Awards season is never not a mixed bag, but the 2021 Golden Globe nominations landed with a particular thud on Wednesday. The obvious, baffling snubs were many. The heartwarming surprises were few. And even a pandemic that brought the film industry to its knees last year didn’t fully explain the raft of “Huh?”-inducing choices from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. (It may, however, help account for Netflix’s continued dominance, with a whopping 42 nominations, as fellow home-entertainment giant Amazon placed a distant second.)
At least it wasn’t all bad news. We were happy to see nods for one of the most heartwarming series of the year, Ted Lasso; the adorable animated film Wolfwalkers; and the too-often-snubbed Good Lord Bird star Ethan Hawke. Women filmmakers also made history. In past years, they were lucky to get just one slot in the Best Directors category. This year, three women—Chloé Zhao for Nomadland, Regina King for One Night in Miami and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman—got nods. So that’s a little something to keep in mind as we survey the carnage.
Some very weird nominations
Big, silly Netflix spectacles that no one actually thought were good
It’s no surprise that Netflix, whose original content vastly outnumbers that of any other platform, dominates the list of nominations. And the streaming monolith has some worthy shows and movies up for big awards this year: The Queen’s Gambit, Unorthodox, The Crown, Mank.
But it also has several noms that seem downright inexplicable. Emily in Paris for comedy series? No shade to anyone who happily binged through it in a lockdown haze, but that show was pure, aspirational fluff. Ratched for drama series? Yes, plenty of people watched it, there were some recognizable stars, and it looked great. It was also boring and aimless. The Prom for musical or comedy film? In an otherwise spectacular year for theater adaptations, when standouts from American Utopia to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to One Night in Miami got passed over for top honors? If I had to guess, I’d say the HFPA decided to award popularity over quality and got starstruck by big-name creators—Darren Star for Emily and Ryan Murphy for the other two. Which still doesn’t explain why they preferred The Prom to Murphy’s far superior 2020 theater adaptation, The Boys in the Band.
Brendan Gleeson as Donald Trump in The Comey Rule
We get it: like much of America, Hollywood hates Trump. But just about every impression of the former President presented for mass consumption—from Alec Baldwin on SNL to every talk-show host ever—has been terrible. Gleeson is an international treasure, and he tried his best, but Showtime’s The Comey Rule was a snooze, and his portrayal of 45 didn’t exactly break the slimy, mouth-breathing mold.
Seriously, The Undoing?
Do you know the difference between a good prestige thriller and a bad, dull, formulaic prestige thriller whose finale irritated a nation of viewers? The HFPA—which nominated HBO’s The Undoing for best limited series (and gave acting nods to its stars, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland) when the outstanding HBO miniseries I May Destroy You was right there—does not.
James Corden’s problematic Prom performance
James Corden has sparked outrage for playing into offensive gay stereotypes in The Prom. The Late Late Show host, who identifies as straight, played a gay actor who along with other theater performers descends on a small town in middle America to support a teenage girl who wants to bring her girlfriend to the prom. Corden’s casting alone rekindled a debate as to whether straight actors ought to be hired to play LGBTQ+ characters. Critics and activists described it as “aggressively flamboyent,” “homophobic” and “grossly inappropriate.” If the HFPA had to nominate someone for this Ryan Murphy film, Meryl Streep was sitting right there.
Glenn Close couldn’t save Hillbilly Elegy
Hillbilly Elegy was little better than poverty porn. As TIME’s film critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote in her review, the movie condescends to the very characters it purports to champion. Despite her valiant efforts, Glenn Close cannot make Hillbilly Elegy a good movie. She is buried under too much makeup and forced to utter too many cliche lines about her drug-addicted daughter, affirming just about every stereotype about hardened grandmothers in middle America. She has turned in far better performances in far superior movies, and to forever tie her name to this film in the cinematic history books is a crime.
Maybe it’s time to take Nazis a little more seriously?
Al Pacino was nominated for Hunters, Amazon’s Nazi-killing revisionist history series, plays like a poor man’s version of Inglorious Basterds—all of the Nazi bashing without the thoughtful consideration of how film, culture and propaganda can be used to alter history, for good or ill. Pacino turns in a campy performance that can be read as fun or offensive, depending on your stance on Nazi dramas. The early 2020 show was largely forgotten until now, and it should have stayed that way: After all, it’s hard to lose oneself in a cathartic revenge fantasy when there are actual Nazis wearing “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirts storming the Capitol.
The best series of 2020—I May Destroy You—was shut out
Michaela Coel’s miracle of a show, I May Destroy You, was a masterclass in character development, subverting audience expectations and upending the typical tropes of television. The miniseries, at once hilarious and devastating, begins with a stranger drugging the main character Arabella (Coel) and raping her in a bathroom bar—a clear cut case of assault, and one that Arabella reports to the police. But rather than being a story of vengeance or catharsis, I May Destroy You becomes a study in consent. Coel proceeds to place Arabella and each of her friends in situations that allow the show to examine the gray areas of the consent conversation. And as Arabella becomes more famous—and, to her friends’ horror, self-righteous—as a figure in the #MeToo movement, the show dares to posit that there’s no such thing as a perfect victim, and most relationships, sexual or otherwise, must be approached with radical empathy.
Coel wrote and starred in the series, which stares unflinchingly at issues like sexism, racism and homophobia and yet manages to be spellbinding and entertaining. She promises to be one of the most gifted and influential artists of the next several decades. The fact that the show was not nominated in any category will go down in history as one of the biggest flubs that Globes have ever made.
