The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Golden Globes for which they vote have a very specific taste in film, and awards shows aren’t complete without oversights – there are only so many nominations to go around.
Awards ceremonies tend to ignore genre film far too much, only acknowledging it when it comes in foreign language or animated form. For every Pan’s Labyrinth we catch, there is a Moon we ignore. For every Spirited Away we rightly laud, we neglect something like The Fall.
Actors who have been nominated before gain a sort of tenure that can only be broken by the most dramatic, momentous, newsworthy roles. That means there’s a high bar for entry, but a comparatively lower bar for re-nomination.
The Golden Globes also lack technical categories like costume design and cinematography. Keeping all this in mind:
Who did the Golden Globes miss?
BEST MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA
Nominated: 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Philomena, Rush
The biggest awards oversight of the year is also the best mystery of the year. Concerning the disappearance of two little girls, Prisoners is brimming with red herrings and great performances. Its left turns work because all the clues you need are there from the beginning.
It contains tremendous questions about faith and morality and pulls a unique trick at the end, not just putting its viewers in the position of judging whether one protagonist is redeemed or damned, but in making it clear that we’re not qualified to be his judges.
It contains stirring performances by Maria Bello, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Hugh Jackman, and Melissa Leo.
BEST ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA
Nominated: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine); Sandra Bullock (Gravity); Judi Dench (Philomena); Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks); Kate Winslet (Labor Day)
Forgotten: Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Actresses in action movies never get awards recognition. Sigourney Weaver’s acknowledgment for Aliens a full 27 years ago stands out as the lone exception. Jennifer Lawrence’s translation of Katniss Everdeen for the big screen realizes not just an action hero’s story but also that of a psychologically breaking soldier whose image is manipulated for publicity and who is both fearful of and deeply resigned to the inevitability of being sent back into battle. It’s a timely portrayal in a deceptively important film that few actors – male or female – could fuse into a single, living, breathing character.
BEST ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA
Nominated: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave); Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom); Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips); Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club); Robert Redford (All is Lost)
Forgotten: Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners
Though Hugh Jackman has the showier role as a father searching for his missing daughter, Gyllenhaal provides the film’s moral anchor as Detective Loki. Combating the mystery in front of him as well as finding a kidnapped suspect and working his way around a police chief who speaks in deeply bureaucratic half-truths, Loki is a character realized as much in the steady performance of a grueling job as in his flaws and ever-present, nervous tics. He is the only patient man in a universe of dread. Confronting grieving parents, suspects, and deceptive bosses, what makes Loki special is the reserve Gyllenhaal gives him.
Loki is a character whose tendency to respond in measured doses feels so deeply ingrained that it doesn’t feel like you’re witnessing dramatic acting so much as habits practiced over a lifetime. That reserve, that measured reaction is constantly assaulted. Sometimes it holds and sometimes it breaks, but you can tell exactly where the line is every second Gyllenhaal is on-screen. It’s an understated performance that makes the film’s drama and mystery feel very real, and it’s the best work Gyllenhaal has done to date.
BEST MOTION PICTURE, MUSICAL OR COMEDY
Nominated: American Hustle, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street
Forgotten: Spring Breakers
It’s neither a musical nor a comedy, but that’s OK – neither are more than half the films the Globes nominated in this category. Spring Breakers would be a cutting satire if it undermined its subject matter of drunk, college kids at Spring Break and the culture of criminality that appeals to their rebellious side.
Instead, it belongs to a forgotten genre called absurdism. It seeks to empathize with characters that steal and terrorize, but not to justify their actions or give us tragic, movie villains who unsuspectingly travel along some downward spiral. As the blog Agents and Seers puts it, Spring Breakers presents in James Franco’s drug dealer, Alien, a character who embraces “enlightened false consciousness,” for whom “money, wealth, and excess is an end in itself rather than a means.”
Whether she succeeds or fails as a dramatic actress, Selena Gomez already has a truly important performance under her belt as Faith, the Alice down the rabbit hole, “an idealistically unaware character in an otherwise cynically aware culture of crime and materialism.”
Spring Breakers was written and directed by Harmony Korine, who wrote the screenplay for the similarly conscience-scathing, reality-breaking film about a boy spreading AIDS, Kids.
