My film journalism usually involves reviewing films and reporting on festivals and awards from around the world. But courtesy of Hollywood Foreign Press Association member – and Golden Globes voter – Sam Asi, I have got to see these awards from the inside:
THURSDAY 9th JANUARY 2014
Having arrived in LA as Sam’s guest, it soon became clear that my job was not simply to turn up on the night and enjoy the party. Three days before the glittering ceremony at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, we headed to the hotel for some preparation work. Sam is covering the event for BBC Arabic and had a couple of interviews lined up for his report, one with the HFPA president Theo Kingma and another with another of the HFPA’s Arab members, Ramzi Malouki from Tunisia.
We arrived early enough to witness the ceremonial unrolling of the red carpet for the press. And it was certainly ceremonial. Once a group, including Kingma and a representative of the awards sponsors Moet, had kicked the carpet down the hotel’s carriage driveway, it was rolled back up again and taken away.
Inside the ballroom where about fifteen hundred nominees, studio executives, HFPA members and their guests will enjoy the finest food and frolics at Sunday night’s ceremony, workmen – mostly lighting technicians – were getting ready for the big night. One man dangled dangerously from a gantry over the stage until two colleagues were able to bring him a tall enough step ladder to climb down to safety. The on-stage set has already been erected and giant Golden Globe motifs have been erected around the room. Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe that this empty shell is about to be transformed into one of the most elegant banqueting halls of the Hollywood calendar.
FRIDAY 10th JANUARY 2014
It was a quiet day, as far as the Golden Globes are concerned. The only commitment came in the evening, when Sam had agreed to introduce a screening of the French Palme d’Or winning lesbian drama Blue Is The Warmest Colour, or as they insist on calling it over here, Blue is the Warmest Color. For the eleventh year, the HFPA is promoting the five films nominated for the Best Foreign Language Golden Globe with screenings across the week, followed by a symposium attended by the directors tomorrow. After spending much of the day practicing how to say the name of the lead actress, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Sam decided against risking it, at the last minute, which made his introduction all the more relaxed, confident and fluent.. Sam was effusive in his praise for the film, which is just as well, as he’s due to interview the director Abdellatif Kechiche after the symposium.
SATURDAY 11th JANUARY 2014
The first stop today was Sadie’s Kitchen in Hollywood, where four of the five nominees for the Foreign Language Golden Globe joined HFPA members, their guests and other local industry and cultural figures for a reception before crossing the road to the symposium. Among the guests was the British actress Jacqueline Bisset, who became an international star with American films such as Bullit in 1968 and Francois Truffaut’s Oscar-winning La Nuit Americaine – or Day For Night – whose portrayal of the film industry made me want to be involved from the moment I saw it. Fittingly, Bisset is nominated herself for the Golden Globes, for her supporting role in the TV mini-series, Dancing on the Edge. Looking immaculate for her 69 years, in a tight-fitting brown leather trouser-suit, her heels might have been just a little too much for her, as she almost toppled over onto me, while turning to talk to someone. It was just as well that she avoided the fall this time; one of her fingers was already in a brace. I was also pleased to be able to get the chance to tell the Danish director Thomas Vinterberg that his Golden Globe nominated film The Hunt was one of UK Screen’s best of 2012. UK Screen is clearly ahead of the game.
