Yes, the Golden Globes are a bit of an empty circus. Voted upon by 90 often-obscure journalists, they offer no guarantee of Oscar success or of future fame. A triumph here will, however, edge you just a little closer to the award that really matters.
Saoirse Ronan and Martin McDonagh, winners on Sunday night, are still on the right path. This is the most open Oscar race in decades and any clues to a combatant's sturdiness will be eagerly fed into the predictive equation.
Before the Globes, the bookies were in a state of confusion. The odds on best picture seemed to have been selected by drawing lots. Following Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri's win for best drama, McDonagh's picture has come in from 3/1 to (an absurdly mean) 11/8 with many bookies. Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, the winner of best comedy or musical, is behind at 11/4. Don't be fooled. The 9/1 available for Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water is good value.
Frances McDormand, who won best actress in a drama for Three Billboards, is now odds-on for the Oscar, but most pundits still see that as a close four-horse race between Frances, Sally Hawkins, Margot Robbie and – Globe winner for comedy or musical – the unstoppable Saoirse Ronan.
Sunday night’s events will affect the Carlow actor and the London-Irish writer-director in different ways. There really isn’t any bad news here for Saoirse. Since emerging above board with Atonement a decade ago, her journey towards the apex of her profession has been travelled with impressive discipline.
She did decent juvenile work in films such as The Lovely Bones and Hanna. Brooklyn secured her a second Oscar nomination in 2016, but, throughout that awards season, she was always lagging behind Brie Larson's power-house performance in Lenny Abrahamson's Room.
Her current turn in Gerwig’s autobiographical comedy pushes her right to the front of the grid. At the same time, she does not have to endure the exhausting pressure of going through awards season as the undisputed front-runner. That task has been compared to carrying a Ming vase across a polished floor in stocking feet.
If she wins, it will not be too much of a shock. If she loses, it will not be too much of a disaster. It matters that Lady Bird is a well-liked film that has accrued no great controversy. Quite the reverse. The Globes ceremony was much taken up with the battle for gender equality and it did not go unnoticed that no women was nominated for best director.
Natalie Portman pointed this out when presenting the prize. Saoirse Ronan thus finds herself on the right side of history. There is endless good will behind Gerwig and her charming film. Keep an eye on the Screen Actors Guild Awards on January 21st for further clues as to the best actress Oscar.
McDonagh has more of a brawl on his hands. Within minutes of Three Billboards’ triumph at The Globes – it topped the charts with three wins – social media was awash with suggestions that the film was unsound on racial issues.
Three Billboards stars McDormand as a mouthy, irrepressible woman fired by resentment at the cops for not properly investigating the rape and murder of her daughter. One of those police officers, played by Sam Rockwell, has been implicated in the torture of black suspects.
We will say no more about the plot for fear of spoiling a film that will not be released here until Friday, but the character’s arc goes places that some commentators find unacceptable. “White Critics Love ‘Three Billboards’ Like They Love Their Racist Uncle,” a piece in the Huffington Post argued. There was a lot more of this in less respectable places.
All of this is unfair. Three Billboards has problems, but to fillet out one irritant and have it stand for the whole picture does the work no justice. This is, sadly, how Oscar politics work. Journalists and voters always have antennae ready for any potential controversy.
McDonagh should, however, not get overly concerned about the brewing scrap. He is fortunate that the fight broke out a whole two months before the Oscar ceremony. The picture will still pick up a hatful of nominations on January 23rd and, by the time final polls close, the fight will have burnt itself out.
Remember also that, for all the supposed wokeness of Hollywood, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge still managed to get multiple nominations last year.
Nobody is likely to fear for McDonagh. Raised in South London, his parents from Sligo and Galway, he fought hard to establish his reputation with zeitgeist-defining plays such as The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West.
As he demonstrated in a recent interview with this newspaper, he is up for any struggle that comes his way. “I hope he dies,” he said matter-of-factly when asked about Harvey Weinstein.
Martin will be just grand. There will, nonetheless, be a lot of squabbling before that other awards ceremony on March 4th.