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2021 Golden Globe nominations bring clarity to a confusing year, a boost for female directors

Frances McDormand against a backdrop of craggy rocks.
Frances McDormand in the movie “Nomadland.”
(TIFF)

In the midst of a global pandemic that has kneecapped the film industry and turned awards season upside down, Wednesday’s nominations for the 78th Golden Globe Awards served as a reminder for anyone who needed it that, yes, there were indeed movies in 2020 and some of them were actually very good.

With movie theaters shut down for most of the past year, however, streaming services not surprisingly dominated the nominations handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. Meanwhile, the major studios, which pushed the release dates of many of their biggest awards hopefuls — such as Steven Spielberg’s take on “West Side Story” and upcoming sci-fi epic “Dune” — were largely relegated to also-ran status.

For the second year in a row, Netflix dominated other distributors, pulling in 22 nominations for its films, including two best picture nods in the drama category for its black-and-white period film “Mank,” which led the field with six nominations, and the historical drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which followed with five. (“Chicago 7" was initially set for release from Paramount Pictures, which sold the rights to Netflix after theaters shut down.)

Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman, shown on a 1940s-era movie set, in "Mank."
Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman in the movie “Mank.”
(Netflix)
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The other nominees in the drama category — “The Father,” “Nomadland” and “Promising Young Woman” — are the type of smaller, more intimate independent releases that have seen their awards prospects boosted by the relative absence of larger-scale studio fare that might otherwise have hogged the spotlight. “The Father” and “Promising Young Woman” were unveiled at Sundance 2020, pre-pandemic, and “Nomadland” debuted in a collaboration among the reimagined Venice, Toronto and Telluride film festivals in the fall.

In the comedy or musical category, nominations went to Amazon Studios’ button-pushing mockumentary “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” Disney’s film version of the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” Hulu’s quirky, time-scrambling romantic comedy “Palm Springs,” Netflix’s adaptation of 2018’s Tony Award-nominated “The Prom” and the musical drama “Music,” which hits VOD Feb. 12.

With Wednesday’s announcement of the nominees for the 78th Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. marked the start of an awards season like no other.

The Globes have a reputation for delivering surprising, if not head-scratching, picks, and this year included quite a few. Several films that have either flown under the mainstream’s radar or not yet been released made unexpectedly strong showings, including “Music,” directed by the pop star Sia, which also drew an acting nod for Kate Hudson, and the Guantanamo Bay drama “The Mauritanian,” which earned acting nods for Jodie Foster and Tahar Rahim.

In perhaps the morning’s biggest surprise, the best director category included a record three women: Emerald Fennell for the revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman,” Chloé Zhao for the poetic character study “Nomadland” and Regina King for the civil-rights-era drama “One Night in Miami.” No women had earned directing nominations since 2014, and throughout the entire history of the Globes, women had previously been nominated in the category just seven times.

The other nominees in the directing category this year are David Fincher for “Mank,” which chronicles screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s work on “Citizen Kane” — and also earned nods for stars Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, as well as for its screenplay — and Aaron Sorkin for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which earned Sacha Baron Cohen a supporting actor nomination.

In the wake of the Globes announcement, some took to social media to criticize the fact that none of the four Black-led ensemble films that had earned acclaim this awards season — “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “One Night in Miami” and “Da 5 Bloods” — landed a shot at the top prize, though all but Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” which was entirely overlooked, landed nominations in other categories.

For lead actress in a drama, nominations included Mulligan, Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”), Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) and Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”). The nominations for lead actor in a drama included Riz Ahmed for "Sound of Metal,” Chadwick Boseman, in a posthumous nod, for his turn in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and Anthony Hopkins for “The Father,” along with Oldman and Rahim.

Chadwick Boseman, in period garb, stands in front of a man playing double bass.
Chadwick Boseman, center, as trumpeter Levee, flanked by Michael Potts, left, and Colman Domingo in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
(David Lee / Netflix)

Globes nominations, which are made by a small group of members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. rather than film industry professionals, are generally not considered reliable harbingers of future Oscar nods. But particularly in a year as uncertain as this one, the nominations can help cement a narrative around which films and performances could go the distance. And the strong showings for “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7" may help give Netflix an edge as it continues to pursue its first-ever best picture Oscar win.

On the television side as well, Netflix proved a commanding force, pulling in 20 nominations overall in part by earning nods for fare that critics have largely scorned, such as “Emily in Paris,” “Hollywood” and “Ratched.” More acclaimed Netflix titles including “The Crown,” “The Queen’s Gambit” and “Unorthodox” also added to the streamer’s huge haul.

Among the other streamers, both Apple TV+ and HBO Max found notable success with their breakout series, respectively, “Ted Lasso” and “The Flight Attendant,” which each earned nods for best series in the comedy or musical category alongside “Emily in Paris,” “The Great” and “Schitt’s Creek.”

Netflix’s fourth season of its royal series “The Crown” made a particularly impressive showing, landing nominations for drama, lead actor (Josh O’Connor), and two for lead actress (Emma Corrin and Olivia Colman). Other drama nominees include “Ozark,” “The Mandalorian,” “Ratched” and “Lovecraft Country.”

Rounding out what many saw as a largely disappointing day on the diversity front, only two Black-led series — HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” and Amazon’s “Small Axe,” which earned a limited series nod — scored nominations, with HBO’s much-lauded “I May Destroy You” getting shut out while just two Black actors, John Boyega (“Small Axe”) and Don Cheadle (“Black Monday”), were recognized in the acting categories.

The Globes will air Feb. 28 on NBC, with returning hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler emceeing from New York and Los Angeles, respectively, in what is expected to be a largely virtual ceremony.

Matthew Brennan and Greg Braxton contributed to this report.

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