golden globes 2021

The Highs, Lows, and Whoas of the 2021 Golden Globes

It’s just like being in the same room. Photo: NBC

The show must go on in spite of everything, and so too must the Golden Globes. Every year we all pay a great deal of attention to the roughly 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, even though we also recognize how absurd it is that we give them this much power!

This year, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted from two small event rooms in New York and L.A., respectively, and most celebrities joined via awkward Zoom breakout room calls. The show was exactly as weird and great and occasionally bad as that sounds — there were moving moments like Chadwick Boseman’s widow accepting his award for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, there were indelible bits like Jason Sudeikis rambling about Tolstoy, and there were pets! Technical glitches! Many people trying keep everyone else from forgetting about racism! In all, the Globes felt unexpectedly appropriate for this strange time in American life. And so we celebrate the wins we’re happy about, shake our fists at the ones we’re not, and try to keep in mind that the entire system could really stand to be thrown out rebuilt from scratch.

HIGH but then also LOW: The opening segment was snappy and full of decent material about TV versus movies, plus Amy Poehler and Tina Fey did a masterful job of navigating the logistical strangeness of hosting from two separate ballrooms. They had a fun joke with a hand reaching across the vertical split-screen, and they nailed the challenge of keeping the joke rhythm tight. But they also had to walk the line of addressing a few elephants in the socially distanced room, and it was wild watching them tackle the controversy around the film Music, the broad corruption of the HFPA, and the specific whiteness of the HFPA’s membership all in one already-tough opening act.

It was nice to hear Poehler and Fey address those issues near the top, but it’s really difficult to move on with an awards show after the hosts make clear that the whole thing is a corrupt, racist mess! “All of this needs to change immediately, right after we keep doing it for the rest of the night” is a lot of cognitive dissonance. But Fey is correct: “even with stupid things, inclusivity is important.”

HIGH: Daniel Kaluuya recovered from being somehow muted after winning Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture by shouting “YOU DID ME DIRTY! at the screen. What better metaphor for this ceremony as a whole than the experience of watching him talk on mute, watching Laura Dern try to recover from it while presenting by being like, “as you can see, we have technical difficulties,” and then having Kaluuya break back in and then segue into a very good speech. It absolutely should not be on him to try to manage this all gracefully, but congrats to him for doing so, and for ending with “I can’t believe I’m on a Zoom with Bill Murray!”

HIGH: Catherine O’Hara and her husband production designer Bo Welch and his little pocket square committed to a bit where he played applause from his phone when she won — which led to a very loud feedback loop, deranged — and then started playing music as she tried to wrap up her speech, as if she was being cut off. He tried very, very hard to keep a straight face as she did the bit, but of course broke right at the end. Easy to parse? No. Adorable? Absolutely.

LOW: Three members of the HFPA came out to address the fact that they have no Black members, and promised to “create an environment where diversity is the norm, not the exception.” It’s better they said something than ignore it completely? But it was a fast, empty, “whoops, our bad” kind of statement that made no effort to acknowledge how terrible it is to have reached this point, and they presented zero actionable ideas for how to fix this in the future. They also ignored the problem of the HFPA’s bribery issue, as reported extensively in the LA Times (and has also been reported throughout the Globes’ history).

HIGH: It is impossible to be mad at Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson as Beverly Jackfruit and Francois Jean-Rudy, two kooky fake winners of the “Least Original Song in a Relefilm, Dramedy or Comma” award. Somehow Rudolph was wearing three shoes, which she handed to Amy Poehler before accepting the award. They rambled, they performed a theme song for The Crown that only runs “in Netflix Germany,” and they made it very difficult to tell whether they were siblings or a romantic couple. At the very end, Thompson started rambling in pretend French, which Rudolph then translated as thanking the Hollywood Foreign Press, declaring COVID a hoax, and saying that space lasers control the weather.

HIGH: It’s always nice to hear from Norman Lear, who won the Globes’ very much made up Carol Burnett Award for his work in television. Again, kind of a silly excuse for an award, but Lear gave a thoughtful speech and we all got to reflect on his, indeed, genre-defining work in sitcoms. Plus, he had a good hat.

HIGH: Celebrity pets!

LOW: Not enough pets.

HIGH: The number of doors in Jeff Daniels’s room.

LOW: The ceaseless technical difficulties, which led to innumerable situations where people were cut off after presenting, or while giving an acceptance speech, or while congratulating each other in the little nominee breakout rooms that the show cut to before commercials. It’s certainly very hard to make an awards show work remotely, but the Globes’ attempt to make it all work in a standard format as if everyone was in a room together really pushed the limits of what videoconferencing can reasonably achieve.

HIGH: The plus side of the technical difficulties is that they give the entire presentation the tension of a high-stakes thriller. This whole thing will explode the second the upload rates drop below 50 miles per hour!

WHOA: Speaking of an edge-of-your-seat thriller: every moment of Jason Sudeikis’s rambling acceptance speech. He delivered it while wearing a tie-dye sweatshirt, said “I kind of reject the premise of being the best actor,” and somehow just went off on a whole tangent about Tolstoy? Meanwhile, all the other nominees looked on in confusion and concern, and in Don Cheadle’s case, actively gestured for him to wrap it up. Jason, we wish you well on this whole journey, wherever it leads.

LOW: Rosamund Pike accepts an award for I Care A Lot and thanks “America’s broken legal system” for … being terrible enough to be worth making this movie about, so she could win this award?!

LOW: A bit where celebrities do telemed calls with doctors and nurses? And all the symptoms were cutesy pop-culture symptoms like Tina Fey having Thatcher voice? Surely the first responders have enough to do this year without needing to read silly awards show scripts. Still, it was almost worth it for one amazing nurse who responded to Andrew Rannells introducing himself with “…okay?” “What kind of Ryan Murphy nonsense is this?” she asked. Indeed.

HIGH: Minari won! While accepting his award, director Lee Isaac Chung’s daughter sat on his lap and yelled “I prayed! I prayed!” And everyone watching wept.

HIGH: Jane Fonda using her Cecil B. DeMille award acceptance speech to encourage everyone to do the reading and actually watch all the movies and shows she found compelling, including Nomadland, Minari, Judas and the Black Messiah, Small Axe, The U.S. Versus Billie Holiday, Ma Rainey, One Night in Miami, Ramy, I May Destroy You (notably left out by the Globes), and All In, before reminding everyone of the most important aspect of the evening: It’s Broadway legend Tommy Tune’s birthday!

HIGH: Chadwick Boseman’s wife Taylor Simone Ledward delivered a lovely, direct tribute to him and his work after his win for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, adding, “He would say something beautiful, something inspiring.”

HIGH: Andra Day’s complete and genuine shock for her surprise win for The U.S. vs. Billie Holiday. Not only was she not a predicted winner in the category, she became only the second Black woman to win an award in her category, after Whoopi Goldberg for The Color Purple in 1987. To be clear, that record itself is definitely a low. Again, the HFPA is a mess!

HIGH: Chloe Zhao won Best Director for Nomadland! (The only other woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Director is Barbra Streisand in 1983, yeesh.) And for Best Motion Picture Drama! Plus, she quoted her own movie in the acceptance speech, noting that instead of goodbye, nomads will say “see you down the road.” Chloé, thank you for providing some structure to this haywire evening by sending us out on a reflective note. That’s real good directing.

LOW: Midway through Zhao’s acceptance speech, the Globes tried to play her off, and then stopped. Whoops!

HIGH: Amy and Tina came back one last time to remind everyone, once again, to wish a very happy birthday to Tommy Tune.

The Highs, Lows, and Whoas of the 2021 Golden Globes