Golden Globes 2021: who will win and who should win the film awards?

The first awards season of the coronaviral era arrives in an anticlimactic world of presentations via Zoom, as if we’ve shuffled behind the curtain to see baubles handed out by the wizened wizard of Oz, minus the specialness. The prognosis for the Globes or the Oscars as live events is still uncertain.

Covid has certainly consolidated the dominance of the streaming giants, and yet Netflix isn’t quite as dominant in the Golden Globes best picture (drama) list as it was last year. Of the five contenders, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is easily the most ambitious and audacious, a bold docu-fictional excursion into America’s heart, with Frances McDormand superbly cast as one of the new “nomads”, formerly modestly prosperous retirees forced on to the road in their Winnebagos by the 2008 crash and roaming the country looking for seasonal work. It’s a movie of Steinbeckian grit, but refuses to offer easy answers as to whether the nomads’ lives are as bad as they or we expect.

However, my feeling is that the Globe will go to Emerald Fennell’s sensationally provocative and deliciously incorrect Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan as the deadpan avenger, haunting clubs and pretending to be falling-down drunk, a heat-seeking missile for nice-guy bros who think it’s OK to exploit inebriated young women.

But there’s also no doubt that The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins as a man with dementia and Olivia Colman as his daughter, is devastating audiences, and David Fincher’s Mank – his alt-reality cinephile spin on the origin of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and the importance of its co-screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz – is an entrancing watch; though as ever with movies about Welles, the subject attracts from critics more than its fair share of testy proprietorial disapproval. It is a good list, though despite being an Aaron Sorkin fan, I think his The Trial of the Chicago 7 doesn’t deserve inclusion: a verbose and self-congratulating white-liberal fanfare, and the most overrated film of 2020. I would have loved to see Kelly Reichardt’s wonderful First Cow get a Globe nomination, and also Lee Isaac Chung’s superlative Minari, about Korean immigrants in the US looking for the American dream. (Minari was apparently excluded because of the preponderance of Korean dialogue, hardly in the Statue of Liberty spirit, or indeed the spirit of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.) It would also have been great to see the Pixar movie Soul here, although that does at least make it into the Animation list.

Will win: Promising Young Woman

Should win: Nomadland

Shoulda been a contender: First Cow

The Globes’ best musical or comedy category is an institution to cherish, as these categories are the ones at which the awards-givers traditionally turn up their noses. This time, I think, the Globe surely has to go to the filmed version of Hamilton, although it is arguably a phenomenon of the stage, not the cinema. I thoroughly enjoyed Ryan Murphy’s cheesy but brash and good-hearted musical The Prom (easily better than, say, The Greatest Showman) and disagreed with the groupthink dismissal, which appeared to centre on the casting of James Corden as a gay Broadway star. (He also has a Globe nomination for best actor in a musical or comedy.) Many declared Corden’s performance to be jarring and inauthentic; I thought it was offered in respectful good faith. The casting of straight actors in gay roles is a live issue, though there seems to be an undiscussed assumption that it is all right for deadly serious films, but not for comedies. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was certainly a laugh, while not a patch on the outrageous original. Music and Palm Springs are outliers on this list.

Will win: Hamilton

Should win: Hamilton

Shoulda been a contender: I Used to Go Here

There are some familiar heavy hitters lined up for the best actor (drama) category, and for many, Anthony Hopkins, playing a terrified and bewildered old man with dementia in The Father, will be in pole position. A win for Hopkins in what is probably his most powerful role since Hannibal Lecter would certainly be a crowd-pleaser. My instinct is that Gary Oldman will not quite find as much favour with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) voters, as his portrayal of Herman Mankiewicz is very strong, but the electors have a sweet-tooth for relatability that this movie won’t quite gratify. Riz Ahmed is a terrific actor who has been wowing audiences with his performance as the rock drummer with hearing loss in Sound of Metal, and he, too, might get the prize. I am less excited about Tahar Rahim in The Mauritanian, which is a fence-sitter of a film that feels the need to balance its outrage over Guantánamo with liberal patriotism.

