Happy Golden Globes of Yore
December is here, time for winter coats, shopping for gifts, trimming the tree, hanging the stockings, and switching to the holiday playlist. But for me, there’s one thing I love about the season more than any other: Oscar bait.
This is the time of year when film studios roll out the movies they hope will be big awards contenders, hoping voters will happen to see their film right before they cast their ballots. While there are exceptions (Silence of the Lambs was released in February of 1991 and swept the Oscars a full year later), most of the nominees for major categories at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and all the rest are released this time of year.
I have a love/hate relationship with awards shows. I hate it when an actor who has been overlooked too many times in the past wins for a comparatively undeserving performance, essentially robbing another performer of a deserved honor. I hate it when actors are nominated simply because they played a trans person or a person with a disability. I hate it when actors with leading roles are nominated in supporting categories to increase their odds of winning. I hate it every time Glenn Close loses.
But as imperfect as these awards can be, I mostly love them. I love to watch, I love the upsets, I love the pageantry. But mostly I appreciate the fact that the film industry is a business, and the Oscars, Golden Globes, etc. help prestige dramas and art films make money, which assures that movies like that will continue to be made.
Like many gay men who love movies, I have a particular fondness for the Best Actress races. I do love a diva—and sadly, movies which center on the lives of women are rarely contenders for Best Picture (only four Best Picture Oscars have been given to films with female leads so far this century). So I was excited to learn that two films with female leads that are generating Oscar buzz for their stars were being released before December even hit.
The first of these, House of Gucci, has since been savaged by awful (but truly hilarious) reviews, so probably won’t take home many trophies come spring. But the marketing for the film couldn’t help but highlight all the Oscar winners and nominees in its cast, clearly making a bid for Oscar consideration.
In it, Lady Gaga (an Oscar winner for Best Song in 2019) played Patrizia Regianni, who married into the Gucci family in 1972, and hired an assassin to kill her husband in 1995. It’s big, splashy, and campy. The Italian accents range from subtle to Chef Boyardee, and the characters are either awful people or horrendously awful people. It feels as though everyone involved thought they were making The Godfather but ended up a lot closer to 2003’s I Love You to Death, which at least wanted to be funny.
It’s unlikely that Lady Gaga will find herself on the list of Oscar nominees for Best Actress in 2022 (although you really should listen to the real Patrizia Reggiani speak before believing any bad press about her accent; she sounds just like her). Someone with a much better shot at a nomination is Kristen Stewart for her turn as Princess Diana in Spencer.
Like Gaga, Stewart is playing a real person with an accent not her own (the Oscars love both these things). But Princess Di is a far more beloved, far more famous personality, so the bar was much higher for her—how to expertly play the vocal patterns and mannerisms while still delivering a credible performance, how to recognizably play the icon we all know while simultaneously making her a human being. There were many more ways for Kristen Stewart to fail, but she succeeds miraculously.
Mostly, she benefits from being in a much better movie. Watching these two films back-to-back essentially proves my long-held theory that if you really want to explore the inner life of a character, a film about a single weekend will be much more powerful than one that tries to cram 25 years into a feature running time. Spencer is essentially about the weekend when Diana supposedly decided she would divorce her husband, a relatively small act, but anyone who knows the larger story, beginning with the wedding watched around the world and ending with her tragic death, knows how important this choice was.
If you’re looking to tick off some Oscar boxes before the nominations are even announced, I have to recommend Spencer over House of Gucci. However, if you’re eager to see Lady Gaga keep up with Al Pacino in the scenery-chewing department, then you’ll probably enjoy the latter film, too.
Eric Peterson hosts a podcast about watching old movies with modern eyes. Check out rewindpod.com for more information. His debut novel, Loyalty, Love & Vermouth, was released in November.