With the symposium over, Sam managed to get slightly longer in his one-to-one interview with Kechiche than the publicists had insisted, not because he had tried to squeeze in any extra questions, but because the answers were as long as you might expect from a director whose preferred length for his film is 3 hours and 40 minutes.Across the road, at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, after a photocall of the attending directors in front of their film posters, the audience piled in to hear the inspirational words of wisdom from some of the best of this year’s film-makers who’ve managed to reach global audiences in their own – or in one case – other languages. Iran’s Asghar Farhadi is nominated this year for The Past, shot in France, in French – a language he thought about trying to learn beforehand, but decided not to bother even trying when he realised how odd it was; “If you want to say 86, you have to say 4 20s and 6,” he told the foreign film enthusiasts to a round of laughter. Tunisian-born director Abdellatif Kechiche also made his film, Blue is the Warmest Colour, in French, but having lived there for most of his live, he says he now feels culturally French, rather than Tunisian. For his interview with Sam for BBC Arabic, although after much practice – all the way from Santa Monica to Hollywood in the car – Sam asked all the questions in Arabic, Kechiche was more comfortable responding in French. Vinterberg, who’s just finished shooting Far From the Madding Crowd in England, noted that it was different shooting a film in another language; even though as a Dane, his English is perfect, it’s the attitude of the people he found harder to deal with. It seems that it’s much easier to tell a Danish actor they’re doing something wrong without offending them. When it was put to Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino by the moderator that his was the only nominee that could not have been set anywhere other than his own country, the director disagreed – the first of many questions to go awry in this way. Examining their attitudes to their profession in more depth, Vinterberg noted that the more local his stories, the wider they seem to get, while Farhadi noted, to the horror of his publicist, that film festivals are good for films, but bad for directors, and he dreams of the day when he can refuse to take his films to festivals. When asked how much his lead character was based on him, Sorrentino joked “Only the good bits,” while those who’ve enjoyed Blue is the Warmest Colour, despite its 3 hour running time might be interested to hear that there were so many extra scenes that Kechiche was disappointed to have to cut for length that he’s about to release a new version of the film that’s 40 minutes longer.
After the briefest of visits back to Sam’s apartment to change into more appropriate evening wear, it was back to West Hollywood for the first of the big Golden Globes pre-parties. Last year, we were treated to fancy affairs hosted by DreamWorks, the Weinstein Company and Universal Studios, each bursting with talent from their nominated films – Daniel Day Lewis, Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway to name but five. This year’s partygoing was a little more underwhelming. Paramount – whose nominated films included The Wolf of Wall Street – hosted an impressive party at the exclusive Chateau Marmont Hotel on the Sunset Strip, but the celebrities were few and far between – the most impressive, thankfully for UK Screen’s British readership, being the Downton Abbey creator Lord Fellowes and the Philomena star and writer Steve Coogan. Despite all the rumours, there was no sign of Leonardo DiCaprio. Perhaps the highest profile guest in the VIP area was Shaun Toub. “Who?” you might ask? Perhaps Homeland’s Iranian spy chief Majid Javadi had kidnapped a few Hollywood superstars as part of a dastardly plan to undermine the Golden Globes ceremony.
Just a mile or so down the road, at Soho House, was a party hosted by CBS and the Showtime TV network. CBS Films were behind Inside Llewyn Davis, whose star Oscar Isaac is up for an award. In a whirlwind encounter, typical of these events, he thanked Sam – on behalf of the HFPA – for the nomination. One half of the directing team – Joel Coen – was sitting quietly in a back room, alongside the film’s music director T-Bone Burnett, but aside from them, the only other familiar faces were better known to TV viewers, from Sex and the City and Californication’s Evan Handler to his co-star in the latter Natascha McElhone, to How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor and Liev Schreiber, who’s up for Best Actor in a TV Drama for Ray Donovan tomorrow night.
The second party started winding down earlier than we’d expected, but with a paucity of big names at either event, we could at least rest assured that we’d eaten well at both and enjoyed the grandeur of the Chateau Marmont and spectacular views from the Soho House penthouse. Even if they can’t provide stars to dine with you, the studios still know how to entertain.
SUNDAY 12th JANUARY 2014
The big day began with Sam rehearsing what, in TV news, we call “pieces to camera,” that he was planning to do on the red carpet for his BBC Arabic cinema show. As the time neared to leave, I donned my brand new tuxedo, dress shirt, sparkly bow-tie, Family Guy socks and London phone-box cuff-links, ready to impress on the red carpet. After being messed around by a jobsworth young security woman, keen to show that she rules the roost, we ended up being sent round the houses in our efforts to navigate the temporary one-way system and security checks in Beverly Hills, in order to get into the car park of the Beverly Hilton hotel.