In the end, I think the Globe will and should go, posthumously, to a uniquely stirring and lovable performance from the late Chadwick Boseman, as the nervy, talented trumpeter Levee, trying to upstage the legendary singer Ma Rainey, resoundingly played by Viola Davis. It’s a glorious performance for Boseman to have gone out on.

Will win: Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Should win: Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Shoulda been a contender: Lance Henriksen for Falling

The best actress (drama) list has to be the closest fought. Frances McDormand gives a superb and utterly unique performance in Nomadland in which her unadorned intelligence and lack of conceit meshes sublimely with the appearance of the non-professionals. No other performer could have done it as well – or at all. Carey Mulligan is brilliant in Promising Young Woman: her most subversive and transgressive role since playing the sister of Michael Fassbender’s abject sex addict in Steve McQueen’s Shame. Andra Day is perfectly decent in The United States vs Billie Holiday, although the movie is weirdly stilted and reverential. Vanessa Kirby gives what I readily admit to be an utterly committed and passionate performance in Pieces of a Woman as someone whose baby dies at birth. The sheer power of this performance will, I predict, blitz its way to victory for Kirby, though it’s a flawed movie. But my “should-win” vote goes to Viola Davis for the sheer pleasure to be had in her commanding and queenly performance as the imperious blues legend Gertrude “Ma” Rainey.

Will win: Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Woman

Should win: Viola Davis for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Shoulda been a contender: Elisabeth Moss for Shirley

For the best actor (musical or comedy) list, the mighty Sacha Baron Cohen is surely in with a big chance for his uproarious character Borat, into whose persona Baron Cohen ingeniously introduces new strains of fatherly tenderness. But it could be that the HFPA will think the whole thing a little past its sell-by date. Andy Samberg is such a personable, likable performer who has the rare trick of never seeming to be acting at all, and a Globe for him for Palm Springs can’t be ruled out. James Corden might yet defy the critical tastemakers by getting the Globe himself. But, in the end, I think that this will go, a little predictably, to Lin-Manuel Miranda for his great recreation of Alexander Hamilton. However, my personal vote is for Dev Patel, in Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell’s terrific adaptation of Dickens’ David Copperfield. Patel’s winningly open face and sympathetic performance is such a treat. This movie’s release took a real hit from the Covid shutdown: it would be great to see it get a Globe.

Will win: Lin-Manuel Miranda for Hamilton

Should win: Dev Patel for The Personal History of David Copperfield

Shoulda been a contender: Jesse Plemons in I’m Thinking of Ending Things

This category is surely going to be owned by Rosamund Pike. She should win best actress (musical or comedy) for her chilling performance in the icy black comedy I Care a Lot, as Marla, the parasitic court-appointed official who bribes crooked doctors to issue phoney dementia diagnoses so that the courts will imprison healthy old people in care homes; Marla is then allowed to drain their bank accounts for her huge “guardianship” fees. It is an outrageously evil performance yet worryingly plausible. She is as efficient and pitiless as a spike. On the rest of this list, Maria Bakalova is very funny as the daughter of Borat in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and her pranking of Rudy Giuliani is truly magnificent: she perhaps deserves some sort of honour from the Biden administration.

Michelle Pfeiffer in French Exit is an outlier here for what is being seen as a misjudged performance in a misjudged movie. As for Anya Taylor-Joy, this fascinating and charismatic performer is enjoying a moment for her remarkable TV performance in The Queen’s Gambit, a portrayal that has arguably reached more people, and made her a bigger star, than anything or anyone else in the Globes lineup, but her eponymous performance in Emma, though perfectly decent, doesn’t hit it out of the park in the same way. No – the Globe has to go to Pike, although I would have loved to see Jessie Buckley on the list for Charlie Kaufman’s creepy and unsettling I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

