Which Lighthearted Films Will Shine at the Golden Globes?

Illustration By Matt Collins

To say the Golden Globe Awards aren't always taken seriously is probably something of an understatement. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association's annual ceremony seems forever fated to play second fiddle to the Academy Awards. While the Globes are celebrating a big birthday this season, turning 75, the Oscars can boast of celebrating an even bigger one, their 90th. And even though the Beverly Hilton ballroom, where the Globes are held, accommodates only a few hundred people, whereas the Dolby Theatre seats thousands for the Oscars, the Oscars are still the hotter ticket. Winning a Globe may be great, but the HFPA has made some dubious choices in the past, and a Globe trophy will never have the cachet of an Oscar.

That being said, the Globes don't shy away from their free-wheeling, "let's kick up our heels and have a ball" image. The ceremony is meant to be fun, with attendees seated at circular tables piled high with food and booze (hence the looseness), in contrast to the far stuffier Oscars, where nervous nominees sit tightly packed into rows of theater seats and the only nibbles are available in the lobby (unless, like this past February, they drop from the ceiling). Even more significantly, the HFPA hosts a far more inclusive event, not just in terms of the demographics of the nominees and the mediums in which they work (both film and TV are celebrated), but in terms of genres: At the Globes, there are best picture prizes for dramas and, separately, musicals and comedies, along with two sets of best actor and best actress awards.

As a result, many more films get invited to the party. And whereas the Academy tends to be rather humorless in its selections, the Globes often give more lighthearted movies their moment in the sun.

The Academy can nominate as many as 10 films for best picture, but also as few as five. And right now, it looks as if there are exactly five films that are safe bets for Oscar nominations: Christopher Nolan's World War II flick, Dunkirk; Guillermo del Toro's fantasy love story, The Shape of Water; Joe Wright's Churchill profile, Darkest Hour; Martin McDonagh's small-town revenge fable, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; and Jordan Peele's subversive look at race in America, Get Out.

The first four also could end up in the Globes' best drama category, but Get Out, which has satirical elements, has been submitted to the Globes in the musical or comedy category. (Somewhat surprisingly, Three Billboards, a darkly funny movie, has been submitted as a drama.)

The HFPA does reserve the right to reclassify a film that it feels has been misplaced. In recent years, it has OK'd relatively serious fare — Almost Famous, Lost in Translation, Sideways, Walk the Line and The Martian — in its musical or comedy classification and allowed some relatively funny fare — Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained — to be classified as dramatic. But efforts to secure a musical or comedy classification for True Grit, Get On Up and Cake all were rejected, as were efforts to secure a drama classification for The Tourist. An HFPA committee will make this year's final determinations on Nov. 13.

In the meantime, though, just for the sake of argument, let's assume the Academy nominates the maximum of 10 films for best picture this season. At the moment, I believe that those other five would probably be Sean Baker's snapshot of recession-era poverty, The Florida Project; Greta Gerwig's coming-of-age story, Lady Bird; Aaron Sorkin's based-on-a-true-story thriller, Molly's Game; Luca Guadagnino's gay love story, Call Me by Your Name; and Dee Rees' period piece, Mudbound. Of those five, Lady Bird is the only one that has been entered as a musical or comedy at the Globes.

So, as usual, the Globes will get to spotlight, with a best picture (musical or comedy) nomination, a number of lighter films that are not currently among the best picture Oscar frontrunners. And this year, considering that Globe nominations will be announced Dec. 11 and Globe winners will be unveiled Jan. 7, the HFPA could well motivate Academy members to pay closer attention to Globe nominees since Oscar nomination voting doesn't begin until Jan. 5 and runs all the way through Jan. 12.

So, what movies could stake a claim at the Globes as comedy/musical contenders? In addition to Get Out and Lady Bird, I suspect — based on conversations with HFPA members and familiarity with their past preferences — that the other three nominees will be Michael Showalter's cross-cultural dramedy The Big Sick, Craig Gillespie's unconventional biopic I, Tonya and Alexander Payne's futuristic Downsizing.

Alternate options include Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' appreciation of Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes, Bill Condon's live-action musical Beauty and the Beast, Stephen Frears' historical reclamation Victoria & Abdul, Noah Baumbach's melancholy family portrait The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) — or perhaps Michael Gracey's still forthcoming showbiz musical The Greatest Showman about the legendary P.T. Barnum.

Those, and other fine musicals or comedies that might otherwise slip under the radar of Academy members, also will be highlighted among the nominations for the acting Globes for musical and/or comedy work.

The performances that currently look as if they are on track to land best actor Oscar nominations all hail from dramas, making it all the more important for hopefuls from musicals or comedies to land a Globe nom.

The top candidates for the Globes' best actor in a musical or comedy include James Franco for The Disaster Artist, in which he portrays D-movie maker Tommy Wiseau; Downsizing's Matt Damon; The Big Sick's Kumail Nanjiani; Battle of the Sexes' Steve Carell; and Meyerowitz's Adam Sandler. (We'll have to wait and see whether the The Greatest Showman's Hugh Jackman makes enough of an impression to make the cut.)

Longer shots include Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya, The Leisure Seeker's Donald Sutherland (the screen legend received an honorary Oscar on Nov. 11), Baby Driver's Ansel Elgort (the HFPA often gravitates toward hot, young up-and-comers) and American Made's Tom Cruise (the Globes love nothing more than an A-lister).

On the distaff side of the equation, two of the five likeliest Oscar nominees at the moment are, indeed, slam dunks to also score best actress (musical or comedy) noms: I, Tonya's Margot Robbie and Lady Bird's Saoirse Ronan.

As for the remaining three Globe slots? It's going to be a nail-biter. Possibilities include the two Emmas: defending champion Stone (she won in January for La La Land and returns to contention for Battle of the Sexes) and never-before-nominated Watson (Beauty and the Beast); British grand dames Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul) and Helen Mirren (The Leisure Seeker), each of whom already has multiple Globes on her mantelpiece; Beatriz at Dinner's Salma Hayek, who previously was Globe-nominated 15 years ago; and two up-and-comers in the running for popular 2017 movies, The Big Sick's Zoe Kazan and Get Out's Allison Williams.

Not everyone will agree with the HFPA's eventual selections, of course. But I think we all can agree that, during such dark times in Hollywood and across America, we can all use a good musical or comedy, now as much as ever.

This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.