Golden Glow: Ricky Gervais’ Wit Burns Bright at this Year’s Globes Ceremony

I like my Golden Globes ceremonies like I like my friends — drunk and trashy. That’s why I was relieved when host Ricky Gervais opened Sunday night’s show with a reference to Charlie Sheen’s hotel-room debauchery.

Within the first five minutes of his opening monologue, Gervais had mocked Mel Gibson’s anti-semitic rants, Hugh Hefner’s sexual organs, closeted Scientologist thespians, and the makers of the critically reviled best-picture (comedy or musical) nominee “The Tourist” — a harbinger perhaps that this evening would not end up a dull retread of last year, when the mischievous creator of “The Office” tread lightly over his audience’s feelings. As the Oscar ceremony moves toward genial inoffensiveness (the choice to host this year: Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Yawn!), I appreciate the Globes’ desire to keep the atmosphere loose, snarky, and alcohol-sodden.

Did you somehow miss this display of wanton self-congratulation? Luckily for you, I had my laptop at hand — and luckily for me, a glass of wine, as well — while watching the show. Here’s my take on some of the night’s highlights and lowlights, more or less in chronological order as the ceremony progressed.

The night’s first award goes to Christian Bale (“The Fighter”). As with recorded tirades, Bale sets the bar high when it comes to acceptance speeches. The best-supporting actor victor is funny and charming, as long as you don’t piss him off. I’m not saying that’s why the Hollywood Foreign Press Association gave him an award, but I heard rumors of a lifetime achievement award next year for Meltdown Mel to make amends for Gervais’ opening monologue.

Katey Sagal seems to have the worst seat in the house. It takes her longer to walk to the stage than to give her acceptance speech, which is cut off by music. That’s no way to treat Peg Bundy (though her best-actress award comes for her dramatic work in TV’s “Sons of Anarchy“). This trend continues with the third winner of the night — “Carlos” as best miniseries, except the honoree doesn’t take the musical hint, so the volume steadily rises. That’s three times in three speeches; the producers are set on keeping this under eight hours, bless them.

Ricky trashes the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s president — a move, if said president’s expression minutes later is any indication, that was unscripted. Be careful, Ricky, about biting the hand that feeds you free booze.

Steve Buscemi (best actor in a drama series for “Boardwalk Empire”) starts his speech by acknowledging the awesome power of the feared individual charged with the wrap-up music, and his relative concision and eloquence should be an example to all who follow. Unfortunately, following him is the producer of his show, accepting the trophy for best drama series. This honoree keeps in the classy spirit of the evening by bellowing, “I am pretty confident I speak for everyone on this stage when I say, ‘Holy, effin crap. We won a Golden Globe award.”” Perhaps, but at least one of the myriad individuals on stage must have the self-awareness to recognize such a dubious distinction might lend itself to an alternative interpretation of that comment.

This is schlock songwriter Diane Warren’s first award? I thought she wrote that “Titanic” song, but a Wikipedia search finds I’m wrong. But she can always take credit for “I Don’t Want to Miss a thing” from “Armageddon.” Anyway, she takes the trophy here for some Cher song in “Burlesque.” And the next music award goes to Nine Inch Nails innovator Trent Reznor. How’s that for range in your awards selection? But Reznor comes across like some boring Hollywood exec. What happened to the tortured poet of “Head Like a Hole”? I want him to walk on stage, throw over the microphone, denounce the artifice of the proceedings and spout a venomous rant. Instead, he offers the usual assault of banal niceties and a roll call of cinematic power players.

Justin Bieber’s agent must have included a clause for the 16-year-old singer to appear with someone younger than he is because he’s presenting best animated film with “True Grit” newcomer Hailey Steinfeld. Unfortunately, the 14-year-old actress towers over the young pop sensation, rendering him the human equivalent of a purse dog — which probably only enhances his appeal among his core audience . The director of “Toy Story 3” points out how young they are while accepting his prize, but fails to admonish the event organizers that a Golden Globes ceremony is no place for children, especially ones that have hitherto not picked up drinking problems. Speaking of substance abuse …

While introducing presenter Robert Downey Jr., Gervais offers the vivid image of the actor taking part in pornographic movies. It’s all the more horrifying because one could think back a decade and imagine the “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” star being forced into bargain-basement skin flicks and street tricks to support his appetite for crack and heroin. But Downey should serve as inspiration to current Betty Ford regulars like Lindsay Lohan, who still have the potential to turn their lives around, produce high-grossing movie product, and present awards on the Golden Globes. Even without the illicit narcotics, Downey is a hoot — commenting on the evening’s malicious and slightly sinister vibe (he’s digging it, too) and offering a salacious introduction to the award for best actress (comedy or musical). I hope they sent Bieber off to bed before Downey took the stage.

