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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Golden Globes to Johnny Depp: We're sending a limo -- or two!

December 14, 2010 |  1:25 pm

Johnny_depp The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is famous for its whoppers — let me just say two words: Pia Zadora. But when it comes to zany choices, it's hard to top giving two of the five Golden Globes nominations for motion picture comedy or musical to “The Tourist” and “Burlesque,” movies that critics everywhere have mocked for (how shall we say this?) their singular lack of filmmaking artistry.

“The Tourist” is an embezzlement drama with a hint of action; the only comedy category it belongs in is one reserved for movies full of unintentional humor. And when it comes to awards season indignities, try to imagine a supposedly respectable film organization giving three nominations to “Burlesque” — but just one to Pixar’s “Toy Story 3,” one to Ben Affleck’s “The Town” and zero to the Coen brothers’ “True Grit.”

The “Tourist” and “Burlesque” were joined in the comedy or musical category by “Red,” a film sold almost entirely as an action movie. No one will complain about Lisa Cholodenko's “The Kids Are All Right” earning a spot in this category, but “Red” could have easily been replaced by “Made in Dagenham,” an impeccable example of British comic entertainment, or “True Grit,” which is as much of a comedy as “Red,” and much better made to boot.

As for the acting nominations, I guess the HFPA wanted to make extra sure that Johnny Depp would show up for the Globes TV broadcast, so they sent a limo — figuratively, two limos I suppose — by giving him a pair of actor nods, one for “Alice in Wonderland” and one for “The Tourist,” even though the latter film might represent his worst performance since the days of “21 Jump Street.”

Trying to fix the Golden Globes is like attempting to salvage the Middle East peace talks — where do you start? But if there is one category in dire need of rehab, it’s the comedy or musical. The category was launched in 1952 as a way to broaden the spectrum of honorees, in much the same way that the Motion Picture Academy upped its number of best picture nominees from five to 10 last season. Unfortunately, the Globes comedy-musical category has been full of clunkers for years. Why?

In short, because the HFPA doesn't understand comedy. It's no secret that comedy rarely travels well. The vast majority of Hollywood comedies do far better in the United States than in foreign markets, largely because our favorite home-grown stars — think Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Steve Carell, Jack Black and Seth Rogen — operate in a peculiarly American comic idiom. Adam Sandler is the only comic star whose films make as much money overseas as they do here, and it took years of promotional appearances across Europe and Asia to pull that off.

It goes without saying the Hollywood Foreign Press is, well, foreign. They just don't get American humor, which is why the reigning king of American comedy, Judd Apatow — who has produced a zillion classic comedies, notably “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Talladega Nights,” “Anchorman,” “Knocked Up,” “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — has never received a Golden Globes nomination.

This was an especially weak year for comedy, so it's hard to argue that the Globes did a terrible disservice to Hollywood by ignoring the likes of “Due Date,” “Dinner for Schmucks” or “Grown Ups,” one of the few films this year to get worse reviews than “The Tourist.”

But in the past, the HFPA has blundered time and again. In 2008, it gave a comedy or musical nomination to “In Bruges,” a film about two Irish hit men laying low in Belgium, ignoring such skillfully made real comedies such as “Role Models,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Tropic Thunder.” In 2007, “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” were passed over in favor of the forgettable “Charlie Wilson's War.”

Some Globes fans argue that the HFPA should simply abandon the comedy and musical category, offering instead 10 best picture nominees as the Oscars do. But it seems unlikely that the Globes would follow the academy's lead, since it is always eager to keep its distance from its rival.

My advice would be simpler: Keep the comedy and musical category, but open it up to any available movie. As it stands, the HFPA doesn't allow animated films to compete outside of the animated feature category. But why lock some of the world’s biggest-grossing movies in an animation ghetto? As evidenced by such films as “Toy Story 3,” “Despicable Me” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” they now provide most of America's best comic filmmaking. If allowed to compete as comedies, they would have made the category much stronger.

The Globes already have set worthy precedent with their treatment of foreign films. They allow only foreign films to compete in the foreign language film category, yet they allow the actors from those films to compete in any category.

They should grant the same freedom to animated features, which would add some real artistic zest to the woeful comedy or musical category. I know the HFPA is desperate to be taken seriously. But today's nominations were a reminder that the Globes are just as vacuous as ever.

 -- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Johnny Depp at the European premiere for his Golden Globe nominated film, "The Tourist."
     

Credit:  John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

 

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