The Golden Globes are sketchy and ridiculous — and I kind of love them anyway

Is any awards show more useless? Or more entertaining?

Ricky Gervais will host the Golden Globes for the fourth time.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

You don't need to look hard to find reasons to hate the Golden Globes, which will be awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association on Sunday. They're obnoxiously self-congratulatory. The categories don't make any sense. They're sketchy at best, and corrupt at worst. They're about to inflict Ricky Gervais on us for the fourth time in six years.

In the plodding grind of the annual awards season trail, the Globes ceremony is the eye-rollingest stop of all: a ridiculous ceremony in which a voting bloc of 90-some people you've never heard of hand out dinky golden statues to celebrities you have, who dutifully show up in gowns and tuxedos to accept the dubious honor.

All of these complaints about the Golden Globes, and many, many more, have been laid out in painstaking and accurate detail on many websites (including this one). But over the years, my personal feelings about the HFPA have softened. The Golden Globes are undeniably sketchy and ridiculous. But if you can take the Globes for what they are — and appreciate their bizarre place in the whole awards show circuit — you can start to enjoy them.

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So what's good about the Golden Globes? Let's start with the atmosphere. The HFPA's website says the ceremony "combines the intimacy and spontaneity of a party for several hundred of film and TV's finest with the drama and anticipation of a live, worldwide-televised event" — and while they're exaggerating the bits about intimacy, spontaneity, drama, and anticipation, they're definitely not wrong about the party part.

At the Oscars or the Emmys, celebrities who want to drink end up sneaking in flasks or waiting for the afterparty. At the Globes, alcohol flows freely, and by the end of the night, it usually shows. (In a characteristic bit of retroactive myth-making, the HFPA now conflates this potentially embarrassing feature with the old-schoool glamour of the Rat Pack, citing a moment at the 1958 ceremony when Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. hopped onto the stage — whiskey and cigarettes in hand — to wrestle control of the ceremony from the journalists who were conferring the honors.)

Today, careful viewers can spend the whole show playing spot-the-boozy-celebrity, with instantly GIF-able results:

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, like the Globes themselves, is a total mess. Their official membership roster is listed at "about 90" journalists, as if they couldn't be bothered to count how many people vote on the awards every year. And they can't even get the details of their flagship awards ceremony right. The website's trivia page says that the oldest male actor to win a Golden Globe was Henry Fonda, then 76, for On Golden Pond in 1982. That's totally wrong; 82-year-old Christopher Plummer is the oldest male actor to take home a Globe, for 2011's Beginners.

All these lunkheaded, easily avoided screw-ups point to a simple truth that these kinds of organizations would prefer you overlook: All of them are just a collection of individual people, and many of those people are incredibly ill-informed. Critics and pundits tend to talk about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, which awards the Oscars every year, as a generic, monolithic group.

But if you do some digging, you'll find no shortage of reasons to distrust voters' motives. Anonymous members happily explain that they don't even bother to see most of the movies they're voting on, or confess that they just vote for their buddies. Occasionally, a voter will openly break the omerta to reveal the broader internal biases that are truly at work in your average awards ceremony — as in 2005, when Ernest Borgnine revealed that he refused to watch then-Best Picture frontrunner Brokeback Mountain, and that many of his colleagues felt the same way.

Award-show revelations rarely come with that level of frankness, so it takes an event like the Globes — where the voting body is so small that it can actually be swayed by something as nakedly mercenary as an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas — to remind us that all of this nonsense is even more meaningless than it first appears.

But my warped affection for the Globes isn't all schadenfreude. The HFPA's unusually small and idiosyncratic membership means that the Golden Globes are the likeliest place to see a truly under-sung film or TV or performance get some well-deserved recognized. Everyone — including me — likes to lampoon the HFPA for its worst lapses, like when it was essentially bribed into giving a Golden Globe to someone as horrendously undeserving as Butterfly's Pia Zadora.

But the nominees are rarely that egregious. Take this year's unusually diverse, unusually talented crop of nominees. Where else are you going to see a Best Picture nomination for a movie like Spy or Trainwreck? What are the odds that the Oscar stage will hold a trophy for under-appreciated performances by Mark Ruffalo (Infinitely Polar Bear) or Lily Tomlin (Grandma) or Michael Shannon (99 Homes)? And if attention from the Globes can earn more viewers for TV shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or Master of None or Show Me a Hero, can the ceremony really be so easily dismissed?

In the end, there's only one truly valuable function that an awards show can have: the ability to highlight a piece of great art and shower it with attention and praise. And if the HFPA can manage to do that on Sunday night, they'll have earned my begrudging respect for the year.

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