A historic year for Black ensemble work goes unacknowledged
The past twelve months have been a banner year for Black ensemble work in film and television. In projects like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Judas and the Black Messiah, One Night in Miami, Da Five Bloods, P-Valley, Insecure and Lovecraft Country, Black actors are freed from the responsibility of representing their race for the white gaze, and have turned in mesmerizing communal performances of combat, union, grief, joy and spastic laughter. But while several individuals received nominations, the holistic projects, with the exception of Lovecraft, were ignored.
Where was What We Do in the Shadows—or anything else on FX?
The past year has been a transitional one for FX, which got shuffled to Disney when the latter megacorp bought Fox’s entertainment divisions in 2019. Early 2020 brought a streaming hub for the prestige-cable standard bearer on Disney-owned Hulu—which, in turn, gave FX some of its biggest hits ever, from the thoughtful teacher-student sexual abuse drama A Teacher to rapper Lil Dicky’s apparently goofy, sneakily ambitious comedy Dave. The network also launched a handful of elaborate, cerebral straight-to-streaming dramas on Hulu, most notably the star-studded second-wave feminist period drama Mrs. America and Annihilation director Alex Garland’s philosophical tech thriller Devs. Meanwhile, returning FX series Better Things is among the most consistently great dramedies on TV. What We Do in the Shadows might be the single funniest show airing right now. Even Fargo took an intriguing, if not entirely convincing, new direction in its fourth seasons. With the exception of an obligatory acting nomination for Mrs. American lead Cate Blanchett, all of these series got snubbed. What gives, HFPA?
BoJack Horseman loses its shot at Globes glory
There are few TV characters who understand better than Bojack Horseman how meaningless the whole Hollywood awards complex can be. In season one, the alcoholic anthropomorphic horse even sneaks in a fantastic diss of the Golden Globes after winning a trophy for his book: “Do you guys actually watch the movies you give awards to, because I kind of get the sense that… also, my book was not a movie! You know that, right?”
But even if we operate under the assumption, like Bojack, that awards shows are rigged or randomly-chosen illusory accomplishments that bring their winners little happiness, it’s still absurd that a show as consistently complex, hilarious and well-written as Bojack Horseman couldn’t nab a single nomination over its six-year run, which wrapped with its final gutting half-season season last January. After landing on countless decade-end best-of lists, it appears in the Golden Globe universe only as a cruel, uncaring void. Not even esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale could get it any attention. As a certain diminutive sitcom character would say? “That’s too much, man.”
Minari is shut out
It didn’t come as a surprise that Minari, a wrenching portrayal of a family struggling with isolation and aspiration in middle America, wasn’t nominated for the top prize, thanks to a peculiar Golden Globe rule that says that films spoken primarily in other languages can’t compete for the top prize. (The fact that the Globe’s voting base is foreign journalists makes this rule extra strange.)
But Minari was also shut out of every other category except for foreign language film, meaning no nomination for Lee Isaac Chung’s exquisitely paced and tempered screenplay or veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung’s twinkling, foul-mouthed turn as the family matriarch. Minari is a uniquely American story with Big Themes that the Globes usually eat up: family, generational history, pioneering spirit, overcoming adversity. But the 2020 Sundance Grand Jury winner will have to find pre-Oscars momentum somewhere else.
The Good Lord Bird deserved better
Showtime’s adaptation of James McBride’s instant-classic historical novel The Good Lord Bird struck a nearly impossible balance, retelling the insane-but-true story of white abolitionist revolutionary John Brown with the perfect mix of humor and gravitas. Ethan Hawke, an executive producer who also helped write several episodes, disappeared into the bizarre character of Brown, and his acting nomination is richly deserved. But the show was hardly a solo effort; it easily merited a nom for best limited series. Newcomer Joshua Caleb Johnson, whose fictional protagonist Onion made the perfect foil for Brown, should also have gotten some recognition.
The Globes need to create a Best Docuseries category
In a year with few true cultural phenomena, the 1990s Bulls docuseries The Last Dance stands out as a series that really ought to be rewarded. Not only did it provide plenty of excellent gameplay footage for starved sports fans during the early days of the pandemic, but Michael Jordan’s unabashed competitiveness—the man holds grudges decades after on-court beefs— delighted his millions of fans.
Indeed, some of the best and most popular shows to grace our screens in 2020—Cheer, Immigration Nation, City So Real, Lenox Hill, heck even Tiger King—fall into the docuseries category. Netflix, especially, is expanding aggressively into unscripted shows. It’s probably time for the Globes to acknowledge the burgeoning genre.
Spike Lee gets snubbed yet again
While Spike Lee’s children will be extremely present at the Golden Globe ceremonies—they were named the 2021 Golden Globe Ambassadors—there’s a good chance Lee himself will not. His Vietnam War veterans film, Da 5 Bloods, failed to receive a single nomination: not for Lee’s longtime collaborator Delroy Lindo, whose harrowing portrayal of the PTSD-ridden MAGA-supporting Paul drew universal raves; not for Chadwick Boseman, who is instead being honored posthumously for his work in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; not for Lee’s direction or Terence Blanchard’s rousing musical score.
Spike Lee has never been shy about speaking his mind on awards shows and their decision-making: he joined an Oscars boycott following the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, and raged against Green Book‘s Best Picture victory over his film BlacKkKlansman in 2019. (“Every time somebody’s driving somebody I lose,” he quipped, referencing Do The Right Thing’s loss to Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.) Expect verbal fireworks in the weeks to come.
Meryl is missing
A short ode to Meryl Streep who surely has enough trophies on her bookshelf already. Streep starred in both The Prom and Steven Soderbergh’s Let Them All Talk this year. Were they the best performances of her career? No. Were they better than many of the performances nominated for Golden Globes this year? No doubt. The New York Times already snubbed Streep in their controversial Best Actors of the 21st Century list late last year. How many more injustices can the greatest actor alive take?