Having used the self-park rather than valet, for a change, we struggled to get to the red carpet, as the security guards from the car park were demanding media credentials but we were there as guests. When we finally made our way to the entrance, we were told guests could not get onto the carpet yet, only journalists with media credentials. This was going to be one of those days. Sam was relying on the good will of the BBC crew on the red carpet to film his pieces to camera before the celebrities started to arrive but it looked like security wasn’t going to let us on the red carpet until the stars started to arrive, when the BBC crew would no longer be able to help out. We finally managed to get on the red carpet and could start filming in a short window before the first nominees turned up. But before long, jobsworth number two came along and told Sam that journalists were not allowed on the red carpet. We told her he was a guest and HFPA member, but that didn’t placate her, so we had to climb over the barrier to complete the filming. Seeing us coming from the media side of the barrier, a different security guard was then wary about letting us back onto the red carpet to make our way into the ballroom as guests. It’s not easy trying to wear two hats.
With his journalistic commitments out of the way, we returned to the beginning of the red carpet to start all over again, this time as guests, bumping into the likes of Mike Tyson, Michelle Dockery and my new friend from yesterday, the Danish nominee Thomas Vinterberg with his The Hunt lead actor Mads Mikkelsen among others. Seeing some of the most glamorous women in the most glamorous city wearing the most glamorous dresses is always an impressive sight – they’ve clearly put more thought into their outfits even than me and my new tux and accessories. From blacks to bold colours, skin tight to Sophia Vergara’s tent (her own description), floor length to a woman wearing what could only be described as a waste-level hoop situation that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It was the first time I hadn’t stepped on a woman’s train, so that was at least a development. Even women behind the journalists’ cordon had made an effort.
Having saved my appetite to enjoy the fancy food at the ceremony, I was keen to get inside to start eating, but Sam wanted to spend more time on the red carpet, talking to publicists who might be able to arrange future interviews for his show. As I got more and more hungry, it did at least enable me to snap a few more stars on their way inside.
As I’d feared, by the time we got inside, we’d missed out on the starter, but seeing that it was eggplant – aubergine to you and me – I concluded that Sam’s business ethic had actually worked in my favour. I was able to get straight down to the Sauteed Smoked filet of Atlantic Sea Trout (a double portion as I passed on the ‘Mediterranean Spice Braised Beef Short Rib’) with Spinach Sweet Corn Ragout, Light Cream of Tomato Dill Sauce, Romanesco, Campari Tomato, Turnip and Polenta – as in previous years, a dinner, many of whose parts neither I nor my spell-checker had heard of before. Even the dessert left me a little confused. Even after eating my Gusto Mango with Tropical Compote, I still wasn’t quite sure what it had been. Our fellow diners included a lady from the Finnish Film Commission, a Japanese HFPA member, a Kiwi journalist and two American political reporters, who provided a little grown-up conversation before the frivolity of the awards ceremony began.
After the huge success of last year’s show, the returning hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, joked that Hollywood had done what it always did. “If something works, they just keen doing it.” I’m not quite sure how to refer to the opening segment of the show. With two of them, it clearly wasn’t a monologue, but they weren’t talking to each other – the suggestion of a dialogue. Would it be a duologue? Spell-check doesn’t like that, but I’ll go with that for now. Their opening duologue, as is often the case at such ceremonies, included some of the funniest moments of the evening, as they lightly mocked some of the nominated films and actors. August: Osage County, they remarked, showed that “there are still roles in Hollywood for Meryl Streep’s over 60″ – while Gravity showed that (spoiler alert) “George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.” Turning their attention to someone who was to go on to win, they noted that Matthew McConaughey had lost 45 pounds for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. “Or what actresses call ‘being in a movie,’” the pair joked. The show had got off to a good start and looked like it could rival last year’s impressive array of gags and guests, but the promise was not to be met.