Annette Bening takes the trophy for the lesbian family drama “The Kids Are All Right.” She shares her first congratulatory kiss with Julianne Moore; I guess she likes to stay in character even at awards shows. I’m not sure what the show’s editors are trying to suggest with their choice of reaction shots, but we get real-life lesbian Jane Lynch, Nicole Kidman (whose signature role was the sexually ambiguous Virginia Woolf), and Angelina Jolie.

Speaking of reaction shots, I love how generous the Globes are with these gems. It reveals who seems genuinely happy for the winner, who’s doing her best acting work by appearing elated at the ballot’s outcome and who’s had so much face work that any outward emotional response remains elusive.

Back to Bening. She won this same award for the 2004 film “Being Julia” only to lose the Oscar to awards nemesis Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby.” Swank also edged Bening in the 1999 race with her “Boys Don’t Cry” turn when the latter was nominated for “American Beauty.” One has to wonder what it will do to Bening’s emotional well-being if Swank ekes out an Oscar nomination with her role in “Conviction” (it’s iffy but possible because she received a SAG nod).

Moving on to someone who has no chance of ever receiving any acting recognition, Sylvester Stallone talks about best drama picture nominee “The Fighter.” If he can’t make a quality motion picture, at least he can introduce a clip from one.

Al Pacino wins best actor in a TV movie for “You Don’t Know Jack.” Paul Giamatti looks annoyed he has to join the standing ovation. But Al’s old, so get off your ass, Paul. Plus, Pacino played the infamous Jack Kevorkian — who, unlike most awards shows, puts people to sleep humanely. Claire Danes takes the globe for best actress in a TV movie (‘Temple Grandin’). Her dress is stunning. Maybe she can give some fashion advice to hug machine inventor Temple Gradin — whom she played in the movie and who accompanied her to the ceremony. I’m quite worried about what Joan Rivers and the “Fashion Police” will have to say about Temple’s eclectic ensemble.

Tina Fey and Steve Carrell — presenting best screenplay — should be obligated to show up at all awards shows (I’d throw in Steve Martin, too, but I haven’t seen him here tonight). Like “Inception,” Tina creates complicated dream fantasies around Leonardo DiCaprio. Steve would give his right arm to have written “127 Hours.” The latter is also the running time of a typical Oscar ceremony. So credit for the Globe people for keeping this running smoothly with some quick laughs instead of forced, cheesy banter.

It’s no surprise that Jane Lynch wins best supporting actress on TV for “Glee.” It’s great she’s getting so much recognition lately since, as she says herself, she’s “nothing if not falsely humble.” She insists on sharing the award with writer Ian Brennan, who writes Sue Sylvester’s malevolent dialogue.

Best foreign language film. Well, it’s a bunch of films that look far superior to most of the junk Hollywood puts out, but will probably not make my Netflix queue. A Danish movie wins. I’d tell you the title, but even a room filled with film industry professionals couldn’t care less. They seem to be seething out of boredom, annoyed that Angelina Jolie couldn’t have made a foreign film they could honor instead. Luckily, Helen Mirren comes on and they seem to waken out of their mid-show malaise. Someone refill those glasses! She’s introducing “The King’s Speech.” Because she was “The Queen.” How royally clever. It’s too bad that future generations of the British royal family may not be brought to life by classy thespians such as these. Someone like Prince Harry really calls for a VH1 reality-show interpretation instead. One day soon he’ll be doing shots naked in a hot tub with Paris Hilton, Tila Tequila, and Flavor Flav.

Laura Linney couldn’t be here tonight to accept her best actor in a comedy series for “The Big C.” Good for her. She has a life beyond goodie bags and comp liquor. Or at least an offer with better freebies. I hear her show, though I haven’t seen it, is a comedy about cancer. But then, even a drama about cancer would be funnier than “Two and a Half Men.” (I think Gervais is rubbing off on me with his Charlie Sheen bashing. Usually when Gervais rubs off on people it involves stained garments, so I guess I got off lucky.)

