NEW YORK >> With homebound nominees appearing by remote video and hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on different sides of the country, a very socially distanced 78th Golden Globe Awards trudged on in the midst of the pandemic and amid a storm of criticism for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, with top awards going to “Nomadland,” “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” “The Crown” and “Schitt’s Creek.”
The night’s top award, best picture drama, went to Chloé Zhao’s elegiac road movie “Nomadland,” a Western set across economic upheaval and personal grief. Zhao, the China-born filmmaker of, became the first woman of Asian descent to win best director. She’s only the second woman in the history of the Globes to win, and the first since Barbra Streisand won for “Yentl” in 1984.
“’Nomadland at its core for me is a pilgrimage through grief and healing,” said Zhao, accepting the awards remotely. “For everyone who has gone through this difficult and beautiful journey at some point in their lives, this is for you.”
With a canceled red carpet and stars giving speeches from the couch, Sunday’s Globes had little of their typically frothy flavor. But they went on, nevertheless, with winners in sweats and dogs in laps, in a pandemic that has sapped nearly all the glamour out of Hollywood.
Facing scant traditional studio competition, streaming services dominated the Globes like never before — even if the top award went to a familiar if renamed source: Searchlight Pictures, the now Disney-owned specialty label behind “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman.”
Amazon’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” — one of the few nominated films shot partly during the pandemic — won best film, comedy or musical. Its star, guerilla comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, also won best actor in a comedy. Referring to Rudy Giuliani’s infamous cameo, Baron Cohen thanked “a fresh new talent who came from nowhere and turned out to be a comedy genius.”
“I mean, who could get more laughs from one unzipping,” he said.
Netflix, which came in with a commanding 42 nominations, won the top TV awards. “The Crown,” as expected, took best drama series, along with acting wins for Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles), Emma Corrin (Princess Diana) and Gillian Anderson (Margaret Thatcher). “The Queen’s Gambit” won best limited series, and best actress in the category for Anya Taylor-Joy. “Schitt’s Creek,” the Pop TV series that found a wider audience on Netflix, won best comedy series for its final season. Catherine O’Hara also took best actress in a comedy series.
Chadwick Boseman, as expected, posthumously won best actor in a drama film for his final performance, in the August Wilson adaptation “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” — a Netflix release. Boseman’s wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, tearfully, emotionally accepted the award.
“He would thank God. He would thank his parents. He would thank his ancestors for their guidance and their sacrifices,” said Ledward. “He would say something beautiful, something inspiring.”
Apple TV+ scored its first major award when a sweatshirt-clad Jason Sudeikis won best actor in a comedy series for the streamer’s “Ted Lasso.”
The NBC telecast began in split screen. Fey took the stage at New York’s Rainbow Room while Poehler remained at the Globes’ usual home at the Beverly Hilton. In their opening remarks, they managed their typically well-timed back-and-forth despite being almost 3,000 miles from each other.
“I always knew my career would end with me wandering around the Rainbow Room pretending to talk to Amy,” said Fey. “I just thought it would be later.”
They appeared before masked attendees but no stars. Instead, the sparse tables — where Hollywood royalty are usually crammed together and plied with alcohol during the show — were occupied by “smoking-hot first responders and essential workers,” as Fey said.
In a production nightmare but one that’s become familiar during the pandemic, the night’s first winner accepted his award while muted. Only after presenter Laura Dern apologized for the technical difficulties did Daniel Kaluuya, who won best supporting actor for his performance as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” get his speech in. When he finally came through, he wagged his finger at the camera and said, “You’re doing me dirty!”
Pandemic improvising was only part of the damage control for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which puts on the Globes. After The Los Angeles Times revealed that there are no Black members in the 87-person voting body of the HFPA, the press association came under mounting pressure to overhaul itself and better reflect the industry it holds sway in.
This year, none of the most acclaimed Black-led films — “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “One Night in Miami,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Da 5 Bloods” — were nominated for the Globes’ best picture award. With the HFPA potentially fighting for its Hollywood life, Sunday’s Globes were part apology tour. Fey and Poehler started in quickly on the issue.
“Look, a lot of flashy garbage got nominated but that happens,” said Poehler. “That’s like their thing. But a number of Black actors and Black-led projects were overlooked.”
Within the first half hour of the NBC telecast, members of the press association appeared on stage to pledge change. “We recognize we have our own work to do,” said vice president Helen Hoehne. “We must have Black journalists in our organization.”
Whether those statements — along with a diverse group of winners — did enough to remedy anything remained unclear. The moment the show ended, Time’s Up sent letters to both the HFPA and NBCUniveral demanding more. “The Globes are no longer golden. It’s time to act,” wrote Tina Tchen, the group’s president.
COVID-19 circumstances led to some award-show anomalies. Mark Ruffalo, appearing remotely, won best actor in a limited series for “I Know This Much Is True” with his kids celebrating behind him and his wife, Sunrise Coigney, sitting alongside.
Lee Isaac Chung, writer-director of the tender Korean-American family drama “Minari” (a movie the HFPA was criticized for ruling ineligible for its top award because of its non-English dialogue), accepted the award for best foreign language film while his young daughter embraced him. “She’s the reason I made this film,” said Chung.
John Boyega, supporting actor winner for his performance in Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology, raised his leg to show he was wearing track pants below his more elegant white jacket. Jodie Foster (“The Mauritanian”) won one of the biggest surprise Globes, for best supporting actress in a film, while, sitting on the couch next her wife, Alexandra Hedison, and with her dog, Ziggy on her lap.
Even if speeches sometimes lacked drama without Hollywood gathered in one place, representation was a common refrain. Pointedly referring to the diversity of the HFPA, presenter and previous winner Sterling K. Brown began, “Thank you. It is great to be Black at the Golden Globes,” he said. “Back.”
Jane Fonda, the Cecil B. DeMille Award honoree, spoke passionately about expanding the big tent of entertainment for all. “Art has always been not just in step with history but has lead the way,” said Fonda. “So let’s be leaders.”
Other awards included Pixar’s “Soul” for best animated film; Rosumund Pike took best actress in a comedy or musical film for “I Care a Lot”; Aaron Sorkin (“Trial of the Chicago 7”) for best screenplay; and, in the night’s biggest surprise, Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) for best actress in a drama, besting Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) and Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”).
Despite considerable pre-show backlash, the Globes have persisted because of their popularity (the show ranks as the third most-watched award show, after the Oscars and Grammys), their profitability (NBC paid $60 million for broadcast rights in 2018) and because they serve as important marketing material for contending films and Oscar hopefuls.
The Academy Awards will be held April 25.