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Nomineering, Week 1: The Golden Globes are bullshit, but they're interesting bullshit

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Welcome to Nomineering, where we take a weekly look at the news and stories behind the most lavish, high-budget spectacle the film industry has to offer: Oscar season. No matter how you feel about them, awards are one of the key ways to gut check what Hollywood itself thinks is important, with winning films often opening doors and setting the agenda for which kind of movies will be made in the coming years — and which ones won’t. From the surprise nominations that foretell an upset, to the last minute surges that see the most unlikely of films, um, crash into a Best Picture win, Nomineering tells the story from the beginning of the year all the way until the ceremony itself. This week we’re taking a look at the drunk frat party to the Oscars’ winter formal, this Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards.

Pretty much any Hollywood awards show can be categorized as a self-aggrandizing display of narcissism, but nothing lives up to that description quite like the Golden Globes. The show, which will feature three-time host Ricky Gervais this year, has been going on so long that it’s easy to just take it for granted; to assume the Globes are awarded by some people, somewhere, that have some sort of authority in the films and television shows they’re honoring. After all, when somebody wins an Oscar or an Emmy, they’re being directly celebrated by somebody else in their community of writers, directors, actors, and artists. But when they win a Golden Globe… not so much.

A made-up award presented by a made-up group

The group behind the Golden Globes is the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and if that sounds like a made up name that’s because it pretty much is. The HFPA, which according to its own PR is made up of international entertainment writers that live in Los Angeles, was invented out of thin air by a bunch of writers back in 1943 and immediately started handing out awards. Today’s HFPA is made up of just around 90 people, with little to no journalistic or critical credibility (seriously, just take a look at this list), and requires prospective new members to provide just four written pieces of work to apply. That’s about the same amount you need to cover Comic-Con.

Over the last 30 years, the pretense of acting like the Golden Globes have credibility has imbued the show with a kind of raucous energy — and the free-flowing booze certainly helps get people in the room. Hammered celebrities and slurred presentation speeches aren’t just an occasional spectacle, they’re part of the experience — so common that hosts regularly work it into their routines. And really, who wouldn’t want a free drink at some point during three hours of pretending to care about a made-up award being presented by a made-up group that exists primarily to collect licensing fees from NBC? Or whose members (allegedly) take kick-backs so movies like The Tourist can feel good about themselves? The party atmosphere is no doubt appropriately amped by the fact that the HFPA loves to nominate everybody, doubling the number of people up for its top awards by divvying things into dramatic and musical/comedy categories. (You may have been surprised, for example, to learn that The Martian is a comedy.)

Who wouldn't want a free drink?

So, basically, the Golden Globes are bullshit… except for when they’re not. Whether it’s due to first-mover influence or the fact that Hollywood settles on its favorites earlier than the Oscars want you to believe, the Golden Globes have become a remarkable bellwether for the Academy Awards. It’s particularly true in the acting categories, where over the last 10 years the Oscar winners for best actor, best actress, and best supporting actor have taken home Globes nine times each. The Globes have predicted the Oscar winner for best actor, actress, and supporting actor nine times each. Things are a bit more spotty when it comes to Best Picture and director (four times each), but it’s a remarkable trend that makes the show worth paying attention to despite the absurd premise at its very core. Kicking off the year even lets the Globes break new ground in TV from time to time, with Transparent winning its first awards from the HFPA nine months before the Emmys gave the show its due.

Everybody loves voting for a winner, and it’s the ability of the Golden Globes to drive the awards season narrative that makes them required viewing — to see if Brie Larson will cement her Oscar front-runner status for her nuanced performance in Room, or if Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn in The Revenant can help him start a triumphant march toward the Dolby Theater on February 28th. But however and wherever you watch it, just remember two things: bring a drink, and don’t take it too seriously.

Stories to help you get ready for Sunday:

Golden Globes 2016: Here are the nominees
All the names you need to watch on Sunday.

Who exactly picks the Golden Globes winners?
A look at the people you’ve never heard of that make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. (Vulture)

Are the Golden Globes trying to one-up the Oscars with Ricky Gervais?
"His hiring can still be viewed as a small poke in the eye (or, since this is Gervais, call it a middle-finger salute) to the film academy." (Los Angeles Times)

Catch up with our reviews of some of the nominated films:

Mad Max: Fury Road is the future of pulp

The Revenant is a brutal, showy revenge fantasy

Room: The staggering power of horror and hope

In Spotlight, old-school journalism is its own kind of thrill ride

The Big Short is The Wolf of Wall Street with a conscience

Joy is joyless, and easily David O. Russell's worst film

With The Martian Ridley Scott puts the science back in sci-fi