Despite the second-tier nominations getting an early push in recent weeks, Awards Season has officially started with this morning’s Golden Globe nominations. The expected suspects are all there: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and David O. Russell’s American Hustle both received seven nominations, and Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, and The Wolf of Wall Street all pop up in multiple categories. There’s little surprise here, although the Globes’ picks — split between comedy and drama — prove that it’s difficult this year to separate the major award-grabbing films into either category.
Take, for example, the very competitive Best Motion Picture, Comedy nominations: American Hustle, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, and The Wolf of Wall Street. While three of these movies definitely have comic touches (the Coens, Alexander Payne, and Spike Jonze are, for the most part, directors of comedies, albeit dark ones), none of them seem to be true comedies. August: Osage County received two nominations in comedy categories (for Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts — the latter earning a Best Supporting Actress nom, despite the fact that both of those roles are leads, but that’s more of an Oscar-race strategy on the part of the Weinstein Company) — but despite its darkly comic moments, it’s not really a comedy, either. Neither would I call Before Midnight, a film in which we see the near-dissolution of a marriage, a romantic comedy, but that didn’t stop the Hollywood Foreign Press from nominating Julie Delpy in this category.
Of course, it’s a blurry line. Girls has always been sold as a comedy series, yet the second season hardly felt very funny given its subject matter (OCD, possible sexual assault). Especially compared to the other series nominated as comedies — The Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Modern Family, and Parks and Recreation — it seems super heavy. (This is the perfect place to complain about Orange Is the New Black‘s snubs. Except for lead actress Taylor Schilling’s nomination for Best Actress — in the drama category! — the groundbreaking Netflix series was shut out. How is Girls a comedy, yet Orange Is the New Black is a drama? Because the women in the latter are grown-ups?)
But let’s get back to the movies, which, in this pre-Oscar season, is what we really care about. The Wrap’s Steve Pond seems to be shocked that the nominations weren’t shocking at all; he writes, “It’s a time-honored Hollywood pastime to make fun of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual choices as soon as they’re announced, and one we’ve certainly engaged in with relish in these quarters.” This year he’s pleased that the heavy hitters are all good movies with critical acclaim — there’s nothing on the level of The Tourist, after all. But, really, what were the alternatives? Applauding The Great Gatsby, for instance? (I mean, Rush? Best Picture, Drama? Alright, sure.)
What’s most surprising to me is this pesky comedy category, in which the actually funny films — mostly smaller and subtle offerings along the lines of Frances Ha and Enough Said — were shut out of the Best Motion Picture race in favor of award-baiting dramas like American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s baffling to me how this happened, how peppering a few laughs into films with fairly heavy themes would qualify these films as comedies. Sure, the drama category is much more dour. But it’s as if the Hollywood Foreign Press was confused by the mixed tones of this year’s films. Despite what Steve Pond suggests, I wouldn’t go and applaud the group for “getting it right”; after all, the genre separation becomes problematic every year. After all, it’s “Musical or Comedy”; remember how much of a hoot Les Misérables was last year? That was definitely not a drama, huh?
Of course, maybe rather than damning the Golden Globes for this weird separation of films into two types, what we can learn from this is that cinema as an art form has evolved to a place where the blending of genres has become much more common. In this postmodern world, perhaps it’s time for critics, audiences, and award-givers to catch up and acknowledge that genres and labels aren’t as necessary as they once were. Like life, these movies are a mixture of the light and the dark, and the gray areas are what make them worthy of our attentions.