It was very 2020, somehow, that the most notable reaction GIF of the 77th Golden Globes was Tom Hanks responding to a joke about ISIS. The three-hour-plus ceremony, the kickoff to awards season, was characterized by escapist highs and rude reality checks. For every Hanks tear or tipsy Olivia Colman, there was a dig at Silicon Valley sweatshops or a plea for people watching to pay attention to the fires in Australia and to the climate crisis. Half of the room was having the most delightful time. The other half wanted very urgently to remind the world about one of the 327 impending catastrophes it’s currently facing.
Things weren’t helped, it has to be said, by the evening’s host, Ricky Gervais, who seems to promise every time that this is absolutely his last awards go-around, only to return as inevitably as flu season. A host’s job, normally, is to set the tone for the night, balancing irreverent topical comedy and Hollywood mystique. But Gervais’s sense of humor was too malevolent for a good time and too lazy for incisiveness. From the minute he began his monologue, the room seemed utterly opposed to his presence, and to his nihilism. An early gag about Felicity Huffman’s prison sentence was as poorly received as when Thomas Lennon tried the same thing at the Emmy Awards last year. By the time Gervais abandoned even the pretense of bonhomie to lay into tech corporations for abusive labor practices, the only thing left to do was drink.
So drink people did. Stellan Skarsgård, accepting the Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series award for HBO’s Chernobyl, told a jovial story about his lack of eyebrows having previously kept him from awards glory. Olivia Colman, beating a staggering lineup to claim Best Actress in a Drama Series for The Crown, confessed to being both flummoxed and “a little bit boozy.” Tom Hanks, who won the Cecil B. DeMille Award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment,” freestyled delightfully, name-checking everything from the importance of being on time to the majesty of Holland Taylor. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who claimed awards for both Best Actress in a Comedy Series and Best Comedy Series for Fleabag, gave a sly nod to Barack Obama’s inclusion of the show on his year-end list, alluding to the fact that he was masturbatory fodder for the titular character in the first season.
As befits the moment, though, there were constant reminders that all is not entirely well with the world, and that to simply celebrate works of culture without acknowledging current disasters is impossible. Even so, the various crises brought to the Golden Globes stage were numerous and disparate, giving the evening a choose-your-own-calamity kind of feel. Russell Crowe, an early winner for Best Actor in a Limited Series for Showtime’s Roger Ailes drama, The Loudest Voice, wasn’t around to pick up his trophy, because he was in Australia dealing with the impact of the fires ravaging his home country. Patricia Arquette, collecting a Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series award for her role in Hulu’s The Act, pleaded with the audience to consider the threat of another extended conflict in the Middle East. Michelle Williams, who won Best Actress in a Limited Series for the FX series Fosse/Verdon, and who recently announced that she was pregnant with her second child, delivered a heartfelt speech about the value of the right to choose, and the power women have to reshape politics with their votes. Sacha Baron Cohen, who appeared onstage as a presenter, offered a quick dig at his current bête noire, Mark Zuckerberg.
As the evening went on, it felt less like a cohesive event celebrating the entertainment industry and more like a social-media feed, in which Hot Priest GIFs and statements of intent about future war crimes are all interwoven into one jarring package. Joaquin Phoenix, who claimed Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama, for Joker, gave credit to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for acknowledging the links between animal agriculture and climate change with its plant-based menu for the night, and then asked the crowd to please stop taking private jets to Palm Springs. A wide camera shot caught Jennifer Aniston smiling at Brad Pitt while he accepted a supporting-actor award for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (and made a Titanic joke at the expense of his co-star Leonardo DiCaprio). Notable firsts—Ramy Youssef saying “Allahu akbar” while he accepted his award for the Hulu series Ramy, Awkwafina becoming the first Asian American woman to win Best Actress for a Musical or Comedy, for her role in The Farewell—went almost unnoticed because the evening’s pace and tone were so frenetic.
“I’m sorry,” Brian Cox said, accepting his Best Actor in a Drama Series award for Succession, “but this kind of event does your head in.” It was hard to argue. For all the pleasant surprises of worthy performances honored and fantastic cultural products recognized, it was an evening of emotional whiplash, with a host whose disdain for everyone in the room, their paltry art, and pusillanimous schmoozing, was so palpable, it was painful to watch. “Kill me, we’re nearly done,” Gervais said toward the end of the night. For most people present, it couldn’t come quickly enough.