BOSTON — Everyone knows the real reason to watch the Golden Globes. They serve booze, so the stars get good and soused and sometimes say something funny — or do something funny, like when Liz Taylor started to name the best picture winner before she had even listed the nominees.
The Golden Globes have never been taken as seriously as the Oscars, at least not since 1958 when Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack hijacked the stage with high-balls in hand and gave everyone a show to remember.
The air of revelry tells us as much about American culture as do any of the films featured at the event. But there is also a global message to be heard.
For starters, the event is run by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which is made up of journalists who cover the U.S. entertainment industry for outlets abroad. It's about bringing Hollywood to the world.
It's also about bringing the world to Hollywood. A quick glance at the five films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film takes us from post-World War II Russia ("The Edge") to turn of the millennium in Milan ("I Am Love") to a refugee camp in today's Sudan ("In A Better World.")
Before you plunk down this Sunday evening to watch the event itself, hear from GlobalPost correspondents, who give global context to these films (as well as "The King's Speech," up for best drama):
"The King's Speech" (U.K.): No one is shocked when a British film gets a Golden Globe or Oscar nomination. It's expected there will be British representation among the nominees for Hollywood's big kudos.
Certainly "The King's Speech" fits the bill. Who does costume drama with pithy dialogue and effortlessly elegant performances better than the Brits? The film's star Colin Firth is a probable winner, and Helena Bonham Carter stands a good chance as well in the supporting actress category.
Costume dramas and punchy action comedies about London criminals make up the bulk of Britain's film industry, plus serious auteur dramas from a handful of filmmakers: Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Stephen Frears.
But other than that the world tends not to know about British films. Which is a shame because the country is chock full of film talent. Heard of Shane Meadows? Only if you're a real cinephile. Seen "Down Terrace"? Thought not. Local movie theaters are always overflowing with American movies. Homegrown work that doesn't fit into the above categories struggles to get seen.
Shared language is the blessing and curse of the British film industry. The blessing is American filmgoers don't like subtitles, so British films have an easy time gaining traction. They aren't consigned to the oblivion of the Best Foreign Language Film category.
The curse is that talented British directors, writers, cinematographers, designers as well as actors all can find work in the United States. It often seems that the British film industry's headquarters runs east-west, north of Sunset Boulevard and south of Mullholland Drive. For example, before Tom Hooper, director of The King's Speech, came to Golden Globe attention he had already won Hollywood's notice as the director of the HBO series "John Adams." British brothers Ridley Scott and Tony Scott have offices in London but no one thinks they do their deals here.
The King's Speech is the "British" film expected to win some gold over the next 60 days. But other Brits thought to have a chance at an award this year include Danny Boyle, director of "127 hours," and "Inception" director, Christopher Nolan. Roger Deakins, the Coen brothers regular cinematographer, should get nominated for "True Grit."
The list of top-flight talent is too long to go into here but you get the point. This year it is The King's Speech, next year it will be something else. Probably with Helen Mirren or Judi Dench or Ian McKellen, written by Julian Fellowes or Tom Stoppard, directed by Stephen Frears or Ken Loach or Mike Leigh ... etc.
"The Edge" (Russia): To many, World War II ravaged the world in a bygone era. But in Russia, it’s a saga that is very much still alive. Little wonder then that Russia’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Golden Globes (and likely Oscar candidate) is “The Edge,” a sweeping drama that unfolds in the dark years following the war’s end.
Russia is still struggling to come to grips with its past — was World War II the epitome of Russian glory and bravado? Or did the bloody Stalinist era that followed it forever blight the country’s effort? Good and evil aren’t clear, and they certainly aren’t in director Alexei Uchitel’s film either.
The film, released in Russia in September, opened on the big screen with little fanfare — especially when compared to the veritable circus that surrounded the release of "Burnt by the Sun 2," sequel to the film that won director Nikita Mikhalkov an Oscar in 1994.
Mikhalkov is best buddies with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s all-powerful prime minister, and was given limitless funds and press attention. But the film was panned by critics, who noted its over-sentimentality, bad acting and factual inaccuracies, among other horrors.
Uchitel’s film is said to succeed where Mikhalkov’s failed — keeping the blockbuster special effects but adding nuance and humility to a dark and complicated subject. As the film’s hero, a former tank driver named Ignat, finds his way through post-war life in a Siberian settlement peopled by so-called “enemies of the state” — those who somehow (or somehow didn’t) offend the Stalinist regime — he stumbles into love affairs that are grim reminders of the recent past. He’s been driven to the edge of the world, and the edge of existence.
It all sounds very depressing — but would it be a true example of Russian culture if it didn’t?
"Biutiful" (Mexico): It’s a world of complicated connections; tragic tears; repressive regimes; pained protagonists; harrowed anti-heroes; struggling souls; and melancholy moments.
Such is the universe that Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu paints in his first trilogy of feature films — "Amores Perros," "21 Grams" and "Babel" — and this lurid landscape takes on a new vivid form in his fourth movie "Biutiful" (from the Spanish pronunciation of "beautiful.")
Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu at the London Film Festival on Oct. 26, 2010 in London.
This time his tale is told in Barcelona, Spain, among immigrant workers, poor Spaniards and broken families. At the center of these beautifully shot mean streets is acclaimed actor Javier Bardem, a hustler and single father dying of cancer.