Jane Fonda is in the house, and gets a half-assed standing O. She hasn’t been to the Golden Globes for a quarter-century, but a very important mission has summoned her here this evening. She’s acting as an emissary for her friend Cher, who’s otherwise engaged with her Las Vegas show. Fonda somehow manages to tarnish her father’s legacy in presenting best picture (comedy or musical) nominee “Burlesque.” From the clip, it looks like “Showgirls” with artistic importance. No thanks.

Melissa Leo wins best supporting actress in a movie for “The Fighter” over co-star Amy Adams. But she gives enough acceptance speech for two. Mark Wahlberg chugs from his glass of wine, and his performance inspires me. What happened to that music of death they seemed so fond of earlier?

Matt Damon is here to present the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award to Robert DeNiro, whom Damon calls the world’s greatest living actor. They should have cut to Pacino for a reaction shot. The montage of clips from “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Cape Fear,” “Mean Streets” and “Godfather II” provide the exculpatory evidence to back up this massive claim — though footage from his current film, “Little Fockers,” was curiously absent. Tom Hanks is tearing up even before DeNiro speaks, but DeNiro isn’t going the sentimental route. He starts poking fun at the foreign press; Gervais must have inspired him, too. He also makes a joke about waiters being deported, and the audience can’t figure out whether he’s being racist or making a satirical jab at overzealous border policies. And his remarks turn more bitter from there as he jokingly accuses the audience of not bothering to watch free DVD screeners of some of his — how shall we say this delicately? — minor films. It’s somewhat uncomfortable, but DeNiro gets a second standing ovation as he exits.

Best director winner David Fincher — who makes great movies about serial killers such as “Se7en” and “Zodiac” — takes on another topic that can create widespread terror: Facebook. It’s not a surprise he’s won for “The Social Network.” The film has amassed dozens of critics’ prizes and now seems the clear front-runner for the Oscar over “The King’s Speech,” which fills the classy-period-piece awards slot.

Back to TV for a second (it’s great how they mix big and small screen alike, though they prefer to give trophies to movie stars who slum on TV when they can; see Pacino and Linney). “Glee” takes home the award for best comedy or musical program, and the title reflects the beaming group that ascends the stage to rehabilitated ’80s music. That’s a lot of people on stage. Luckily, only two of them speak. I was afraid a group song might break out.

Johnny Depp competes with Johnny Depp for best actor in a comedy or musical. Unfortunately, since it’s not a distinction celebrating the year’s worst film choices — we’re speaking of “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Tourist” here — neither wins. Paul Giamatti sneaks in with “Barney’s Version.” But the overall lack of critical esteem shown to the five performances perhaps makes the case for consolidating the lead acting honors into one award like the Oscars do. Giamatti is excited by the free Godiva confections. You’d think after playing a connoisseur in “Sideways” he would know to focus on the free wine, but it’s the chocolate that gets him going. And Halle Berry, too. (Hmmm, wonder if Gervais will make some sort of sexual chocolate comment later).

Hey man, it’s Jeff Bridges. He’s presenting best actress in a drama, which goes to Natalie Portman. As expected. This whole night has been so unsurprising. It’s almost as if awards voters follow the online horse-race buzz and fill out their ballots accordingly. How about a quirky upset? How about a shockingly undeserving winner? Well, it’s not happening in the best comedy-musical picture category, where the possibilities were rife, but good taste won out with the universally well-regarded “The Kids Are All Right.” And the best actor in a drama could only go to Colin Firth, who has won pretty much every available award for “The King’s Speech.” Listening to his articulate acceptance speech, you can’t help but root for him to win more.

Michael Douglas, presenting best picture-drama, gets a standing ovation for beating cancer — a topic tailor-made for this category. There’s one more chance for an upset. Will it be something other than “The Social Network”? Of course not. The film seems to have as many friends as Justin Bieber. I hope he’s gone to bed by now, even though the producers kept the show under three hours. And Gervais brought the savage laughs every now and then (ending by thanking the network, the HFPA, the audience and God — “for making me an atheist.”) That’s about all you can ask for with shows like this.


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