Golden Globe nominees reflect contemporary political issues, professor says

Harry Benshoff
University of North Texas film professor Harry Benshoff says the films nominated this year for Golden Globe Awards demonstrate the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s preference for movies that engage viewers in contemporary political issues.
Thursday, January 4, 2007

From "The Queen" and "Bobby" to even "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," this year's nominees for Golden Globe Awards demonstrate the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's preference for movies that engage viewers in contemporary political issues, according to a University of North Texas assistant professor of radio, television and film.

Dr. Harry Benshoff says three of the five nominated films for Best Motion Picture-Drama are overtly political - "Bobby," "The Queen" and "Babel." He adds that a fourth nominee, "The Departed," has subtle political overtones.

"Although it's a gangster film, it speaks to the post-9/11 government bureaucracy," he says.

"Babel," he says, is the film most clearly about global politics.

"Some people say it's a very Hollywood-type film because it puts the white star couple at the forefront of its story even though it was made by a Mexican filmmaker and is also about the Middle East and Japan," Benshoff says. "But that's the point. It makes a political statement about how white people get treated as compared to those of other nations and races."

The final Best Motion Picture-Drama nominee, "Little Children," is more personal than political. Benshoff calls it a "stealth nominee" because it had only a brief run in theaters.

"Borat" and "Thank You for Smoking," two of the five Best Motion Picture-Comedy or Musical nominees, also have political overtones - "Borat" with its politically incorrect satire of ethnicity and ignorance and "Thank You for Smoking" with its politically incorrect satire of tobacco companies. Benshoff says it's not likely, however, that these films, unlike some of the Best Motion Picture-Drama nominees, will be nominated for Academy Awards later this month, even though many moviegoers and critics have believed that the Golden Globes are a predictor of Academy Award nominees and winners.

"The Oscars are biased against comedies and comedic performances because the Academy takes itself very seriously," he says. "The only real shoo-ins for Oscar nominations are Helen Mirren for Best Actress for ‘The Queen' and Forest Whitaker for Best Actor for ‘The Last King of Scotland.'" Both were nominated for Golden Globes in these categories, he says.

Of the nominated films for Best Motion Picture-Comedy or Musical Golden Globes, Benshoff says "Dreamgirls" could be nominated for an Oscar "because it has the big, flashy Hollywood glitz that the Academy likes." Another comedy nominee, "Little Miss Sunshine," could be nominated for an Oscar because "it's a smaller film with a lot of appeal," he adds.

"Little Miss Sunshine" and "Thank You for Smoking" are both releases from Fox Searchlight, which was established in 1994 as the independent film arm of Twentieth Century Fox. Benshoff said all of the major movie studios, including Columbia, Disney, Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers, now have "boutique subsidiaries" to make independent films.

"These boutique subsidiaries make serious films that are more academic and intellectual with the hope of getting award nominations. The major studio distributes them and helps them get seen," he says. "These films may open at only a few theaters, but if they do well at the box office or get award nominations, they are released wider and wider into the multiplexes."

"Brokeback Mountain," last year's Golden Globe winner for Best Motion Picture-Drama and an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, is the latest example of this release pattern because its studio, Focus Films, is owned by Universal, Benshoff says.

"Award nominations are about art, but also about putting yourself or your film out there. You may have the greatest little independent film, but it may not get the same kind of push in advertising if you don't have a parent company with the pull for advertising and distribution," he says.

The 64th Annual Golden Globe Awards will be presented Jan. 15 during a live telecast on NBC. The Academy Award nominations will be announced Jan. 23 and presented Feb. 25 during a live telecast on ABC.

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