After the opening segment, Fey and Poehler were almost entirely absent from the show, apart from the moment when, uncomfortably, Poehler herself accepted an award for best actress in a TV comedy. Whereas last year’s celebrity guests included the former US president Bill Clinton, this year’s surprise was Niki Lauda – impressive for those interested in motor racing, but to most Americans, who might not have been as interested as European audiences in Best Drama nominee Rush the significance might have been lost. Having the real Philomena Lee introducing a clip of Steve Coogan’s film of her life was a nice touch and another entertaining moment was Fey and Poehler’s inevitable warm yet barbed reference to the obscurity of some of the publications represented by some HFPA members. This was followed by a sensibly short but well judged welcome from the organisation’s new president Theo Kingma, a stark contrast to last year’s overlong failed attempt at flirtatious comedy from his octogenarian predecessor.
Given the slightly perverse way in which some of the nominees fell – many critics might argue that the drama nominee Philomena was more funny than the the comedy candidates American Hustle and August: Osage Country, for example – most of the awards fell where you might have expected, The winner of one of the categories that was harder to call acknowledged some apparent confusion among the nomination lists. Expressing his surprising at winning a Golden Globe for the Best Actor in a Comedy film, the Wolf of Wall Street star Leonardo DiCaprio paid tribute to his “fellow comedians,” including Christian Bale and Joaquin Phoenix – neither actor known for his sense of humour. Bale, in fact, lived up to his name and failed to turn up to the ceremony – something not immediately obvious, since he didn’t win. But there was a glaring Woody Allen-shaped hole in the middle of the show as his early-career leading-lady Diane Keaton accepted his Cecil B De Mille lifetime achievement award in his behalf. With a song. This was a segment with none of the power of last year’s apparent self-outing by Jodie Foster. One particularly welcome winner was Michael Douglas for his lead role in Behind the Candelabra, the TV movie, thereby disqualifying it from the Oscars. In the UK, of course Steven Soderbergh’s film was released in the cinemas, but only his co-star Matt Damon secured a BAFTA nomination.
The acceptance speeches weren’t especially noteworthy, although Cate Blanchett, being cut off by the music as she thanked those who helped her bring the title character of Blue Jasmine to life, wondered allowed whether the audience at home could hear the music, or whether they just thought it odd that she was suddenly speeding up. The longest acceptance speech of the night was the first – Jacqueline Bisset’s Best Supporting Actress in a TV mini-series trophy left her so stunned that she was still waffling when the wind-up music had wound-down. Some suggested that the champagne reception might have played a part.Whoever did the seating plan clearly hadn’t expected her to win, because she was seated so far from the stage that her walk to collect her award alone, made the show run late from the outset. In fact the show ran so late that after the team behind 12 Years A Slave had accepted their Best Film Drama prize, even though Fey and Poehler were standing centre-stage, they didn’t have time to say goodbye.
From a British point of view, it wasn’t a good night – we won the first award, for Bisset, and the last for 12 Years A Slave, but the 2014 Golden Globes will go down as the year of British losers – Kate Winslet, Judi Dench and Emma Thompson is the dramatic actress category, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba in the dramatic actor competition – Elba, in fact was a two-time loser, having also been nominated for TV’s Luther.
