On Sunday, the Golden Globes declared that the best films of 2018 were Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody—a surprising pair of wins that helped throw the Oscars race into chaos just weeks before that ceremony’s nominations are announced. Green Book, a mostly fuzzy ode to the friendship between the musician Don Shirley and his driver, Tony Vallelonga, won Best Musical or Comedy; it beat out the more acerbic political satire Vice and the rapturously received royal comedy The Favourite. The Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, a film dogged by production drama and middling reviews, trounced the obvious Best Drama front-runner of the night, A Star Is Born, which went home empty-handed aside from a trophy for original song.
Bradley Cooper’s remake of the Hollywood classic, which was both critically acclaimed and a box-office smash, seemed like the kind of film the Golden Globes are broadcast for. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which votes on the Globes, gravitates toward major stars, and it had already given Lady Gaga a trophy in 2016 for her much less well-reviewed acting on FX’s American Horror Story. Cooper, who has never won a Globe, seemed primed to collect at least one tonight, given that the film was pitched to viewers as his passion project (one he backed up with an earthy lead performance).
Instead, Bohemian Rhapsody, itself an unexpected smash hit, won both Best Drama and Best Actor for Rami Malek, who played the Queen front man Freddie Mercury. The triumph came even though the director Bryan Singer was fired in the middle of production, the film received mixed reviews (The New York Times said it “seems engineered to be as unmemorable as possible”), and the story was criticized for its moralizing edge regarding Mercury’s sexuality. The Globes are known for unusual choices, but judging by the review-aggregation site Metacritic, Bohemian Rhapsody is the worst-reviewed Best Drama Globe winner in recorded history.
What the movie has going for it is its tremendous financial success and word-of-mouth popularity around the world (the Globes’ voting body consists of Hollywood-based journalists and photographers who work for international outlets). That kind of broad populism could also apply to Green Book, which has been pitched as a feel-good story about race relations, one “based on a true friendship” (though some of its claims about Shirley have been disputed by his family). But Green Book hasn’t been the kind of hit that Bohemian Rhapsody was; though the former also came out in November, it’s made only $35 million in North America, a healthy but hardly sensational total.
Still, that didn’t stop the film from winning Best Musical or Comedy, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali (who plays Shirley), and Best Screenplay. When Green Book took Best Picture, its director, Peter Farrelly, gave a forceful speech, at one point demanding that he not be played off by a swelling musical cue. “This story, when I heard it, gave me hope, and I wanted to share that hope with you, because we’re still living in divided times, maybe more so than ever,” Farrelly said. “And that’s what this movie is for. It’s for everybody. If Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga can find common ground, we all can … We all want to be treated equally, and that’s not such a bad thing.”
The wins for Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book mean that many of the expected favorites at the Oscars may be in doubt. If A Star Is Born couldn’t triumph at the Globes, perhaps its front-runner status is unearned. Even though Disney’s Black Panther has been pushed with a robust campaign (and was the highest-grossing movie of the year), it went ignored at the Globes. More confrontational movies, such as Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and Adam McKay’s Vice, didn’t gain much traction (outside of Christian Bale’s Best Actor in a Comedy win for the latter), and Best Actress in a Drama went to Glenn Close for The Wife, a stagy but well-performed indie film that came out last summer.
Close’s heartfelt and genuinely thrilled speech may help propel her to Oscar success (she’s been nominated six times and has never won). Olivia Colman, who drew raves for her work as Queen Anne in The Favourite and won Best Actress in a Comedy, will be Close’s main competition. Regina King, another beloved industry veteran, seemed similarly moved by her own win for If Beale Street Could Talk, and should be the safe pick in the Best Supporting Actress category. Another unknown element is Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, which received the Foreign-Language Film and Best Director trophies but was ineligible in the Best Picture category because of Globes rules. Backed by Netflix, it will remain a serious competitor at the Oscars.
The Globes are always the real kickoff to awards season after months of industry speculation. But backlash can be just as important, and critical distaste for Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book will likely bubble back up now that the films are firmly in the spotlight. What had seemed like a very boring next two months, given A Star Is Born’s box-office and critical success, will now be incredibly tumultuous. But that increased scrutiny could do more harm than good for many of Sunday’s surprise winners.