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Awards Season

Just How Crazy, Really, Are The Golden Globes Musical/Comedy Picks?

In Burlesque, Christina Aguilera did her part to earn the film a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. No, really! Stephen Vaughan/Sony Pictures hide caption

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Stephen Vaughan/Sony Pictures

When the 2010 Golden Globe nominations were announced, film fans on the internet were aghast. AGHAST! What could cause the internet to react in such an uncharacteristic manner?

Well, give or take a Piper Perabo nomination over on the TV side (for her performance in USA's Covert Affairs), the scorn was largely concentrated on the nominations for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy). Those nominees: The Kids Are All Right, Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist, Burlesque, and Red.

Complaining about award nominees is about as boilerplate as it gets, and it seems particularly silly to single out the Globes for scorn (they who once nominated Sharon Stone for The Muse).

But this field really was beyond the pale.

Alice in Wonderland is a legitimately terrible movie, The Tourist sits at a proud 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, and you'd be hard pressed to find a more nondescript movie than Red. (You won't, however, hear a bad word from us about Burlesque. Cher can stay.)

What made the Musical/Comedy nominations so especially terrible was twofold. For one thing, there were so many better options: Easy A, Made in Dagenham, Please Give, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Runaways (hey, if Ray can be judged a "musical" ...). Any number of better-received options were available. But the second reason is this: for all the flack the Globes get, their Musical/Comedy nominees are often quite good. And with the Oscars generally averse to recognizing comedy among the year's best films, the Globes have been the only ones to recognize your Christopher Guests, your Garry Marshalls, your Zucker-Abrahams-Zuckers.

Determined to demonstrate that the Globes can be a force for good, we went and picked the ten years where the Globes really nailed down the Musical/Comedy category. Few fields were perfect, but not one of them featured Alice in Wonderland.

1979: The truest gem is Being There, Hal Ashby's satire about a gardener (Peter Sellers) whom everyone mistakes for a genius. But while they're not as accomplished, Breaking Away and The Rose are excellent films. The former (covered here just the other day upon the death of its director, Peter Yates), is about boys discovering themselves through competitive cycling, and it perfects a template that's been aped by everything from Chariots of Fire to The Mighty Ducks. The latter, loosely based on Janis Joplin's life, gives Bette Midler her best role and delivers a classic title song.

Weak Links: Hair and 10 are polarizing, though you can argue that the former fleshes out the characters from the musical and the latter at least demonstrates what used to be sexy and funny.

1980: Simply put, Airplane! is genius, and the Globes were right to give it a Best Picture nomination. And Coal Miner's Daughter is so good that over 30 years later, it's still begetting movies like Country Strong. Time seems to have forgotten Melvin and Howard, a biopic about the gas-station owner who inherited Howard Hughes' money, but it's so sweet and funny that you should watch it tonight. We won't pretend that Fame is in the same league, but as a marshmallow fluff, it's tasty.

Weak Link: Has anyone discussed Taylor Hackford's The Idolmaker, about a man who turns local nobodies into pop stars, since 1981? No? That says it all.

1982: Almost any field that featured Tootsie would have to be considered one of the best the Globes had to offer. Victor/Victoria couldn't have been a surprise nomination, considering the Globes' longstanding love affair with Blake Edwards, but it's certainly stood the test of time, as has Diner. And while nominating The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas might've seemed crass back in the day, that's a movie that is fondly remembered in an awful lot of circles.

Weak Link: You can't say the same of My Favorite Year, which never much rises above the level of a Peter O'Toole vehicle.

1985: For fans of emotionally resonant sci-fi, this was a miracle year. Back to the Future endures because of its lovely story, and the seasoned pros in Cocoon turn a space-pod film into a poignant reflection on aging. Meanwhile, Woody Allen gets agreeably trippy with The Purple Rose of Cairo, which features Jeff Daniels climbing out of a movie screen to fall in love with Mia Farrow. You could even say there's superhuman acting in Prizzi's Honor, a mob comedy that proves Anjelica Huston belongs in her family's dynasty.

Weak Link: A Chorus Line, which is so boring that it was probably created by aliens who wanted to destroy the movie musical.

