Golden Globes: Political Films Pushed Aside for Personal Tales and Period Pieces

1917, The Irishman, Joker, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes - Publicity stills - Split - H 2019
Courtesy of Films

A year after 'Vice' scored the most Golden Globe nominations, HFPA voters seemed to show a preference for historical sagas and individual stories.

Given the world is currently saturated with an unrelenting news cycle covering the nation's political fractures and urgent social issues, it shouldn't come as a surprise that awards voters are leaning toward movies that take them away from such dire realities. 

Monday's Golden Globe nominations saw historical dramas and tales of personal journeys dominate the top drama and comedy/musical categories, as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association voting body opted for escapism over contemporary reality.

A year after Adam McKay’s acerbic political satire Vice, about former Vice President Dick Cheney, dominated the Golden Globes with six noms, none of the best drama contenders this year are rooted in the broader strokes of politics today. 

Martin Scorsese's mob saga The Irishman, Noah Baumbach's portrait of a contemporary divorce in Marriage Story, Fernando Meirelles' biographical drama The Two Popes, Sam Mendes' war story 1917 and Todd Phillips’ gritty DC villain origin tale Joker are the nominees in the best drama film category.

Notable drama snubs this year include Jay Roach’s Bombshell, about the sexual misconduct allegations against Fox News’ Roger Ailes; Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy, the true story of the wrongful incarceration of a black man; Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency, about a death row prison warden; and Melina Matsoukas' Queen & Slim, about a black couple forced to go on the run after killing a police officer in self-defense.

Meanwhile, the comedy/musical category saw nominations for Quentin Tarantino’s nostalgic Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Craig Brewer’s comedian biopic Dolemite Is My Name, Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit, Rian Johnson’s quirky whodunnit Knives Out and Elton John’s life story in Rocketman. While Jojo Rabbit draws subtle parallels to the rise in white supremacist movements today, it is wrapped into a comedy about a young Nazi boy whose imaginary best friend is a goofy Adolf Hitler.

The 90-plus members of the HFPA don’t overlap with the voting bodies of the industry guilds and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that determine the Oscars, but the Golden Globes give a prominent boost on a major awards platform to Oscar hopefuls. The star-studded ceremony that bestows honors for film and TV will be held Jan. 5 and hosted for the fifth time by Ricky Gervais. (The Golden Globe Awards ceremony is produced by Dick Clark Productions, which shares a parent company with The Hollywood Reporter.)

The HFPA is known to nominate high-profile names, often to draw A-listers to their show. (Who can forget Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp being nominated in 2011 for the critically panned The Tourist?) The voters this year spread the nominations around as Marriage Story led the way with six nods, followed by The Irishman with five, but one streamer did lord above the rest of the studios.

It was just six years ago that Netflix set out to disrupt the landscape of television and film with its foray into original content, starting with the political thriller House of Cards. With Monday's Golden Globes nominations, Netflix's plans for Hollywood domination appeared complete as it landed a leading 17 mentions, including having all four of its contenders in the top drama and comedy/musical categories.

Marriage Story's nods include best drama, best actor for Adam Driver, best actress for Scarlett Johansson and best supporting actress for Laura Dern. Surprisingly, Baumbach was left off the directing shortlist, but did land a nod for best screenplay for the semi-autobiographical tale of a couple weathering an acrimonious divorce.

Meanwhile, Scorsese's mob saga The Irishman picked up five noms, including best drama, best director and best supporting actor for Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. Lead Robert De Niro was left off the actors shortlist, one of the most notable snubs.

The Two Popes earned four noms, all in major categories — best drama, best actor for Jonathan Pryce, best supporting actor for Anthony Hopkins and best screenplay for Anthony McCarten. And then there’s Dolemite Is My Name, about late comedian Rudy Ray Moore and starring Eddie Murphy, which picked up two noms — best motion picture, musical or comedy and best actor in a motion picture, musical or comedy.

Netflix was shut out of one category that it was vying for with two separate contenders — the animated feature race. Nominees this year include Frozen 2How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, The Lion KingMissing Link and Toy Story 4, with Netflix's Klaus and I Lost My Body unable to crack the list. 

With De Niro missing out on the drama acting category, the race will be fought between Driver, Phoenix, Pryce, Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari) and Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory). The drama actress category will see Johansson compete with Cynthia Erivo (Harriet, for which she is also nominated in the original song race), Saoirse Ronan (Little Women), Charlize Theron (Bombshell) and Renee Zellweger (Judy).

The comedy/musical acting categories delivered surprises as Knives Out breakout Ana De Armas joined The Farewell’s Awkwafina, Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein, Late Night’s Emma Thompson and Cate Blanchett for Where’d You Go, Bernadette — with the latter two films having barely registered in the awards conversation.

For comedy/musical lead actor, Murphy is up against Knives Out’s Daniel Craig, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Leonardo DiCaprio, Rocketman’s Taron Egerton and the surprise entry, Jojo Rabbit’s 12-year-old breakout Roman Griffin Davis.

There are fewer surprises in the supporting actor and actress races. It’s the battle of the veterans in the supporting actor category as Pacino, Pesci and Hopkins joins Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Meanwhile, the supporting actress award will see Dern, Margot Robbie (Bombshell), Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers), Annette Bening (The Report) and Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell) contend.

Just two years after Natalie Portman called out the “all-male nominees” in the directing race during the televised 2018 Golden Globes ceremony, once again female helmers are notably missing. The category sees Scorsese, Mendes, Phillips and Tarantino alongside Parasite’s Bong Joon Ho. Snubs include Baumbach as well as female filmmakers including Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Alma Har’el (Honey Boy), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers) and Olivia Wilde (Booksmart).

The screenplay category also saw an absence of female talent — contenders include Baumbach; Tarantino; Parasite’s Bong and Han Jin Won; The Two Popes' Anthony McCarten; and The Irishman’s Steven Zallian.

Due to the HFPA’s language rules that exclude films with more than 50 percent non-English dialogue from its drama and comedy/musical picture categories, Parasite and The Farewell will both compete in the foreign-language film category along with Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory and the French films Les Miserables and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.