The Golden Globes get woke? Most years the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s ceremony barely looks semi-conscious. That’s the whole point of this tipsiest and dippiest of award shows, where a herd of wobbly celebrities squeeze themselves into the Beverly Hilton for a night of free booze and camera time. But the 2018 Golden Globe Awards tried to get serious, with stars wearing black on the red carpet, host Seth Meyers cracking jokes about Hollywood sexual predators and a triumphant speech from Oprah Winfrey. The results might have been spectacularly awkward – yet who would ever expect the Globes to be anything less? As Frances McDormand put it in her magnificent acceptance speech, “All you ladies in this category? Bar. Tequila’s on me.”
McDormand got bleeped for uttering the words “tectonic shift,” which really says it all. The Golden Globes peaked in the days when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler used to host every year, a freewheeling annual blast of feminist comic anarchy summed up by moments like Jacqueline Bisset’s rambling wreck of a speech. As Tina and Amy put it one year, “This was the beautiful mess we hoped it would be.” It’s never been any kind of serious event, not with the cred-free HFPA giving out the trophies, which Peter Travers memorably dubbed “globe-shaped dildos.”
Trying to refashion the Golden Globes into a high-minded symposium on the political issues of the day? That’s kinda like Justin Timberlake suddenly deciding he’s a lumberjack. On the red carpet, the E! reporter Justin Sylvester announced, “Let me tell you, our coverage is woke!” Meanwhile, a few channels away, Halle Berry was informing Al Roker that it was “probably one of the most important nights ever.”
The Fey/Poehler Blues Explosion was missed even more than they were last year, when Jimmy Fallon tried to get serious about the election and totally blew it. But to his credit, Seth Meyers superbly rose to the occasion – he found the right comic balance, paying respects to this tectonic-shift moment in our cultural history without trying to deny the Globes’ essential ridiculousness. “Good evening, ladies and remaining gentlemen,” he began in his opening monologue. “For the male nominees in the room tonight, this is the first time in three months it won’t be terrifying to hear your name read out loud.” He trashed a few of the Hollywood insiders recently exposed as predators (“Harvey Weinstein isn’t here tonight, because, well, I’ve heard rumors he’s crazy and difficult to work with”) with a little help from Billy Eichner. Seth: “Call Me By Your Name is a coming-of-age story…” Billy: “Said Kevin Spacey, you lost me at ‘of age.'” And he shrewdly kicked it over to Amy Poehler for the climax. His hosting style was basically “I’m just waiting for Oprah to show up, like you,” and it worked.
Amy Sherman-Palladino, a well-deserved winner for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, gave the night’s coolest acceptance speech, rocking a tres Liza top hat. She grimaced as she clambered up the stairs: “They make it a little harder to get up here – oy, the Spanx!” She ended with the words, “We thank you. We love you. I’m going backstage. Is there cheese backstage? Let’s go backstage. Bye.” Get this woman some cheese – she earned it.
The rest of the night, there was plenty of fromage onstage, and at times it was tough not to wish we could all be back there raiding the buffet with Amy S-P. It was strange to see Tonya Harding feted as a guest of honor, on a night where celebrities spoke out about violence against women. And the totally out-of-nowhere Kirk Douglas tribute was a mind-boggling disaster, backfiring badly in a year like this. Twenty-four hours ago, the sexual-assault allegations against him were an arcane Old Hollywood rumor; the bumbling tribute made these allegations famous overnight.
James Franco made the scene with Tommy Wiseau. Isabelle Huppert and Angelina Jolie preened together, making such a magnificent pair, it made you wish they’d host the Oscars together. On the opposite end of the spectrum for co-presenter chemistry, Sarah Jessica Parker made no attempt to hide her woe at standing next to Hugh Grant. The Winona Ryder “comeback” shampoo commercial was hardcore. But everybody knew this was Oprah’s night. Everybody, that is, except Natalie Portman, who seemed none too pleased about having to follow Oprah’s speech, and made her “here are the all-male nominees” quip look like a petty attempt to upstage the queen. Barbara Streisand also had to follow Oprah, but she played it cool as always – a real diva knows how to handle these things. Babs gracefully accepted a sluggish standing ovation from the understandably exhausted post-Oprah crowd (was Maggie Gyllenhaal a little slow to get on her feet or what?) while warning everyone, “I’m not gonna sing.”
Oprah owned the night – to say she stole the show would imply anybody else got their fingers on it. She gave the night’s most powerful, ambitious, devastating and inspiring speech, to nobody’s surprise, and we can only hope it’s the first speech of her 2020 presidential campaign. It brought back fond memories of when she sat next to the President at the 2010 Kennedy Center awards, the night Chris Rock said, “It’s an amazing feeling to look up and see the most powerful person in the world – and right next to her, Barack Obama! Hey, he didn’t get her a job – she got him a job!” (Oprah cracked up at that joke. Obama didn’t.)
Winfrey has kept a relatively discreet profile in recent years, by her standards – her surprising and still-unexplained decision to stop doing her show remains a massive void in American culture, not to mention in all our hearts. But on a night that would have seemed fraudulent without her blessing, she gave a lot more than that. She began with a story about watching the Oscars as a little girl, seeing Anne Bancroft give the award to Sidney Poitier. “I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon,” Oprah said. “And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.” It was a stunning performance from Oprah at full blast – the kind of power we’ve been missing, the kind only she can generate. Hopefully, a taste of much more in the years to come.