You know the refrain by now: the Golden Globes are about as relevant as your drunk uncle's political insights at Christmas dinner. Ricky Gervais' triumphant return as host after torching Hollywood royalty with his acetylene tongue last year just confirms it. Even the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is willing to let the Globes be one giant joke -- as long as Angelina Jolie shows up. In truth, considering the subpar year in cinema, the most exciting moment of the night may be Robert Downey, Jr. cold-cocking Gervais when the cheeky Brit calls Jude Law... well, who knows what he'll call Jude Law. That's why I'll be watching. But the truth is for once, if you're the kind of bottom-of-the-barrel gambling addict who likes to play the spread on the Oscars, the Golden Globes might kind-of, sort-of, mean something.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm sure the Hollywood Foreign Press still runs the Globes with all the integrity of a Central Asian republic. (Although this year, more nominations do seem designed to shine limelight on tragically overlooked films, like We Need to Talk About Kevin, Albert Nobbs, and The Guard.) So, predicting Oscar wins off Globes victories themselves would be shaky science. Nonetheless this year's Oscar race still feels wide open, and Academy members, for all their out-of-touch eccentricities, are highly impressionable. Chances are they haven't even thought about half those studio screeners lodged between the sofa cushions or being used to prop up the kitchen table. And even if the average member cared enough to check the web for up-to-the-minute horse-race coverage, the various critics' societies have been far from unanimous. The National Society of Film Critics just named Lars Von Trier's depression-inducing Melancholia as the Best Picture of the year.
Think about it a second: the film that the experts agree has the best odds is The Artist -- a black and white, French silent film that was a hit at Cannes! When's the last time you read the words "French" and "Oscar" in the same sentence other than on a Lunchables? In any other year, that would be the long shot, even with Generalissimo Weinstein damning the torpedoes. There are also more head-to-head races than ever this year. Who gets Best Actor: Brad Pitt for making baseball sexy or George Clooney for making himself unsexy? Or how about Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer for coming out of the closet in Beginners or Albert Brooks for dumping a body back in it in Drive? Even if it seems that an artful crowd-pleaser like The Artist must win Best Picture, you can't ignore the meaty honesty of Alexander Payne's The Descendants, or the fact that The Help was one of the most talked about and profitable dramas in a while. In fact, with prestigious Pixar's subpar Cars 2 competing against Gore Verbinski's imaginative Rango, even the snooze-fest that is Best Animated Feature is up for grabs.
In fact, thanks to the new Oscar voting rules, we don't even know how many pictures will get nominated for Best Picture -- it could be anywhere between five and ten. Academy members, like hyperactive kindergartners, need structure. I wouldn't be surprised if they just filled in their nomination ballots with the last ten films in their Netflix queues. Deprive them of any trace of herd-mentality groupthink, and they'll be looking at anything for a clue. And like the rest of us, even they want to see Ricky Gervais stick their frenemies' feet over the fire Sunday. So they will be watching the Globes. And in between all the uncomfortable laughter and awkward silences, they might actually start making up their minds.