On the 5th of January, just a few days after we ring in the new year of 2020, the Golden Globes ceremony will be the first big publicity event while Oscar ballots are in the hands of voters.
The Globes are often a good bellwether for testing the reaction in the room when winners take the stage. For instance, when La La Land swept the Globes a few years ago, the vague sensation of “really?” set it up for its eventual Oscar downfall. Moonlight, which won Best Picture — Drama, had nowhere to go but up while La La Land had nowhere to go but down. Had it started out as the underdog and not the frontrunner, La La Land would have had a better chance. When Avatar won the Globe, the same thing happened. No one wanted to see Jim Cameron be King of the World again, nobody wanted to see him beat his ex Kathryn Bigelow.
The Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig story is bound to play out in some fashion because it’s very rare to have a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife scenario in the awards race at any level, much less as a pair of directors. How that fairy tale unreels, I have no idea. With the whole of the industry seemingly pushing for Little Women to be in the race while Marriage Story is beloved across the board, does that mean one charmed partner wins and the other loses? Do both win? Do both lose? As a major publicity event, the Globes will spotlight this relationship and that will be very good for Little Women’s Oscar chances.
We know this community well, so we know the speeches with regards to women directors will start here. That will throw a lot of heat and energy Greta Gerwig’s way. She’ll be in the room and the camera will cut to her any time that subject is brought up. The lament will be a big deal and there will be loud thunderous applause at the Natalie Portman-ishness of it all: “Here are your five all-male directing nominees.” Yes, it’s all going to be happening once more, as the Globes get shamed and shamed and shamed again for not nominating any women. That sentiment will tumble over to the SAG Awards in the same way that the #MeToo movement overtook both awards shows last year. You can bet that the convo will swirl around the absence of women, which again, will pool support around the one film directed by a woman that will get the push. The one with “Women” right there in the title.
The bar is set very high this year, however, and like it or not, many of the year’s best films are directed by men, alas. Women need to be afforded the same opportunities as men: to make more movies, to be given second and third chances, to be given the chance to fail and still work in Hollywood. And when they succeed, they need to be trusted with the hot properties that men now monopolize — that is what needs to change. Look at the success of the movies directed by women at the box office. It is better insurance that they continue to work than 15 minutes in the awards spotlight. But it is what it is.
So what is our high bar? Look at the Best Director category at the Globes:
Sam Mendes’ breathtaking cinematic achievement that is 1917. He has set the bar so high that any film that beats it has to be as good as or better. He aimed high and hit the target square in the bullseye. If I were a female filmmaker, I would look at this film (and others this year) and think: “yeah, that is what I want to do. That is how high I want to reach.” My god, what a movie. Every time I think about it, every time I watch it I am blown away all over again. Exactly twenty years ago Sam Mendes won in his debut for American Beauty, and maybe time has re-evaluated that one. But he’s made his best film with 1917. How do you even top it?
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a perfect film, Tarantino’s best as well, and one that I’ve seen about seven times now. And like all the best films this year (Parasite is not in this category), there is something new to discover with each viewing. We already know what Tarantino can do with dialogue and his camera’s eye — he’s been showing us this for years. I didn’t know how deeply he felt the travesties of the past until this film. Retelling a story that has haunted those of us who remember it gives us all a chance to share in that tragedy and imagine a world where it never happened. Instead of busting into the house where Sharon Tate was spending an evening with friends, Tarantino detours the Manson followers into a collision course with Cliff Booth and his dog Brandy. Yeah, good luck with that one. With each of the violent acts perpetuated on the murderers, you can feel Tarantino’s rage at the senseless tragedy from that hot summer night in 1969. Sure, it hurts to watch women brutalized like that — and it isn’t that any woman deserves that kind of beat down. But in this version of the nightmare, they aren’t actual women. They are ghosts. Ghosts that have haunted our culture for decades. Monsters who eventually carved swastikas between their eyebrows, shaved their heads, and chanted in Charlie’s name, even after they painted the walls on Cielo Drive with the blood of Sharon Tate’s unborn child. These counter-culture revolution-era hippies who gave the movement such a bad name had been conditioned to dehumanize the rich and powerful to the point where they could simply slaughter them and get off on it. Well, Tarantino has decided to turn that around with this film, to give us a chance to feast off the fantasy of revenge. How do you even top Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
Bong Joon-ho may well win in the Globes Director category for Parasite, but his masterful film will win the Foreign Language prize walking through the door. When you watch Parasite and see how great it is, when you remember all of the other films he’s made in the past (like all of the best directors this year), then you begin to understand what it took for him to get to the place where he made this movie. It’s the kind of film that is so layered, so deep, and has so much to say, it’s a challenge to fully absorb its ambition — but even beyond that, it’s a technical marvel through and through. Bong’s gift for composition, like all of the best films this year, is unsurpassed. And the actors are the best visual effect. All of the best films this year rely on the actors to achieve greatness, and in Parasite, there is without a doubt some of the best acting of the year. How do you even top Parasite?
The Irishman is a film so good it doesn’t even matter whether it was released in theaters or on Netflix. Only Martin Scorsese could deliver with such masterful flourish the pure art of the thing. Watching him direct is like going to film school. How do you make a movie? This is how you make a movie. Like 1917, it’s a film that depends on the acting, writing, and crafts to deliver something that takes the audience on a profound journey, and if there was one weak link to break the bleak reverie the whole thing wouldn’t work. Give yourself over to the force of the story, and not even the film’s sole cognitive jolt of de-aging technology can disrupt the strength of its narrative. Props to Scorsese for wanting to reach for the next experimental evolution in cinema, ever seeking to break new ground, to see if it was possible to not only make actors look older (as movies have done for a century) but to make them look younger too, thereby allowing the same actor the continuity to play the same character at every stage of life. That he achieved such a feat at all will forever be remembered as a milestone. How do you top The Irishman?
Todd Phillips’ Joker became the most unexpected cultural phenomenon of the year, a supervillain origin story as divisive as anyone could imagine. It is passionately loved and passionately hated all at once, but it has made its mark. Joaquin Phoenix will likely win Best Actor at the Globes, SAG, and Oscar, making it a clean sweep. I’d be surprised if anyone else can stop his momentum. The film and the character have come to symbolize a kind of deeper truth most of us just don’t want to face about our culture. Only a great director can make a film this powerful and do it within a genre that ordinarily discourages originality, LRHOUFH I don’t think it will win Best Director — I think this one is down to Irishman vs. 1917, but you never know. While it isn’t my own personal favorite this year, you can’t deny what an achievement this film is. How do you even top it?
The Best Director category, more than any of the other categories, will be the one to watch to find the a frontrunner at last pulling ahead of the pack. If it’s a split year, Best Director will go one way and Best Picture another. Only three of these directors are in the Drama category: Sam Mendes, Martin Scorsese, and Todd Phillips. Bong Joon-ho’s film is in Foreign Language and Tarantino’s is in the Comedy/Musical category. It will be interesting to see which way this all goes down because honestly, this is such a stacked category I have absolutely no idea. Honestly, it could be any of them.
The question is, will this be the DGA five? I think it will be, give or take a James Mangold or Taika Waititi. And will this be the Oscar Best Director five? Perhaps, give or take a Safdie brothers or a Greta Gerwig.
Best Picture is next, and we’ll look at that after Christmas.
Which director do you think will win the Golden Globe?