Before they became so toxic that no stars wanted to show up, the Golden Globes were the “boozy grandmother on the dancefloor” of awards shows: strange and frightening, yet impossible to look away from. The annual ceremony is a looser, sillier Oscars, driven by glitz and the presence of an open bar.
Absurdity is baked into it, primarily because everyone knows that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who decide the awards, are composed of just a few dozen people.
But even with that caveat in mind, there are still some wins and nominations in Golden Globes history that are too bizarre to ignore.
Ahead of this weekend’s Globes on 9 January, which will be live-tweeted in lieu of a star-studded ceremony or even a virtual ceremony, we’ve collated some of the silliest wins and nods in its history.
Highlights include the most egregious films to be celebrated, as well as category decisions that we still can’t wrap our heads around.
Newcomer of the Year: Pia Zadora (1982)
In 1981, The New York Times described newcomer Pia Zadora as “Brigitte Bardot recycled through a kitchen compactor”. A year later, she won the Newcomer of the Year award at the Globes for her work in the little-seen erotic drama Butterfly. Widespread industry mockery followed, both because Zadora couldn’t act, and because Butterfly was entirely financed by her billionaire husband. Then there was the urban legend that Zadora’s husband flew the entire voting body for the Globes to Vegas to watch his wife perform a cabaret show, and that he had personally paid for an extensive promotional campaign designed to make Zadora a star. To this day, Zadora insists she won the award fair and square. The speculation surrounding her win entirely overshadowed her subsequent Hollywood career, though, which has featured albums, a John Waters film, and movie cameos as herself. Coincidence or not, the Newcomer of the Year award was scrapped just two years after Zadora collected her trophy.
Best Actress in a Drama: Sally Kirkland for Anna (1988)
This long-forgotten performance triumphed over Glenn Close’s genre-defining work as a scorned lover in the erotic thriller Fatal Attraction, with Kirkland taking home the award for Best Actress in a Drama in 1988. The win was apparently the result of relentless campaigning from the relatively unknown actor, whose previous film was a 1984 athletics-themed slasher movie called Fatal Games. Kudos to Kirkland, but this win remains baffling.
Best Screenplay: Born on the Fourth of July (1990)
The oddness of this win is less to do with the film itself than its competition. A perfectly fine if slightly snoozy drama, Born on the Fourth of July triumphed at the 1990 Globes over three landmark works of art: the incendiary Do the Right Thing, the sneaky and perceptive Sex Lies and Videotape, and the gorgeous When Harry Met Sally. All three movies remain pinnacles of their respective genres, while their individual fingerprints could be seen all over the next decade of cinema. By snubbing all three, the Globes proved experts at gazing back rather than looking forward.
Best Picture (Musical/Comedy): Patch Adams (1999)
The existence of the Comedy/Musical category at the Globes usually results in a handful of strange nominations each year. That doesn’t particularly explain how Patch Adams scored a Best Picture nod in 1999, though. A thoroughly depressing drama starring Robin Williams as a pioneering doctor, which also climaxes with its female lead being shot to death by a man with schizophrenia, it was inexplicably dubbed a comedy by Globes voters – it competed against There’s Something About Mary, for god’s sake.
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Best Original Song: “I Thought I Lost You” by Miley Cyrus and John Travolta for Bolt (2008)
Because nothing screams “give this a Golden Globe nomination!” like a screechy duet between Cyrus and Travolta, the latter in character as a talking dog. Even more egregious? This took a spot that could have been filled by Hugh Grant’s glorious “Pop Goes My Heart”, a track from the romcom Music & Lyrics that is truthfully the greatest movie song in the history of movie songs.
Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy: Hugh Jackman for Kate & Leopold (2002)
A time-travelling romcom starring Meg Ryan, Kate & Leopold happened to arrive just as Hugh Jackman’s name was climbing up the A-list. That’s the only explanation for his Best Actor nomination in 2002, with the Globes presumably eager to anoint a new star. Playing a 19th-century English duke who falls through a portal to modern New York, Jackman is fine but not at all awards-worthy.
Best Actress in a Drama: Halle Berry for Frankie and Alice (2011)
In 2008, Halle Berry filmed a low-budget indie movie in which she played a stripper with multiple personalities. In 2014, it was finally released. In 2011, her performance earned her a Golden Globe nomination. If you’re confused, that’s because Frankie and Alice is an outrageous example of Hollywood awards campaigning. To qualify for awards consideration in 2011, the film played for one week at a single Los Angeles cinema in December 2010. A planned wide release went kaput soon after, and it wasn’t until a small distributor picked the film up years later that anyone outside of awards voters got to see it.
Best Picture (Musical/Comedy): Burlesque (2011)
In certain postcodes, namely ones with drag bars in them, this Cher/Christina Aguilera musical is widely considered a cinematic triumph. But even those appreciative of the genius of a poorly bewigged Kristen Bell calling Cher a “crazy bitch” will squint at Burlesque getting a Best Picture nomination in 2011.
Best Picture (Musical/Comedy): The Tourist (2011)
Now best remembered as a punchline from one of Ricky Gervais’s hosting monologues, The Tourist exemplifies the Golden Globes at its worst. A ludicrously expensive star vehicle for Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, in which most of the money had been spent on their wardrobes and styling rather than the film’s script, it still somehow flourished at the 2011 ceremony. Along with a Best Picture nod, both Depp and Jolie were nominated as actors – not because they were any good in it, of course, but because it was an opportunity to get two of Hollywood’s biggest names in the same room for a night.
Best Supporting Actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson for Nocturnal Animals (2017)
Providing Nocturnal Animals with big “end-of-year Theatre Studies exam” energy is Aaron Taylor-Johnson. As a sadistic gang leader who tortures poor Jake Gyllenhaal and his family on an American highway, Taylor-Johnson whoops, hollers and kicks his way through the desert scenery. Somehow this triumphed at the 2017 Globes over Mahershala Ali’s gorgeous work in Moonlight.
Best Picture (Musical/Comedy): Get Out (2018)
Giving a Best Picture nomination to Get Out in 2018 wasn’t just deserved but essential, considering how successfully the Jordan Peele horror ripped its way through culture the year before. But here’s the small print: Get Out was slotted in the Comedy/Musical category, alongside the likes of The Disaster Artist and The Greatest Showman. Peele was naturally confused, joking (sort of) on Twitter that Get Out was truthfully “a documentary”. Regardless, the optics of calling this ruthless dissection of white liberalism and Black trauma a “comedy” was not a great look for the Globes.
Best Picture (Musical/Comedy): Music (2021)
Even following up a pandemic year as destitute as 2020, the decision to celebrate Sia’s controversial misfire Music felt wildly unnecessary. So offensive, reckless and borderline dangerous in its depiction of autism that neurodivergent people actively attempted to get its nominations rescinded, Music was the great menace of last year’s Globes.
Best Actor (Musical/Comedy): James Corden for The Prom (2021)
Much like Music, Corden’s work in The Prom was annihilated by critics and proved catnip for think-piece writers. Not only was he too straight and too young for the gay has-been Broadway actor he plays in the film, he was also just not very good in it.