1988: From its vision of sisters doing it for themselves to its enthusiasm for shoulder pads, Working Girl is a perfect '80s time capsule, while the action comedy Midnight Run proves that when he's given the right material, Robert DeNiro can sell a comedy. Big's iconic scene on the FAO Schwarz piano encapsulates its playful, touching appeal, and now that we've stopped being awed by its technical wizardry, we can appreciate the edgy wit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Lastly, there's A Fish Called Wanda, one of the best black comedies ever created and the reason God reserved a bungalow in heaven for Kevin Kline.

Weak Link: None! Did we appreciate this year as we lived it? Every, every minute?

1990: Sometimes you want a Best Picture nominee to be iconic, not flawless, and this category delivers three decade-defining hits: Ghost, Pretty Woman, and Home Alone. If you haven't spent a Saturday afternoon watching one of these movies on TBS, then you have missed one of life's greatest pleasures. Dick Tracy seems wan by comparison, but the spectacular design and crackerjack cast keep it humming along.

Weak Link: Green Card, the strained Peter Weir rom-com that actually won the Globe. Maybe the Hollywood Foreign Press just saw fellow European Gerard Depardieu on the poster and decided that was good enough for them.

1994: The best Musical/Comedy lineups manage to touch on all sorts of film types, and 1994's field did that well. The Lion King repped for the dominant Disney animation trend (also the "wildly successful cash magnet" trend that isn't so much a trend but an enduring Hollywood staple). Four Weddings and a Funeral was your fun English import (also your "hey, Hugh Grant is a giant new movie star" picture). Ed Wood satisfied the artsy types, way back when Johnny Depp and Tim Burton were actually under-appreciated. And in an "only at the Globes" nomination that ought to give one faith in the whole corrupt institution, The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert got to call itself a Best Picture nominee.

Weak Link: Robert Altman's Pret-a-Porter certainly sits in the stereotypical Globes wheelhouse, glutted as it was with big-name movie stars and glitzy fashion people. But besides the frou-frou title, no one really remembers much about it now, do they?

2000: Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous has its detractors, but those detractors are wrong. Kudos to the Globes for giving it the win. But the real finds in this year's category were Best in Show and O Brother Where Art Thou?, two strange and wonderful movies that never had a shot with the Oscars. Even now, with the Coen Brothers on the verge of their third Best Picture Oscar nod in four years, it's hard to believe that the zany '20s artifice of O Brother would be the Academy's cup of tea. Even Chicken Run was a well-received animated entry in the field (the Globes have since banished animated films from this category, which is too bad, since a How to Train Your Dragon would've worked wonders to up the cred of the 2010 field).

Weak Link: The fact that Chocolat managed to be the one movie of these five to go on to the Best Picture field was well-lamented at the time. Even now, with selected contrarians having come out of the woodwork in support of Lasse Hallstrom's super-sweet fable, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

2003: Much like this year, 2003 featured one comedy surely destined for Oscar's Best Picture field plus five other movies just happy to be nominated. In 2010, the chosen one is The Kids Are All Right. In 2003, it was Lost in Translation. But check out those also-rans: Finding Nemo, which some humble writers maintain is Pixar's finest movie; Love, Actually, which, in all its good-natured overkill, manages to wring some delightfully rewatchable moments (watch the movie for Emma Thompson alone, seriously); Bend It Like Beckham, which was kind of an indie darling that year, though too "light" to be considered for the truly fancy-schmancy awards.

Weak Link: Tim Burton's Big Fish was an ambitious effort full of heart and some certainly beautiful images that nonetheless never seemed to hold together long enough to be greater than the sum of its parts. The same could probably said of Alice in Wonderland this year. Only without the ambition, effort, heart, and beauty.

2008: Pound-for-pound, these nominated comedies were probably a stronger field than the 2008 drama field, populated as it was with soft prestige like Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Bejnamin Button, The Reader, and Revolutionary Road. That year, the Globes put up comedies Vicky Christina Barcelona (the best movie Woody Allen's made since he was on speaking terms with Mia Farrow), the Coen brothers'  Burn After Reading, and British/Irish imports Happy Go Lucky and In Bruges. Both Sally Hawkins and Colin Farrell took home acting trophies for the latter two films, respectively. Though they'd both feel the harsh sting of Oscar snobbery soon after, they're fine examples of the Globes occasionally recognizing great performances in under-rewarded films.

Weak Link: The Globes can't seem to resist a big, gaudy musical, so nominating Mamma Mia! couldn't have been a surprise. Still.

Mark Blankenship writes the blog The Critical Condition. Joe Reid writes the blog Low Resolution.