What's So Funny About This Year's Golden Globes?

Looking at the potential Golden Globes nominees you might think that it's a hilarious year for film. 

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Looking at the potential Golden Globes nominees you might think that it's a hilarious year for film. Don't let that fool you.

Plenty of nominees, which may not be traditional comedies, are being entered in the musical or comedy race, usually considered drama's little sibling, a category that has been filled with either obscurities (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), beloved mainstream comedies that don't have high Oscar hopes (Bridesmaids), or entries that are just, well, laughable (The Tourist). Not so this year. "I cannot recall an awards season with more contenders that straddle the line between drama and comedy—dark comedies or light dramas—than this one," Scott Feinberg at the Hollywood Reporter wrote back in September.

Many of the so-called (we'll get to that) comedies, are also gunning for the big Oscar prize. There's August: Osage CountyNebraskaThe Wolf of Wall StreetInside Llewyn DavisThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and American Hustle, which was originally aiming for drama, but was switched to comedy by the HFPA last week, GoldDerby reported. The head of the Globes' eligibility committee, Marlene von Arx, told Gregg Goldstein of Variety that: "If we unanimously feel a film is in the wrong category, we’ll enter into a conversation with the studio. Every year there are one or two, and we only make changes when we unanimously feel it’s completely wrong." Our aforementioned list excludes films like, say, Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said, a film that's a more natural fit for the comedy category, and never mind a straight belly-laughs movie like The Heat. In a year this crowded, it makes the strategy—as Feinberg mentioned the comedy category is often seen as a less crowded field—of running a film as a comedy to nudge into an emptier field, less, well, strategic. 

But here's the thing: some of the movies purporting to comedies here aren't very, well, funny. Take August for instance. Sure, there are funny moments in this story of a dysfunctional Oklahoma family—Julia Roberts's character screaming, "Eat your fucking fish" at her addled mother comes to mind—but it's also a movie that begins with a suicide and along the way tackles concepts of incest, drug addiction, cancer, and familial betrayal. It's a drama with some laughs. "We’re pushing the film as a dark comedy," a Weinstein Company rep told us. "We feel it exemplifies the idea that in life some of the most dramatic moments have humor. The theatrical production that Tracy Letts originally had at Steppenwolf was heralded for its comedic moments as well."

Meanwhile, the Coen Brothers name is more synonymous with black comedy, and the duo's folk music saga Inside Llewyn Davis could also, for that matter, be categorized as a musical. Still, it's a movie about artistic failure that does not afford its hero a happy ending, and one of the biggest sources of comic relief—a cat—meets a tragic end.

On the other hand, something like American Hustle feels like a different sort of beast. Though it originally aimed for drama, it's ultimately more lighthearted than something like August or Llewyn. It's a movie about ridiculous people doing bad things—the threat of death by mob never really feels too real. Though we have yet to see The Wolf of Wall StreetAmerican Hustle is perhaps, more than any other titles mentioned here, aware of its comedy. It plays many of its moments specifically for laughs. It opens, for instance, with Christian Bale's character expertly fixing his combover. So why did its studio think it deserved to be called a drama? (We've reached out for comment.)

So, without further ado, this is what your comedy race looks like: According to a Paramount rep, Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street will be campaigned in comedy. (For what it's worth, the rep also mentioned that Anchorman 2 will compete in the comedy category, but you knew that, didn't you?) Per Fox, Walter Mitty will be also be on the funny side, and per The Weinstein Company, August will as well. Variety report suggests that Her and Richard Linklater's threequel Before Midnight will both contend for the comedy prize. (We reached out to a Warner Bros. rep about Her.) Finally, as mentioned earlier, it looks like the HFPA switched American Hustle from drama to comedy. And of course Inside Llewyn Davis is either a musical or comedy. 

Some one-the-fence movies that will be dramas? Philomena, according to The Weinstein Company, and Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, per Variety. Reports also indicate that Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine will be a drama, a choice that feels right, despite the director's comic pedigree.

If nothing else, the year goes to show that whether something's a comedy is incredibly subjective. It also goes to show just how packed a year this is.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.