But the issues explored in the drama — of immigration, fatherhood, repentance — could be playing out in Mexico City, Los Angeles or London. It’s a story about the raw human condition.
Gonzalez Inarritu’s uncompromising style provokes a broad variety of reactions. Some (including actor Sean Penn) think he is a genius among the best directors on the planet. Others complain he is just depressing — though perhaps they don’t quite get the optimism in his film’s melancholy conclusions.
In his native Mexico, the 47-year-old Gonzalez Inarritu is celebrated as the most important national director of his generation. Amores Perros in 2000 put new Mexican cinema on the map, signaling a revival of the golden age that the industry enjoyed in the 1940s and 1950s when actors such as Pedro Infante shone on the silver screen.
Since that debut filmed in Mexico City, Gonzalez Inarritu has taken his movies to international locations, from Tokyo to San Diego to Morocco and brought in big name stars including Brad Pitt and Benicio del Toro.
But his use of the global stage has not undermined his popularity at home. He premiered Biutiful at the Morelia film festival to a hero's welcome. And the movie — which some argue is his best work — sparked renewed hopes that a Mexican cinematic vision could finally gain the top prizes.
I Am Love" (Italy): It is telling that Luca Gudagnino's haute-bourgeoisie drama, “I Am Love,” grossed much more in the United States — more than $5 million — than it did in his native Italy, where it earned a mere $310,000.
The movie, starring Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, who also co-produced it, had a mixed reception at the Venice film festival last March. Both rapturous applause and raucous boos marked the end of the screening.
I Am Love went on to receive mostly negative reviews by Italian critics, who said the screenplay didn't live up to the ambition of its direction, and the film passed almost unnoticed in Italian cinemas.
Thirty-nine-year-old director Luca Guadagnini is no darling of the Italian film establishment. Apart from two previous works with Swinton, his only major exploit had been “Melissa P.”, the dramatization of a scandalous teen novel that was voted the worst Italian movie of its decade.
But I Am Love, with its decidedly old-European style, appealed to the masses in the United States. For this film set at the turn of the millennium Milan, Guadagnini took his cue from high-society dramas — such as Luchino Visconti's — with glamorous villas, designer clothes and a profusion of rich, elegantly-presented cuisine.
But it is perhaps when the story takes a contemporary turn that it strikes its most poignant note of all. When the wealthy Recchi family becomes strained by rivalries after the death of its founder, it risks losing the family business to British investors. Their dilemma is one often faced by Italian companies today that find themselves too small to compete on a global scale.
"The Concert" (France): Given the gravity of topics addressed in "The Concert" — anti-Semitism, censorship, alcoholism and despair — it’s hard to think of the film as a pick-me-up. But the laugh-out-loud moments in this French-Russian gem suggest otherwise.
Its dark humor stems from a slew of stereotypes: Russian debauchery, French grumpiness, Jewish greed masquerading as entrepreneurship. But director Radu Mihaileanu — a Jewish Romanian who emigrated from Israel to France, where Jews were not always welcomed and which still struggles with its anti-Semitic past — lends a poignant twist to what would otherwise be cringe-worthy stereotypes.
The Concert centers on Andrei Filipov, a despondent former Bolshoi conductor who was disgraced mid-performance for defying orders in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union to dismiss his Jewish musicians. Thirty years later, when the Bolshoi is invited to perform at the prestigious Theatre de Chatelet in Paris, Filipov, now a janitor in the same theater where he was once lauded, devises a scheme to finish the concert cut short all those years before. Nevermind he must first reunite the old gang and pass them off as the real thing.
Fifty-five passports later — doctored by a band of colorful gypsies — this motley crew is in the City of Light experiencing its culture and the freedoms that come with having some spending money in their pockets.
In the final sequence, the orchestra finally comes together to play expert Tchaikovsky, accompanied by a French violin soloist with real-life Jewish ancestry, that lasts more than 12 minutes and underscores why the film won Best Original Score and Best Sound at the 2010 Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars.
So much about this film is over the top but the emotions it evokes are real. The musicians play the most refined works yet live broken lives of unfulfilled ambition. As they begin to travel in style and shed their old drab clothes in favor of brightly colored ones, we bask in their glory.
For these characters — and no doubt for a Jewish immigrant in France — there is triumph in being in on the joke.
"In a Better World" (Denmark): “In a Better World" is a fast-paced mix of family drama and thriller. Anton, a Swedish doctor, splits his time between his work at a Sudanese refugee camp, and his home in Denmark, where his marriage is on the rocks and his son is being picked on at school. In these two very different worlds, he and his family are faced with conflicts that lead them to difficult choices between revenge and forgiveness.
Danish papers praised In A Better World as a major hit, one of two films to have sold more than 400,000 tickets at the cinema in Denmark in 2010. It was also awarded best picture at the 2010 International Film Festival in Rome.
But in Sudan, the film was protested as racist and anti-Muslim. Sudan’s Department of Foreign Affairs said the film gives people the wrong idea about the Darfur region. Sudanese authorities said the movie was in the same vein as the Muhammad cartoons that incensed Danish Muslims and were cited as a motivating factor behind Sweden’s first suicide bomber, that struck Stockholm just before Christmas.
The difference in reception is mirrored in the contrasts between Africa, where brutal war crimes are committed, and the windy, barren Danish coastline. The orderly, idealistic Scandinavian existence is pitted against horrible war atrocities in Sudan. And yet, issues of forgiveness and revenge unite us all.