Critic's Notebook: Golden Globe Highlights (and Lowlights) Include Denzel, Leo and Mel Gibson

Leave it for other pundits to debate whether or not Sunday (January 10) night's Golden Globe Awards honored a deserving assortment of film and television productions. [In short: The HFPA did as the HFPA does and you can choose to view their opinions as endearingly quirky or variably irritating as you see fit.]
Instead, let's talk about the Ricky Gervais-hosted telecast, since the Golden Globes represent the free-wheeling, booze-flowing, no rules side of an awards season that all too often takes itself too seriously. As Gervais never hesitated to remind the audience and viewers at home, the Golden Globes are a giggle, a larf, a silly and rambunctious assault on respectability. 
Why, then, was Sunday's show actually at its best when it was at its most sincere? Although Gervais made plain that Golden Globes are, for some winners, more useful as suppositories than celebratory curios, the night was full of winners who seemed truly grateful to be honored. Those humbled winners made up a high percentage of the night's most memorable turns, while attempts at edginess or grabs at ratings too often fell flat or exhibited questionable judgment. 
Let's look at some highlights and lowlights from the telecast.
*** NBC's pre-show announcers may have burbled about Denzel Washington being too young for lifetime achievement awards, but the 61-year-old actor has easily a full enough body of work to warrant the Cecil B. DeMille Award and after a convincing clip package, Washington took the stage with his wife and son and managed to be touching, bumbling and earnest in trying to offer thanks despite being unable to read his speech without his glasses. Washington's moment followed a tremendous introduction by Tom Hanks, who delivers platitudes with an Everyman humility that chronicled Washington's achievements while never seeming like puffery. 
*** Washington received a standing ovation and then it took nearly 45 minutes before the crowd came to its feet again to cheer for Leonardo DiCaprio, a winner for The Revenant. We'll leave aside that DiCaprio is overdue for an Oscar, but he's hardly overdue for a Golden Globe. He just won in 2014, so this wasn't a release of great catharsis in seeing the worthy thespian finally honored, but it was genuine, as was DiCaprio's speech, including its advocating on behalf of indigenous peoples.
*** A more long-awaited win went to Jon Hamm for his final season of Mad Men. It wasn't Hamm's first Globe win, but it was his first win on a televised Golden Globes show and as with his Emmy breakthrough, he's enjoying this closing lap. 
*** And then there was Sylvester Stallone, who also received a standing ovation as he won his first Golden Globe nearly 40 years after his 1977 nominations for Rocky. "I want to thank Rocky Balboa for being the best friend I ever had," Stallone said. The show cut away and left millions of viewers wondering why Stallone didn't mention Creed director Ryan Coogler or co-star Michael B. Jordan. He did. It just happened during the commercial break. 
*** Because of poor time use in the first hour of the broadcast, everybody was getting played off, but some of the night's happiest winners paid no attention. "Wrap it up? Wait a minute. I waited 20 years for this. You're gonna wait," Taraji P. Henson said, accepting for Empire. Henson might have had a bit more time if she hadn't passed out cookies in the crowd on her way to the stage, but since that was awesome, all is forgiven. Ridley Scott had to fight through the orchestra as well, but the Martian director was determined to talk about Star Wars, in addition to his win. 
*** There were comedy bits that worked. As his category was announced, Aziz Ansari sat reading "Losing to Jeffrey Tambor With Dignity," which became sadder or funnier when the actual winner turned out to be Gael Garcia Bernal, a likable performer whose placement as a "lead actor" was absurd. Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer poked fun at their celebrity friendship in a nice presentation pairing, but couldn't come close to equaling the sublime back-and-forth between America Ferrera and Eva Longoria, who joked about the various Latina actresses they're not, closing pricelessly with "Well said, Salma." "Thank you, Charo." The Longoria/Ferrera bit, mocking casual Hollywood racism, was pointed without being sour.
*** Part of why winners were fighting the orchestra for time was because of early show duds like a rambling Jonah Hill playing the bear from The Revenant and something with Lily James and Jamie Foxx that was probably poking fun at the Steve Harvey/Miss Universe thing but wasn't worth forcing real winners to scramble for time. No mirth came from Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling bantering for alpha male status, from Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell doing whatever they did or from the Short Minority Actors diminishing of Ken Jeong and Kevin Hart.
*** Lady Gaga. Sorry. You could tell this meant a lot to her and the singer has been unquestionably compelling on American Horror Story. So maybe the "Lowlight" here is really the voters not sufficiently respecting the second season of Fargo and, in this case, the career-best work from Kirsten Dunst.
*** Ennio Morricone's win for The Hateful Eight couldn't have been more deserving, and the 87-year-old composer deserved better than Quentin Tarantino making the win about himself.
*** Mel Gibson should not have been on this telecast, whether that's on NBC or the show's producers. If Gibson had written, directed or starred in a movie that earned him a position on that stage, that would be one thing. He did not. Instead, he was there as a stunt, nothing more. He was there as a cynical ratings grab, one that probably will have had no impact. Gervais introduced Gibson by referencing previous jokes about the Oscar winner's drunken anti-Semitic rantings and observed, "I blame NBC for this terrible situation. Mel blames... We know who Mel blames." Zing. Mel responded by coming on the stage and observing, "I love seeing Ricky once every three years, because it reminds me to get a colonoscopy." The audience laughed nervously. In this way, Gibson literally brushed off a reminder of his history of hate speech as a minor irritant, a procedure he had to go through to get to be on TV. Mel Gibson came on the Golden Globes knowing, with certainty, that Gervais would joke about this and he didn't care. If Gibson has learned to shrug off well earned pejoratives in order to gain exposure, it becomes somebody else's responsibility not to give him that exposure. There was no excuse for this bad taste approval of Gibson and his past, since Gibson was only there to introduce clips from Mad Max: Fury Road. If, say, Tina Turner had come out as a reminder of the franchise's history of badass women, she would have gotten a standing ovation. Gibson poisoned the show.
*** Gibson also led to a prolonged and bleeped exchange with Gervais, one of possibly a dozen moments of censoring within the telecast. This isn't a call for NBC to forgo the necessary time delay, but the viewing audience managed to miss an awful lot of what the in-person audience enjoyed most. 
And the Gervais of it all:
Ricky Gervais often spoke for the audience as the show droned on, as awards shows inevitably do. His monologue was brief, but occasionally funny, and his intro for the Ferrera/Longoria bit — "They're also two people who your future president Donald Trump can't wait to  deport" — probably topped anything in that monologue. Even if he never should have been put in the position to be introducing Gibson, at least he said what needed to be said, right to the very end ("From myself and Mel Gibson, Shalom"). Tomorrow we'll rant about how mean he is and many months (or years) in the future he'll surely get invited back.