BEST ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE, MUSICAL OR COMEDY
Nominated: Amy Adams (American Hustle); Julie Delpy (Before Midnight); Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha); Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said); Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Forgotten: Michelle Pfeiffer, The Family
Sometimes a film that has everything going for it just doesn’t work in the end, and no film this year exhibits this better than The Family. Just as stellar performances in genre films are overlooked, stellar performances in average films are easily forgotten. No matter how much the film’s blow-everything-up ending undermines the family dynamics that precede it, Pfeiffer’s work as Maggie Blake, a mob wife living in France under the witness protection program, makes her parts of the film glow.
She handles the comedy deftly, creates a believable and warm family dynamic with Robert de Niro, and – when the mobsters inevitably show up and her children go missing – she delivers one of the best scenes of the year. She makes a mediocre film worth seeing for her performance alone.
BEST ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE, MUSICAL OR COMEDY
Nominated: Christian Bale (American Hustle); Bruce Dern (Nebraska); Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street); Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis); Joaquin Phoenix (Her)
Forgotten: Johnny Depp, The Lone Ranger
I was ready to dislike Depp in this movie. I feared a Native American version of Stepin Fetchit, but The Lone Ranger is whole-heartedly on the Native American side of the argument. For the most part, Depp takes a back seat, subduing what could easily have been an over-the-top, mugging role while allowing Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger to be the larger-than-life character. His performance here is no rehash of Captain Jack Sparrow, no matter how much the ads would like you to believe otherwise.
Depp channels Buster Keaton more than at any other point in his career by playing the physical comedy with stoic reservation, while allowing director Gore Verbinski to get away with playing fast and loose with monumental shifts in tone. There’s an audience resistance to Johnny Depp born out of the idea that he’s spent too long cashing in on his indie cred, but with The Lone Ranger, he’s taken a blockbuster film and infused it with that energy – both in his performance and in the film’s deeply bittersweet message about ethnic bloodshed being part of America’s military industrial DNA since the beginning.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE
Nominated: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine); Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle); Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave); Julia Roberts (August: Osage County); June Squibb (Nebraska)
Forgotten: Andrea Riseborough, Oblivion
Oblivion, like Prisoners, is a complicated and overlooked gem of a film. It takes its cues from Golden Age science-fiction like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey all the way through to modern, anti-corporate parables such as Duncan Jones’s Moon.
Andrea Riseborough plays Victoria, who lives in the science-fiction equivalent of a white ivory tower in the clouds. She acts as the liaison between Tom Cruise’s drone repairman Jack and an orbiting base that helps transport refugees from a war-ravaged Earth to a colony on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Oblivion is a film that hides realities behind realities, and Victoria is the slippery glue that holds it all together. As each truth is peeled back to reveal something new, we’re never quite sure how much Victoria does or doesn’t know, whether she suspects and hides the truth from Jack or if she’s willfully in the dark. Oblivion demands a character who is controlling, quietly forceful, and constantly thinking, yet who is reliable, genuine, and caring, who is an awkward middle man between demanding boss and troublesome employee, who you trust and root for and don’t want to see hurt despite her perspective on reality being too slippery to even remotely pin down. We trust her even as we grow more and more suspicious of her.
It’s a thankless role in an underseen science-fiction masterpiece, and a role that you never seem to read the same way from viewing to viewing.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE
Nominated: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips); Daniel Bruhl (Rush); Bradley Cooper (American Hustle); Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave); Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Forgotten: James Franco, Spring Breakers
There are some actors, the Anthony Hopkins of the world, who can play any role they darn well please. There are others who only function within their own wheelhouse. Put James Franco in a Wizard of Oz film, for instance, and it’s just awkward. Ask him to play a degenerate, a rebel whose cause is himself, and you’ve got something special. In Alien, the drug dealer who takes four wayward college girls under his wing in Spring Breakers, Franco takes an enormous risk.
Alien is a successful and talented musician, but his day job’s just a hobby. Here is a villain who understands only ownership, who doesn’t bother to justify any awful thing he does but rather seeks the next plateau of filth. He is a modern, cynical, cultural predator – he could help himself, but why bother? He is the temptation of giving in to a talent for manipulation. He is every moral code consciously, systematically removed. He’s the Sir Edmund Hillary of movie gangsters. Why ruin others? Because they’re there.
