The 71st Golden Globes are more an opportunity to watch Tina Fey and Amy Poehler do their deeply excellent thing as co-hosts than they are a definitive accounting of the best in popular culture. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has the rather endearingly human tendency to make its nominations with an eye towards getting the most impressive possible mix of celebrities to attend, rather than with the aim of making a contribution to defining the canon. As a result, sorting through the nominations to decide who ought to emerge victorious in any given category can be an exercise in making the most of bad, or at least strange, options at hand. But if you’re mocking up a ballot with the aim of picking the most deserving candidates, here are some arguments for how to fill out your lineup:
Category: Best Motion Picture, DramaNominees: 12 Years A Slave, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Philomena, RushWho Should Win: 12 Years A SlaveWhy: It’s easy to talk about the intellectual and political importance of 12 Years A Slave, whether you want to discuss the shift from focusing on white characters in movies about race in America to black ones, or to consider which white characters in the movie have the most to teach us about why racism persists today. But that’s not the only reason that, of the available candidates, it’s the best picture of the year. Steve McQueen has made an astonishingly gorgeous picture that makes fabulous use of the Southern landscape to emphasize the iron circle that’s closed on the formerly free Solomon Northup. And he’s gotten tremendous performances out of his very deep cast, including making Lupita Nyong’o the breakout movie actress of the year. It’s a deep accomplishment, impressive on every level.
Category: Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture, DramaNominees: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock, Gravity, Judi Dench, Philomena, Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks, Kate Winslet, Labor DayWho Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue JasmineWhy: This is one of those lists that throws me for a loop, because there are so many other things I might have had on it if I made it myself. That said, Cate Blanchett’s turn in Blue Jasmine is probably the one I’d pick. It’s a performance that’s alternatively prickly, delusional, and tremendously vulnerable. And as a delusional socialite whose insecurities seem to have morphed into full-blown mental illness after her financier husband is revealed to be a fraud, Jasmine’s dissolution is a fascinating portrait of American self-delusion.
Category: Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture, DramaNominees: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave, Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips, Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club, Robert Redford, All Is LostWho Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A SlaveWhy: I have no desire to stop the McConaughey Greatness Train, and all of these are strong contenders, though it makes me tremendously sad that Mandela were a stronger movie (or, as I’ve written, a pair of movies), so Elba’s shot at an award for playing the late South African leader felt more substantive — he’s tremendous, but straining against the limitations of the film. That said, I think Ejiofor does something very particular and special in 12 Years A Slave, and something male actors don’t always get a chance to do. He plays a man who survives in part by moving from action to stillness, by shrinking into himself. Solomon Northup has to be cowardly, he has to be self-interested, and he ultimately has to be callous to stay alive and free. Ejiofor carries the weight of all of those compromises.
Category: Best Motion Picture, Comedy Or MusicalNominees: American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Her, NebraskaWho Should Win: HerWhy: This is a reflection of some of my own priorities, but I’d like to see Her win in this category. It’s not just that the movie is quiet and kind and intimate, rather than huge and flashy and vulgar, but that it’s thoughtful about what it takes to be decent to someone that you love. Her feels like it has entirely different priorities and interests than most American movies today, and its portrait of a near-future Los Angeles is smart, savvy science fiction of a kind that’s almost entirely confined to books like A Visit From The Goon Squad these days. We could use more movies like it.
Category: Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture, Comedy Or MusicalNominees: Amy Adams, American Hustle, Julie Delpy, Before Midnight, Greta Gerwig, Francis Ha, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said, Meryl Streep, August: Osage CountyWho Should Win: Amy Adams, American HustleWhy: For all that I wasn’t particularly fond of American Hustle, Adams is terrific in it. It’s a career-expanding performance, building on the streak of sexual wildness she displayed in Talladega Nights, but it’s anchored by a deep well of sadness and self-deception. As a woman who’s determined to see a con become reality by sheer force of will, Adams is one of the most human things in an outrageous movie.
Category: Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture, Comedy Or MusicalNominees: Christian Bale, American Hustle, Bruce Dern, Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Joaquin Phoenix, HerWho Should Win: Christian Bale, American Hustle or Joaquin Phoenix, HerWhy: I’d be happy to see this category go either way. American Hustle would have been a terrific little movie if it focused more clearly on Bale and Jeremy Renner’s performances, and I appreciate Bale’s lack of vanity. And in Her, Phoenix does lovely work connecting deeply to a woman who isn’t actually there. He’s a valentine-colored turtle, his soft red shirts covering shoulders that hunch in on themselves. And Theodore, his character, voyages into strange new territory without being pathetic.
Category: Best Foreign Language FilmNominees: Blue Is The Warmest Color, The Great Beauty, The Hunt, The Past, The Wind RisesWho Should Win: I’m not actually sure.Why: I’m too behind on this category to offer up an opinion. But I want to offer a protest that Wadjda, the first feature shot in Saudi Arabia, isn’t here, and isn’t eligible for the relevant Academy Award. It’s terrific, and groundbreaking, and a great showcase for actors who don’t get a lot of exposure over here. Go see it.