Will win: Rosamund Pike for I Care a Lot

Should win: Rosamund Pike for I Care a Lot

Shoulda been a contender: Jessie Buckley for I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Is Daniel Kaluuya really a “supporting” turn in Judas and the Black Messiah? He sure looks like the star of it to me – or at the very least the co-star with Lakeith Stanfield – playing the real-life figure of the Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, betrayed by his follower Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) who was an FBI informant. At any rate, his charisma, his basilisk stare and commanding physical presence make him the alpha contender on what is otherwise a rather middling list. Leslie Odom Jr is a plausible Sam Cooke in the stagey theatrical adaptation One Night in Miami, which imagines the meeting of Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, NFL star Jim Brown and Cassius Clay (as Muhammed Ali was then called) in a Miami motel room in 1964 after Ali’s boxing victory over Sonny Liston. But there’s no overwhelming excitement there.

Jared Leto also feels like a makeweight on this list – a so-so entry playing the prime suspect in John Lee Hancock’s old-school procedural thriller The Little Things. Bill Murray is much loved on this sort of occasion and if he wins for his performance in Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks (what you might call “autopilot droll”) he would surely give a great speech. But his portrayal and the film itself are nothing special. As for Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7, playing the counter-culture insurgent Abbie Hoffman, put on trial for supposed incitement to violence with six others in 1968 – that’s witty casting, sure. But I have to repeat my reservations about this highly overwrought piece of liberal self-congratulation.

It has to be Kaluuya here, although I would have loved to see Hugh Laurie get a Globe nod for his lovely portrayal of Mr Dick, setting us to rights in The Personal History of David Copperfield.

Will win: Daniel Kaluuya for Judas and the Black Messiah

Should win: Daniel Kaluuya for Judas and the Black Messiah

Shoulda been a contender: Hugh Laurie for The Personal History of David Copperfield

Glenn Close, in my view, should have won an Oscar for her towering performance in The Wife. But her crotchety, cigarette-smoking, big-glasses-wearing, down-home grandma in the gruesomely entitled Hillbilly Elegy is a ripe piece of nonsense. Jodie Foster, too, plays it uninterestingly down the middle in the low-octane political movie The Mauritanian. German child actor Helena Zengel might conceivably pinch this, for her scene-stealing turn opposite Tom Hanks in the western News of the World, but it’s nowhere near the power of her performance in the German film System Crashers. Olivia Colman has what is inevitably a self-effacing subordinate role in The Father, though you should never underestimate the warmth and intelligence of her acting personality. On balance, the prize has to go to Amanda Seyfried for her role in the heightened and reimagined part of Marion Davies, girlfriend of the dreaded WR Hearst, in David Fincher’s Mank. She has a puckish sprightliness and innocence, playing off nicely against Gary Oldman’s careworn Mankiewicz.

It’s perhaps not the performance of the century, but a very good one and it would be a worthy winner. Although now is the time to repeat my woe that Lee Isaac Chung’s excellent Minari hasn’t had the love it deserves, and it would have been great to see veteran Korean star Youn Yuh-jung get a nod in this category.

Will win: Amanda Seyfried for Mank

Should win: Amanda Seyfried for Mank

Shoulda been a contender: Youn Yuh-jung for Minari

For director, it has to be Chloé Zhao for Nomadland, a film that already has the lineaments of a classic. David Fincher is a substantial candidate and his Mank is excellent, and the same goes for Emerald Fennell for her stiletto-stab of a movie, Promising Young Woman. As for the others, I’ve mentioned my disappointment in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, and Regina King’s One Night In Miami didn’t quite escape the stage space and come to cinematic life.

But this list has a lot of absences. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was a movie that divided people, but what sensational ambition and flair he has as a director, always shooting for the moon, when some of the directors on the list aren’t shooting further than their own backyards. We could have had Pete Docter and Kemp Powers here for Soul, or indeed Spike Lee for his incendiary, angry and yet also weirdly playful Da 5 Bloods. But it would be great to see Zhao get a Globe.

Will win: Chloé Zhao for Nomadland

Should win: Chloé Zhao for Nomadland

Shoulda been a contender: Christopher Nolan for Tenet

The 78th Golden Globe awards are at on 28 February at 8 pm EST/5 pm PST (1am GMT on 1 March).