Alien is a cultural anger at rules no one seems to follow and a cultural boredom for one’s own passions that seem to have no value. He is an evolution of movie villain, a wayward thing, seeking to make a mark – negative or positive has no value – and to own things, guns, people, souls, because ownership is our highest cultural prize. He is an American villain, through and through, and Franco realizes him in an authentic way no other actor could.
BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
Nominated: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity); Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips); Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave); Alexander Payne (Nebraska); David O. Russell (American Hustle)
Forgotten: Baz Luhrmann, The Great Gatsby
Ostentatious. Extravagant. Melodramatic. Audiences forget that this is exactly how the novel wanted it. The slow-burn plot of a New Money millionaire in 1920s New York trying to win over his soft-spoken, lost love from her Old Money husband is a one-of-a-kind film event only Baz Luhrmann could deliver.
Luhrmann’s unequaled talents for visual splendor and anachronistic flourishes hide a thematically deep film that not only captures the novel’s love story and social class evolution, but expounds at length on its oft-overlooked themes of ownership and the aching, philosophical emptiness that drives the addiction to possess.
Luhrmann understands what so many critics arguing about the novel’s metaphors for new-breed capitalism have not – that Nick Carraway’s purpose as narrator is to provide a specifically American breed of savior. He is not a morally powerful figure providing a better example. He is a powerless figure who observes his generation, incapable of being more than a visitor to this strange culture and helpless to change anything about its single-minded obsessions. Instead, he increasingly embraces the luxury of celebrity, absorbing the perspectives of the wealthy even if he’ll never have the means to realize them. He loses a part of his philosophical grip, a part of what centers him. His newly discovered addiction to the surface of things and his in-built need for ethical depth grow increasingly in conflict, and even his best attempts at sin eating for his friends are inconsequential to the monumental self-possession and indifference of the American wealthy. He is capable, at the end, only of having a chance to save himself from the American Dream.
Luhrmann’s film adaptation is saturated in the abundance and frivolity of its characters, housed squarely in their obsessions, and is as deeply melodramatic as you can get. By way of these seeming affectations, however, it translates as fully as is possible one of the most inaccessible and philosophically complex novels America has produced.
BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE
Nominated: Spike Jonze (Her); Bob Nelson (Nebraska); Jeff Pope & Steve Coogan (Philomena); John Ridley (12 Years a Slave); Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell (American Hustle)
Forgotten: Aaron Guzikowski, Prisoners
Like all good mysteries, Prisoners provides a solution that makes sense. What takes it from being a good film to a great one is that we’re left to write one protagonist’s ending. Before that, the film is intense. I crawled back in my seat. I chewed my nails off.
It’s the ending that made my jaw drop. I felt a chill up my spine when I realized what the film was really asking me. Prisoners is a film among films. It’s why we go into a dark theater for two hours and say, “Make me believe.”
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE
Nominated: Alex Ebert (All is Lost); Alex Heffes (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom); Steven Price (Gravity); John Williams (The Book Thief); Hans Zimmer (12 Years a Slave)
Forgotten: M83, Oblivion
For his earlier Tron: Legacy, director Joseph Kosinski employed the French New Wave duo Daft Punk to create its soundtrack. The resulting film was a campy, off-kilter affair, but Daft Punk’s score was an overlooked achievement, bridging the synth-heavy, tonal landscapes that Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre invented in the 1970s to the aggressive, feedback-laden dubstep of today.
For Oblivion, Kosinski sought out French electronic band M83. While the result doesn’t stand out from the crowd as much as Daft Punk’s work did, it functions better within the overall scope of its film, providing a score epic and triumphal in its orchestral nature, yet evoking undercurrents of longing and quiet desperation through themes you could plug into an 80s fantasy movie. It’s a wonderful complement to the film that is my biggest surprise of the year, and ought to be remembered among similarly momentous science-fiction scores.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE
Nominated: “Atlas” (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire); “Let it Go” (Frozen); “Ordinary Love” (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom); “Please Mr. Kennedy” (Inside Llewyn Davis); “Sweeter Than Fiction” (One Chance)
Forgotten: “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
A bittersweet monument to a stellar cliffhanger. Just listen to the link above.
*I’ve excluded the foreign language and animated film categories because I usually only get a chance to catch up on them in following years.