As the show came to a close, the after-parties sprang to life. As an HFPA member, Sam has the pick of the bunch – and, as I often do with dessert options – he has a bit of everything. First it was off to the Twentieth Century Fox party to congratulate Steve McQueen and his team on their big win, although sadly, they hadn’t arrived yet as they were still doing press interviews. It was on the way to the next party that my friends from BBC Radio 5live called me to ask how the night had gone. On the walk to the HBO party, I found myself listening for nearly five minutes to someone in the BBC’s Los Angeles office, about five miles away, summing up the winners and moments after they asked me about the parties, the line went dead and with only a couple of minutes to go of their show, it was too late to call me back. Anticipating their call, I hadn’t been able to enjoy the show as much as I might have done, taking notes to ensure that I had my thoughts together – and through a change in timings and what they actually wanted to ask me, it had all been frustratingly in vain. An abundance of food and drink at the parties that followed – Universal, the Weinstein Company, Warner Brothers and back to HBO – couldn’t really perk me up. Part of the reason for this was that usually, the parties with the best atmospheres are the ones where winners are displaying their trophies, but the big winner of the night was Sony’s American Hustle and unusually, Sony did not have a party going on at the Beverly Hilton at all. Financial constraints at the studio’s Japanese parent had apparently persuaded them not to host a party and by the time they decided that they probably ought to there was no room left at the hotel, so they hired out a restaurant a couple of miles away – but while Golden Globe guests are keen to party hop, that generally doesn’t extend much beyond the Fox party in a marquee in the car park across the road. On our second visit to Fox, we found out that the stars who hadn’t yet arrived the first time we turned up and since left, so we accepted the offer of a golf-cart ride back to the hotel – all of about 200 metres, amusingly along a red carpet whose surrounding bleachers, risings and gantries were already semi-dismantled. They don’t waste their time.
Despite a paucity of winners on the site, a handful of trophies did make their rounds of the parties – Paolo Sorrentino’s Foreign Language prize was spotted at both HBO and the Weinstein’s, while Jacqueline Bisset also nursed her Golden Globe at HBO and Matthew McConaughey’s didn’t leave the Beverly Hilton until a full three hours after the end of the ceremony.
All of the parties have a number of things in common – an astonishing amount of food and drink, music so loud that any kind of conversation is practically impossible and a security system that separates the wheat from the chaff; by the end of night, I was wearing two bracelets on one wrist and had three infra-red stamps on the other. But several do have their own character – at Fox, you could mock-up a poster of yourself as a model in a vodka advert; Universal had a live band on stage, while they were promoting the car company Chrysler, newly acquired by Fiat, on the roof-terrace; the Weinstein’s party was co-sponsored by Netflix and the train and plane manufacturer Bombardier; Warner Brothers, as they have done in previous years, continued the somewhat unusual notion of giving out free cigarettes as well as food and drink, although the party is better known for its alliance with Godiva chocolates. It was in the chocolate area that I enjoyed one of my most humble encounters yet from a successful star. As Sam was talking to the actor, he turned to me, stretched out his hand and offered “Hi, I’m Anthony,” “I know who you are,” I excitedly barked back at poor Anthony Mackie, who’s next to be seen “whooping people’s asses” in the upcoming Captain America sequel. It’s hard to imagine such a modest and genuinely charming man whooping anything.
But while the biggest stars and the winners in most of the film categories weren’t sharing the rest of their evening with the bulk of the after-party guests, a range of familiar faces from TV milled around the HBO party until the early hours. Actors from Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother and Girls were rubbing shoulders with British performers including Stephen Merchant, dwarfed by someone who could only have been a basketball player, Jason Isaacs, Revenge’s Barry Sloane and a James Purefoy who seemed to be worse for wear enough to risk falling off the chair that only one of his buttocks was perching on.
The show – and the night – were unquestionably thoroughly entertaining and more than most film and TV viewers could ever dream of, but compared with last year’s highly impressive spectacle, this year’s Golden Globes ceremony – with too many nominees absent, a no-show from its guest of honour, too little from the hosts and no surprises to match Bill Clinton – felt like it too had just one buttock perched on the edge of a seat. The HFPA would be well advised to have a strong coffee to sober up and plan a big comeback to restore the Golden Globes’ reputation as Hollywood’s biggest, most enjoyable party next year.