Awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., a small and insular and somewhat mysterious group of variously credentialed journalists, the Golden Globes are awards of minimal intrinsic, though of obvious practical, value.
A perfect example of the self-fulfilling glamorization that's at Hollywood's heart, the awards are by definition important because big stars show up to receive them, and because people tune in to watch them receive them. But fundamentally, the Golden Globe Awards, the 61st edition of which aired last night on NBC, is not televised because it's an event, it's an event because it's televised.
Broadcast from "the star-filled international ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel," as it was described on the telecast, it is arranged to look like a party, with the stars seated at tables, as in the early days of the Academy Awards, and more than any other television program it keeps alive the myth of Hollywood as a place where the famous break bread and pop corks together. As best supporting actor Tim Robbins said while accepting the evening's first award, for "Mystic River," "A good thing about this coming early is I get to drink now." Still, you have to strain to catch anyone ever lifting a fork or a glass to his lips. That could get too real -- accidents do happen.
For a show where the main appeal is the chance to see something unexpected or outrageous -- the Christine Lahti restroom incident, Bono's undeleted expletive -- this year's broadcast was decorous, even dull. Al Pacino's unfocused acceptance speech for "Angels in America" was about as nutty as the evening got. Cleavage, though in predictable abundance, seemed tastefully presented. Even Jack Nicholson behaved, apart from whistling at Diane Keaton, and asking Charlize Theron if she was "nice and relaxed" when she accepted her best actress award for "Monster" -- though, to be fair, he whispered it in her ear.
Apart from the fashion parade and the yearly marveling at the wonder that is Susan Sarandon, the show's other possibilities for real entertainment are the moments of genuine surprise, as when Ricky Gervais won twice for his imported BBC comedy "The Office"; the waiting to see who will forget to thank whom (Bill Murray neglected to mention Scarlett Johansson, his "Lost in Translation" costar, while Anthony LaPaglia actually returned to the stage to belatedly thank the press association); and the wit or charm of the individual winners. Murray was funny ("I would thank the people at Universal and Focus except there are so many people out there trying to take credit for this, I wouldn't know where to begin"); Keaton, styling herself "the rediscovered eccentric," was winningly giddy accepting for "Something's Gotta Give"; Clint Eastwood, who accepted Sean Penn's acting award for "Mystic River," was eloquent on the subject of actors and awards.
With no comedy monologues, no production numbers and no farewells to the year's dead, there was nothing -- apart from a remarkably long recap of the career of Cecil B. DeMille Award recipient Michael Douglas, which served if nothing else to remind the audience that he has made as many bad movies as good ones -- to impede the efficient delivery of statuettes. But with so many awards -- the Globes cover film and TV -- the evening lacked a dramatic arc; it just plowed on toward Peter Jackson's final, not-unexpected acceptance of an award for "The Return of the King." After which the real parties could begin.