At Sunday's Golden Globe Awards, the great and worthy Boyhood took top honors, winning Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director. In both those categories it was perceived by some to be in a face-off with Selma, the great and worthy film by director Ava DuVernay. And while it's tempting to watch that play out and say it's all over for Selma (or Birdman, or The Imitation Game) at the Oscars, there's really no reason for that cynicism.
The most basic of observations is a rather simple one: The Hollywood Foreign Press and the Motion Picture Academy have no overlap. While there's never been any causal relationship between the Globes and the Oscars, their frequent confluence of winners and nominees often leads to that conclusion. In reality, the Globes tend to reflect and perpetuate a narrowing of the possibilities, as awards voters start flocking toward who's got that ever-ephemeral "buzz."
More than a decade ago, the Oscars moved its ceremony up from late March to late February. The next year, the Globes began pushing its own ceremony up the calendar, from the third(ish) Sunday in January to now the second(ish) Sunday. With this tighter window between awards, the overlap between Globe winners and Oscar winners began to wane. In the 11 years since the calendar shake-up, the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture has won a corresponding Globe only five times. More and more, the Globe winners have been reflecting early Oscar buzz, but are awarded too early to account for Oscar campaigns that build a lot of steam in the later weeks.
To take a look at this year by year:
- In the five years where Oscar and the Globes matched up, two were unstoppable sweeps (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003 and Slumdog Millionaire in 2008), and neither had any real competition. One year, 2011, saw The Artist win its Globe in Musical/Comedy, while its biggest competition duked it out in Drama. 12 Years a Slave won last year, though some would say just barely, as it won Best Picture and nothing else (by the Oscars, it would expand its tally to awards for Supporting Actress and Screenplay). As for 2012—the Argo year, where Ben Affleck's film became an unstoppable awards force only after he was snubbed for an Oscar nomination for Director—well, still nobody knows what went on there.
- 2004: The Globes went with Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, the tony, polished Howard Hughes biopic. Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, which opened incredibly late (a qualifying run in December before opening wide in January, much like Selma) won the Oscar.
- 2005: Brokeback Mountain won the Globe; Crash won the Oscar. Jack Nicholson and the rest of us are still getting over it.
- 2006: Babel took the Globe, while Scorsese's The Departed triumphed on Oscar night. It was an odd year where every nominated film at one time seemed like it could win.
- 2007: This was the non-ceremony strike year, so hardly anyone remembers that Atonement toppled No Country for Old Men. This wasn't so much a case of old buzz giving way to new buzz. No Country was basically the favorite the whole way. The Globes just got creative.
- 2009: Avatar bulldozed its way to the Globe win, but the David-vs-Goliath narrative managed to gain enough steam by Oscar night for The Hurt Locker to triumph.
- 2010: Prohibitive early favorite The Social Network took Best Picture and Best Director for David Fincher at The Globes. Both would fall on Oscar night to Tom Hooper and The King's Speech.
Reading narrative into these kinds of things is always tricky. On some level, awards voters were always going to flock to the inspirational story of British royals overcoming adversity rather than the movie about a mercurial internet billionaire. But there's a demonstrable trend in momentum swinging from films that were considered early favorites—like Avatar, like Brokeback—getting nipped at the finish line. The Oscar winner in these cases isn't always the film that opens later; it's just the one for which support rallies in the January/February window rather than the November/December window.
Which brings us to the case for Selma, which could look to more than a few of the above examples for reasons to be hopeful for its Oscar chances. Like Million Dollar Baby, it opened later in the year. Like The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker, and (arguably) Crash, it can be seen as the more important film, subject-matter-wise. Like Argo, there seem to be special circumstances that make it an unpredictable wild card.
In Selma's case, this unpredictability stems from the fact that screeners were not sent out to many awards-voting organizations, chief among them being SAG and the Producers Guild, leading to Selma being left off those lists entirely. Which means with every passing mile marker on the road to Thursday's Oscar nominations, chances to see whether the Hollywood community is connecting with Selma enough to give it major awards were lost. The can has been kicked so far down the road that we won't know if Selma is a for-real contender for nominations until we actually see the nominations. Which means the fate of Selma is by far the least predictable of any of the major contenders. We could be looking at a complete shut-out, or a strong Best Picture possibility. One thing we do know is that a Globes loss, historically speaking, doesn't rule anything out.