When it comes to the Golden Globes, airing Sunday night, the critics are most definitely in agreement: "a scam that would make Bernie Madoff blush" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone); "a completely meaningless awards show by a scandal-riddled organization on a network desperate for any kind of ratings" (Nikki Fink, L.A. Weekly); "a big fat f------ ).
The film and TV awards are determined by something almost respectable-sounding called the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a gaggle of about 80 part-time journalists who live in Southern California and who seem unusually susceptible to influence. The show itself is mainly a useful pre-Oscar marketing tool for Hollywood studios, as well as a relatively cheap way for NBC to draw 17 million viewers on a Sunday night.
But last year, when The Tourist and Burlesque were vying for best picture in the wake of a lawsuit from a former publicist accusing the Golden Globes of payola and corruption, it struck me that the show must be doing something right to have survived this long with such a bad reputation. And this time around, as the executives of that other big awards show – the Oscars – have once again been mired in soul-searching, apologies and a last-minute host change, the disdained Golden Globes have been proceeding brashly forward.
Obviously, there are a few lessons that the exalted Academy Awards can learn from its black-sheep sibling.
Lesson 1: Lose your cool
The Oscars have taken on the solemnity of a church service, with about as many references to God. Surely, it's possible to acknowledge that prizes for pretending are inherently a little ridiculous?
When Ricky Gervais first appeared as host of the Golden Globes and mocked both celebrities' misbehaviour and the organization for its dubious ethics, critics suggested he had gone too far and would never be invited back. He's now returning for the third time to insult people some more. That takes institutional confidence.
Rather than apologize for its mistakes, the Oscars would be better off perpetuating them. How much more fun, rather than bringing back safe old Billy Crystal, would it have been to have James Franco and Anne Hathaway for another round of Stoner and Bouncy? Embarrassment is more colourful than dignity.
Lesson 2: Have a party
The Oscars should go back to round tables in a hotel, with food and drinking. All those bottles of Moët in the ice buckets on the tables at the Golden Globes are the fuel that makes the show so unpredictable. Ryan Bingham missed his Crazy Heart Golden Globe for best song by visiting the bar. Christine Lahti (1998) and later Renée Zellweger (2001) were in the washroom when their awards were announced. Jack Nicholson faux-mooned the audience in 1999. And Darren Aronofsky flipped The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke the finger in 2010. By comparison, the Oscars, with its seat-fillers and proper deportment, is like live television from a waxworks display.
Lesson 3: Reward humour
What about a prize for comedy? The Golden Globes has two separate best-picture categories – one for drama and another for comedies and musicals. Unfortunately, they take it too far by also handing out separate male and female acting awards for each category. In principle, though, they're on to something. Only a half-dozen pure comedies have ever won the Oscar for best picture: It Happened One Night (1934); You Can't Take It With You (1938); Going My Way (1944); Tom Jones (1963); The Sting (1973); and Annie Hall (1977). Film comedies are one of Hollywood's great contributions to the world, yet they rarely beat out a dull social-message movie.
Lesson 4: Shed the tech prizes
The HFPA, which is all about schmoozing with celebrities, can't be bothered with all those technical awards, which, frankly, don't do anything for television ratings anyway. No doubt there are important distinctions between sound editing and sound mixing, but most of us would rather hear Meryl Streep talk for an extra minute. Or, do like the Tony telecast and run the technical awards during the commercial breaks.
Lesson 5: Hire Ricky Gervais
After years of strained, scripted banter from actors reading teleprompters, eye-glazing montages and quasi-droll production numbers, there's something to be said for a host who is actually funny. As long as the Golden Globes provide a brash, rude parody of the Oscars' desperate respectability, the least meaningful awards show on television will continue to have a reason to exist.