Amy Poehler landed a joke about slavery, Bono paid moving tribute to Nelson Mandela, Leonardo DiCaprio launched the term "Philomania," and Jacqueline Bisset, well, one doesn't like to conjecture but, in the end, she did leave the stage under her own steam.
After 71 years, the intrinsic value of an award bestowed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. — 85 foreign entertainment journalists with wildly differing credentials — is still the subject of much debate. But there is no denying that lately the Golden Globes has become the gold standard of awards shows.
Though the Oscars veer from horror show (the Franco/Hathaway disaster) to deadly dull back to horror show again (last year's Seth MacFarlane), viewership and respect for the Golden Globes telecast has only risen steadily in recent years.
Last year nearly 20 million people tuned in, a six-year ratings high, while critics (including this one) fell over themselves praising the quick and witty hosting of Poehler and Tina Fey who acknowledged the show's shady past. For years, the Globes ceremonies were best known for its high alcohol content, but lately it's stood out for its ability to create a space where anything can happen. Last year, it was an appearance by President Clinton and an odd non-coming-out speech by Jodie Foster.
Dick Clark Productions, which produces the Globes, and NBC quickly signed the pair for two more years, proof that the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. understands what the film academy still does not: If you want people to watch your televised awards show, you need to make it good television.
It helps that the Globes honors television along with film, which puts it in a unique position of embodying the increased cross-pollination between the two art forms. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba were nominated in both television and film this year. More important, the producers can draw on people who know how to work on television, something Poehler and Fey capitalize on both figuratively and literally.
Like many great hosts (Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Bob Hope), the two are successful in both genres and have no problem making fun of the long-held hierarchy. Last year they described the Globes as "the only show in which the beautiful people of film rub shoulders with the rat-faced people of TV." This year they used Louis-Dreyfus to call out the segregated seating.
"Interestingly, Julia has decided to sit in the film section," Fey said as the camera cut to the "Veep" and "Enough Said" star wearing shades and smoking an electronic cigarette.
But in recent years, television has begun out-pacing film in both popularity and critical acclaim. A good host might be able to get a reaction from a movie star like Jack Nicholson or Matt Damon, but as with the Emmys, the Globes can also count on actual participation by comedians such as Louis-Dreyfus, Melissa McCarthy or, in past years, Ricky Gervais.
Which is one of the main reasons people watch awards shows — to catch their favorite stars interacting with one another. This year's telecast also prefaced each commercial break with shots from the room — Bruce Dern chatting with Robert Redford, Kerry Washington enthusiastically embracing a friend — to give viewers a "you are there" feeling.
Despite the dangerously high expectations, Poehler and Fey returned Sunday night in fine form. In opening the three-hour show, they perfectly balanced their insider knowledge with their outsider personas to create a heady brand of wide-eyed yet stinging commentary.
A-listers and home audiences doubled over as one when Fey described "Gravity" as a film about how "George Clooney would rather float off into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age." Likewise, they applauded Fey's description of Matthew McConaughey's efforts in "Dallas Buyer's Club."
"He lost 45 pounds," Fey said, "or what actresses call 'being in a movie.'"
But it was Poehler who once again proved she can pretty much get away with anything, any time, any place. After seeing "12 Years a Slave," she said, "I will never look at slavery the same way again."
Yes, Fey helped out a bit, with a fine double-take and a "wait, how did you...," but it was Poehler's sweet-faced deadpan that deftly steered a joke that would have seemed daring on late-night safely into the lap of the laughing prime-time audience.
The show moved through its many awards with the carefee and swinging gait that makes it more entertaining than the gravitas-plagued Oscars.
But the telecast was by no means perfect — a string of winners arrived on stage absurdly unprepared: Bisset, the night's second winner, seemed near paralysis. And the layout of the room meant that the winners in television, who were apparently seated at a nearby Ramada Inn, had to wind their way through the tables of the clearly more valued film nominees.
Still, teleprompter breakdowns and entrance mishaps were handled with such good humor — "I'm not going to lie, they have the wrong thing on the teleprompter," presenter Jonah Hill said — that even when Diane Keaton decided to end her touching tribute to absent Cecil B. DeMille Award winner Woody Allen with a plaintive child's song, the show took it right in stride and moved on.
When Poehler, nominated once again for her role in "Parks and Recreation," moved from dry, wry host to trembling, stammering award winner, well, television doesn't get any better or more culturally apt, than that.