The most shocking surprise was the Globe love for "Argo." Not only did Ben Affleck's third effort behind the camera win an upset in Best Director over veterans Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Ang Lee, and Quentin Tarantino, but it also won the night's top prize, Best Motion Picture Drama, over such favored films as "Lincoln," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Django Unchained," and "Life of Pi."
Granted, "Argo" had been a strong awards contender ever since its release in October. But the true-life spy thriller was upstaged by the other, more recent films in this category, particularly "Lincoln" and "ZDT," which have dominated critics' awards over the last month, not to mention the Oscar nominations last week.
Both of those movies were frontrunners for Best Drama and Best Director, with "ZDT" having a slight edge of momentum in both categories. Indeed, "Lincoln" star Daniel Day-Lewis and "ZDT" star Jessica Chastain both won Globes for Best Dramatic Actor and Actress, as expected. It's astonishing to learn that, even after all the kudos for "Lincoln" and "ZDT," the critical support for "Argo" remained so deep.
As Affleck himself noted in his acceptance speech, his award meant a snub for a lot of worthy directors, and not just the ones he was nominated against. He cited Paul Thomas Anderson, who failed to score a nod for "The Master"; the Globe voters also snubbed Tom Hooper ("Les Miserables"), Wes Anderson ("Moonrise Kingdom") and David O. Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook").
Also unexpected were the prizes for "Django Unchained." "This is a damn surprise, and I'm happy to be surprised," said Quentin Tarantino when he won the Best Screenplay award. In his category, "Lincoln" and "ZDT" were again frontrunners, with Mark Boal's original screenplay for the counter-terrorism thriller, based on his own reporting, having a slight edge over Broadway playwright Tony Kushner's adapted screenplay, based on a biography of the 16th president. Also snubbed were Russell's adapted screenplay for "Playbook" (based on the novel) and Chris Terrio's adapted screenplay for "Argo" (based on the memoir by Tony Mendez, the CIA operative played by Affleck in the movie, who was a presenter Sunday night at the Globes).
"Django" also won a Globe for Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz. This was the hardest category to predict, with no contenders standing out as frontrunners, though Tommy Lee Jones may have had a slight advantage just for being part of the "Lincoln" groundswell. In fact, if an award were to go to a supporting actor in "Django," it might just as easily have gone to fellow nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (who has gone largely unrecognized at the Globes and Oscars, while Waltz was a big winner three years ago for Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"), or Samuel L. Jackson (who was snubbed by not even being nominated for a Globe). Waltz's win meant a snub not just for Jones or his own fellow cast members, but also for Alan Arkin ("Argo") and Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master").
The only other real surprise among the movie prizes was the award for Best Original Score. "Lincoln" love and his own status as the dean of modern-day film composers could easily have landed the award for John Williams. Instead, the prize went to Mychael Danna, winning his first Globe for his instrumental music for "Life of Pi." Snubbed here was Alexandre Desplat (perhaps the most in-demand of contemporary film composers) for his work on "Argo." The other also-rans were "Anna Karenina" composer Dario Marianelli and the "Cloud Atlas" team of Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil.
To be sure, it's hard to begrudge the Globe voters any of their choices this year. The winners are all worthy, and with 2012 such a top-notch year for films, there were several categories where someone good was bound to be slighted.