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Column: ‘Cats’ was not nominated for a best picture Golden Globe. And the nominations are more relevant than ever

“Cats” was not nominated for best motion picture, comedy or musical.
“Cats” was not nominated in the category of best motion picture, comedy or musical. These are not your grandfather’s Golden Globes.
(Universal Pictures)

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and the motion picture academy share exactly one member — 92-year-old Chinese journalist Lisa Lu — but despite that lack of overlap, the two voting groups do share the same blind spots when it comes to their awards.

But first, I should begin with a note of sadness. This year’s nominations offered a definitive death knell for that wacky bunch of international journalists who would nominate any movie musical, no matter how shoddy or ridiculous or, in the case of “Burlesque,” dull and tawdry. In that now-bygone era, if there was a movie starring Cher, the question on nominations morning wouldn’t be “if” but “how many.”

It’s telling, then, that a group that nominated Joel Schumacher’s agonizing adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” 15 years ago would deign to give but one nomination (for original song) to “Cats,” the latest Lloyd Webber musical heading to theaters. The inspiration behind countless memes since its trauma-inducing trailer debuted in July (warning: Once watched, it cannot be scrubbed from memory), “Cats” would have dominated the Globes noms up until recently.

Now? “We have better taste,” one HFPA member told me, conveniently ignoring the group’s nomination of “Jojo Rabbit” for best picture, musical or comedy.

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You may remember that “Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the best motion picture Golden Globes in January. Which movie was a comedy/musical and which one a drama? You’re on your own there. My point is that the Globes ceremony, consistently a more entertaining show than the Oscars in recent years, has something of an impact on the more prestigious Academy Awards. And that may be more true than ever in this year’s abbreviated awards calendar, with the Oscars taking place two weeks earlier.

Upon close examination, the idea of a junket-loving, freebie-pocketing HFPA hasn’t been entirely true for a few years now. So why can’t its 87 active voting members get their act together when it comes to rewarding movies and television series directed by women ... or, at the very least, movies and programs about women?

In the 91-year-history of the Oscars, only five women have been nominated for the director honor. That’s the same number of women that HFPA voters have recognized over the 77 years of the Globes (the HFPA did nominate two of them, Barbra Streisand and Kathryn Bigelow, twice). And despite a number of worthy candidates this year — Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”) and Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”) among them — it’s a number that remained fixed in place after Monday’s nominations.

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And I’m not holding my breath expecting Oscar voters to step up next month when the motion picture academy announces its nominations.

“How do you correct centuries of patriarchal domination?” filmmaker Jane Campion asked at the motion picture academy’s Governors Awards in October.

If you’re the HFPA, you could start by not nominating “Joker” director Todd Phillips over the likes of Gerwig and Wang. Yes, this deranged, and divisive, comic book origin story has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. It also sits at a 59 on movie review aggregator Metacritic, an abysmal score for a movie deemed worthy of being included among the year’s best.

And, if you’re the HFPA, you could maybe not overlook one of the year’s most acclaimed, and certainly most relevant and desperately needed, limited series, Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” in favor of, say, Hulu’s dead-on-arrival “Catch-22,” just because you want to rub shoulders with George Clooney at the ceremony.

But the show will go on, hosted once again by Ricky Gervais, who, if past history is any indication, will brandish his own criticisms of the HFPA during the ceremony. And he, in turn, is likely to be roasted on social media, where there is even less tolerance for his envelope-pushing humor since he last emceed in 2016.

People will be paying attention. Oscar nomination ballots will still be out when the Globes take place on Jan. 5. Impressions can be made. Stump speeches can be floated. Alcohol can be consumed and possibly utilized to facilitate a more casual acceptance of one’s fate and place in the awards season machinery.

The films nominated for motion picture drama — the Netflix trifecta of “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” and “The Two Popes,” and the upcoming war drama “1917" and (wince) “Joker” — will produce a winner (probably “The Irishman,” maybe “1917") that will compete for the night’s attention with the comedy/musical winner (let’s guess “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”).

The wrinkle this year comes from the belief held by many, including members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. (I’m a voter), that the year’s best movie is Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.” International films have their own category at the Globes and are ineligible to compete for drama or comedy/musical picture. But the HFPA’s nomination of Bong for director indicates strong support for the film. It will certainly win the Globe for foreign language feature.

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What might that mean for the Oscars? It still seems a stretch that a film coming from South Korea, a country that has never even had a movie nominated for foreign language feature (a category the motion picture academy renamed “international feature” this year), would not only earn a nomination but also go on to win best picture.

But “Parasite” is an extraordinary movie, and it explores societal inequities in ways that feel fresh and necessary right now. It hasn’t earned $1 billion, but its current domestic take of $20 million is impressive for a South Korean film. And it has taken in nearly $125 million worldwide. Many academy members love this movie with a passion; I’ve spoken to several who are putting it at the top of their best picture ballots.

If the Hollywood Foreign Press truly wanted to reflect international cinema, they’d go for “Parasite” in the same way they did for “Roma” last year, giving Bong the director prize and honoring the screenplay he wrote with Han Ji Won. But that kind of discernment feels like a leap for an organization that currently resides in a middle ground between its disreputable past and a standing worthy of a true critics group. Honestly: I’d kind of like them better if they had nominated “Cats.” At least they’d have a distinct identity.


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