Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais said many things Sunday, most of them instantly forgettable. But the one truth he hit on, and one he repeated for those who weren't listening (Gaga, were you listening?), was this: No one cares about this award other than the people who win it.
And that apathy would include film academy members, who finished voting for the Oscar nominees last Friday, meaning that anything that happened Sunday night in the Beverly Hilton's ballroom will have no affect on this year's Academy Awards.
But sometimes the winners — and the reception in the room to the winners — can produce a shift in perception as to the direction the Oscars might take. And with this year's best picture race being the most unsettled in years, it's tempting to look to the Globes for a clue or two, even as past winners such as Gervais and Jim Carrey kept telling us to keep things in perspective.
So, first, a disclaimer: Neither of last year's Globes best picture recipients — "Boyhood" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" — ended up winning the Academy Award. Alejandro G. Iñárritu's "Birdman" did.
On Sunday, Iñárritu found himself on the stage twice, winning honors for motion picture drama and director. On the (ahem) comedy side, Ridley Scott's space survival saga "The Martian" won.
Notably absent throughout the evening was Tom McCarthy's meticulous procedural, "Spotlight," which didn't win any category, not even the Globe it was expected to take — screenplay.
"Spotlight," which details the Boston Globe's investigation into a sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, has been the de facto best picture front-runner since its rousing premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. But there have been indications that its status is shaky, most recently when it scored just three nominations with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and failed to land a nomination from the editors guild.
Many members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences I've spoken with admire the movie, which has won top prizes from the National Society of Film Critics and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. But alongside that admiration for the movie's socially conscious, fact-based storytelling comes reservations with the filmmaking. "Spotlight" is a modest movie, assured, not flashy. One voter told me it's the cinematic equivalent of the khaki pants that Michael Keaton's editor wears in the film.
If "Spotlight" lands some Oscar nominations for acting from within its SAG-nominated ensemble, that would be a hopeful sign. An editing nomination with the academy would help too. But it's difficult to call it the favorite any longer.
Really, it's impossible to call any film the pacesetter now. You can make a case for a handful of movies, including Iñárritu's brutal, beautiful revenge western, "The Revenant." Did you see that standing ovation at the Globes for its star, Leonardo DiCaprio? Iñárritu's movie has a number of public fans within the academy, including filmmaker Rod Lurie, who called it "a masterpiece — haunting and gorgeous and a full-on furthering of cinema" and encouraged his followers to post glowing reviews on his Facebook page.
Then there's "The Martian," a critically praised commercial powerhouse that netted its star, Matt Damon, a Globe win, and its director, Ridley Scott, some serious cheering when he took the stage. (Personal favorite moment of the night: Scott pointing to the orchestra director and emphatically saying "No" as he tried to play him off.)
And there's also "The Big Short," a movie that, like "Spotlight," came away empty-handed at the Globes. Many pundits believed Adam McKay's financial meltdown drama was surging recently as it picked up several critics and guild prizes and five BAFTA nominations — supporting actor (Christian Bale), screenplay, editing, director and picture. It's a movie possessing social currency to go along with its considerable craft, which counts with some Oscar voters. The fact that it didn't win any Globes doesn't mean it isn't still coming on strong.
Probably the one certainty that you can take from Sunday night's ceremony came when Sylvester Stallone's name was read as the supporting actor winner. The standing ovation that followed felt real and heartfelt, not obligatory as many of these expressions of approval do. Quentin Tarantino could barely contain himself. Will Smith looked like he had won the Powerball jackpot. And if Stallone got the order of his thank-you list backward — go with the filmmaker responsible for putting you on the stage first, then family, then the agent — the sight of him on stage packed a nostalgic thrill.
"The view is so beautiful now," Stallone said, comparing the win to his last turn on the Globes stage, 39 years ago for "Rocky."
I can't guarantee Stallone a return to the Oscars' podium, but the genuine feeling behind that ovation can't be ignored. As we know from "Rocky," everyone loves an underdog story. But comeback tales are just as winning.
MORE GOLDEN GLOBES: