Chloé Zhao_TIFF Tribute 2020

Source: Searchlight Pictures

Chloe Zhao on set of ‘Nomadland’

Long overdue support for female directors and a near-total absence of best film nominees directed by people of colour were among the take-aways from this year’s typically provocative batch of Golden Globes nominations.

In an unprecedented, pandemic-struck season that has seen awards bodies stretch timetables and tweak eligibility rules to allow digital debuts, Netflix underlined the extent to which streamers have wrestled the advantage from the legacy studios, leading the pack on 22 nods for film.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) is known for its occasional wildly eccentric self-expression and did not disappoint this year.

The group’s 90 voting members meted out two nominations in particular that raised eyebrows: best musical or comedy feature for Sia’s unreleased autism drama Music, which is due to drop on VoD on February 12 through Vertical Entertainment, and best actor in a comedy or musical for James Corden in The Prom.

Insiders do not expect either nominee to make much headway when the 78th Golden Globes are handed out virtually on February 28; nor do they expect either to progress within the wider awards race. Pundits have remarked the inclusion of Music ranks alongside the widely derided nod for The Tourist in 2011.

Recognising female directing talent

On a more serious note, in a timely recognition of merit the HFPA has for the first time in its history nominated more than one woman in the directing category – Chloe Zhao for Nomadland, Regina King for One Night In Miami, and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman.

All three films have won wide admiration and go up against David Fincher for Mank (the most nominated film by the HFPA on six) and Aaron Sorkin for The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (the second most nominated on five).

The HFPA has often championed international talent, yet its record on supporting diversity is disappointing.

Until now, only five women have been nominated for the directing Globe: Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1984 and The Prince Of Tides in 1992; Jane Campion for The Piano in 1994; Sofia Coppola for Lost In Translation in 2004; Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010 and Zero Dark Thirty in 2013; and Ava DuVernay for Selma in 2015.

For that reason, three female directing nominees was an encouraging thumbs-up and bucked the trend of a complete shut-out over the past six years. The drought prompted Natalie Portman to make a barbed remark on stage when she introduced the “all male” directing nominees at the 2018 awards ceremony.

The lack of film nominees directed by people of colour – except Nomadland’s Zhao, who was born in China – leaves plenty of room for improvement. However some of those films – One Night In Miami, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Judas And The Black Messiah, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and Minari – were represented in other categories.

Annual Oscar parlour game

Each year the Globes nominations kick-start the perpetual awards season parlour game of connecting the dots between the HFPA’s decisions and those of the Academy that follow.

By and large it’s debatable whether the Globes nods have any true influence on the Academy’s choices, although this season could be different in one regard.

Compared to the idiosyncratic composition of the HFPA through its 90 voting members, the more than 8,000 Academy voters are generally more conventional.

However the Academy has been making the right noises about wanting to move with the times and to this end has targeted a more inclusive and geographically diverse membership and has introduced inclusion standards that will apply to the best picture category from 2024.

With this in mind, the Academy might not want to be seen to snub female directors in a year when the HFPA has nominated three.

Nomadland director Zhao is very much expected to be among the Oscar nominees announced on March 15, while King is having a moment and could parlay her popularity with the Academy into a fighting chance. Fennell is deemed unlikely to make it into Oscar consideration, although Promising Young Woman itself is a different matter.

Apart from that particular category this year, the Academy typically disregards the HFPA’s more outlandish nominees, and if it appears to nominate a fair amount of the same contenders in general categories, this is likely to be because those talents have earned widespread support during the season.

This year Oscar voters have more than a week to ponder Globes winners before they cast their nominations votes. Oscar nominations voting runs March 5-10, and the 93rd annual ceremony takes place on April 25.

Fincher, Sorkin, Lee likely to figure in Academy voters’ thinking

Fincher’s quest for a first directing Oscar (he was nominated for The Social Network And The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button) is likely to be buoyed by recognition in the technical categories for Mank. Sorkin has only directed Molly’s Game until now, and is thought to be a heavyweight contender for The Trial Of The Chicago 7.

The HFPA overlooked several strong contenders led by Academy darling Spike Lee. Lee, Da 5 Bloods and star Delroy Lindo were all shut out, but have earned recognition from the likes of National Board of Review and New York Film Critics Circle and cannot be counted out when one steps outside the HFPA universe.

Similarly, Lee Isaac Chung is gaining momentum for Minari, and Paul Greengrass represents a rare studio contender this season in the shape of western News Of The World.

The quirk of the Globes forces HFPA members to support dramatic and musical/comedy categories in the feature and lead acting categories, splitting and limiting the vote along those grounds.

For that reason a fair number of this year’s Globes feature nominees should be disregarded when looking ahead to who the Academy will nominate.

Dramatic feature nominees Mank, Nomadland, The Trial Of The Chicago 7 and Promising Young Woman appear strong contenders for an Oscar best feature nod.

Add to that list any of the following: Da 5 Bloods, Minari – bizarrely relegated to foreign-language film by the HFPA even though it is an American film – One Night In Miami, Soul, News Of The World, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and late bloomers that have earned critical respect, Sound Of Metal and Judas And The Black Messiah.

The only Globe musical or comedy nominee strong enough to join them is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. The other Globe musical or comedy nominees will not make it onto the Academy’s feature list: The Prom, Sundance 2020 pick-up Palm Springs, which has achieved little else of note this awards season, and Music. Hamilton is ineligible for Oscar consideration.

Solid acting nominees

The HFPA’s male acting nominees are a more solid bunch with strong Oscar prospects: Riz Ahmed for Sound Of Metal, the late Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Gary Oldman for Mank, Anthony Hopkins for The Father, and Tahar Rahim for The Mauritanian hail from the dramatic category that is likely to populate the bulk of the Oscar lead male actor nominees.

Sacha Baron Cohen earned a musical or comedy nod for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and is the only one from that category with a (very slim) chance of impressing Oscar voters in the lead actor contest. He earned a supporting acting nod for The Trial Of The Chicago 7 and is a much stronger Oscar threat in that category.

The much-admired Lindo, Steven Yeun from Minari and perennial Academy favourite Tom Hanks for News Of The World are missing from the HFPA’s male acting dramatic category, along with Ben Affleck, who has won admirers for The Way Back and could come strong when the Screen Actors Guild unveils its nominees on Thursday (February 4).

As with the men, the Oscar prospects for actresses come almost entirely from the dramatic category, where Frances McDormand (Nomadland), Venice Coppa Volpi winner Vanessa Kirby (Pieces Of A Woman), Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) and late arrival Andra Day (The United States vs Billie Holiday) are all strong bets for Oscar attention.

Bulgarian discovery Maria Bakalova, who went toe-to-toe with Baron Cohen in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, is a lead acting comedy or musical contender at the Globes, and is regarded as a shoo-in for a supporting actress nod at the Oscars.

The supporting acting categories delivered by the HFPA are broadly solid, with the only surprises being the inclusion of Jared Leto for serial killer thriller The Little Things, and the omission of Paul Raci for Sound Of Metal, and Yuh-Jung Youn for Minari in the female category.