Category: Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Motion PictureNominees: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine, Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle, Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave, Julia Roberts, August: Osage County, June Squibb, NebraskaWho Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A SlaveWhy: In another year, I might have gone for Sally Hawkins or Jennifer Lawrence. But there’s just nothing else like Nyong’o’s performance on offer this year. As Patsey, a slave with the misfortune to be both terrific at picking cotton and the object of her master’s sexual predations, and thus proof to him that his mastery of her is a design of God, Nyong’o runs the gamut from silent, accusatory misery, to volcanic declarations of her own humanity.
Category: Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In A Motion PictureNominees: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips, Daniel Bruhl, Rush, Bradley Cooper, American Hustle, Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave, Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers ClubWho Should Win: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A SlaveWhy: I worry that Bradley Cooper, whose performance in American Hustle is a cartoon, is going to walk off with this category. Fassbender should win, though. His plantation owner Epps is a monster who’s many times as frightening for the recognizable humanity that leads him to bait his wife, rape a woman he regards as his property, and psychologically torture Solomon Northup. Fassbender is director Steve McQueen’s muse, and he’s been held up as an example of McQueen’s coldness, but Epps is burningly, pathetically, grotesquely alive here.
Category: Best Director, Motion PictureNominees: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity, Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips, Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave, Alexander Payne, Nebraska, David O. Russell, American HustleWho Should Win: Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave or Alfonso Cuaron, GravityWhy: Gravity has a much weaker script than 12 Years A Slave, and a much smaller ensemble to deal with. But I’d be fine if it picked up this award for Cuaron’s technical accomplishments alone — he’s one of the only directors to understand that 3D should pull you into the screen rather than to send things flying out at you. That said, 12 Years A Slave is the more complete picture on every level, and I hope McQueen wins for producing it.
Category: Best Screenplay, Motion PictureNominees: Spike Jonze, Her, Bob Nelson, Nebraska, Jeff Pope & Steve Coogan, Philomena, John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave, Eric Warren Singer & David O Russell, American HustleWho Should Win: HerWhy: So much of American Hustle is improvised, and for all that I love 12 Years A Slave, I tend to give more points for original screenplays than adaptations. So I’m rooting for Her, significantly because of the way it captures the nuances of conversations between people who love each other, and the little ways we assert ourselves and hurt each other. Not everything great has to be flashy. And in fact, doing the little things right is often the hardest part of pulling off human movie dialogue.
Category: Best Television Series, DramaNominees: Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, House Of Cards, Masters Of SexWho Should Win: Breaking BadWhy: What a weird list. I’d put Breaking Bad at the top even if the HFPA had nominated worthier contenders like The Americans and Orange Is The New Black in place of the decidedly mediocre seasons of Downton Abbey and House Of Cards, even though I wasn’t crazy about the way the series wrapped up. But in this group, Breaking Bad is the obvious stand-out, though I’m very glad to see Masters Of Sex treated like a contender, if only because the HFPA wanted Michael Sheen to show up.
Category: Best Performance By An Actress In A Television Series, DramaNominees: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife, Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black, Taylor Schilling, Orange Is The New Black, Kerry Washington, Scandal, Robin Wright, House Of CardsWho Should Win: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife or Tatiana Maslany, Orphan BlackWhy: Even in a year that started off bumpy, Margulies is never less than flawless on The Good Wife, especially as the show built to a hugely painful break between Alicia and Will, and towards Alicia going out on her own professionally. And Maslany didn’t just turn in one good performance, but many. A win for her would be a nice poking of the wedge of serious science fiction, prying the door open for more substantive respect for the genre.
Category: Best Performance By An Actor In A Television Series, DramaNominees: Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad, Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan, Michael Sheen, Masters Of Sex, Kevin Spacey, House Of Cards, James Spader, The BlacklistWho Should Win: Bryan Cranston, Breaking BadWhy: Once again, no contest, especially because of Cranston’s competition in the category (with the exception of Michael Sheen). Simply being a conflicted, middle-aged white man isn’t enough to make you interesting. Cranston’s performance as the megalomaniacal, cruel Walter White has always been tremendous, but this season, watching him come to understand who he’s been brought Cranston’s work to another level.
Category: Best Television Series, Comedy Or MusicalNominees: The Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Girls, Modern Family, Parks and RecreationWho Should Win: Parks and Recreation or GirlsWhy: Does Girls even really count as a comedy anymore? This is an uneven category, but I’d be happy with any three of these winners, for very different reasons. Girls could win for “One Man’s Trash” alone, and for Lena Dunham’s willingness to tweak the hell out of her audience — she’s a next-level troll in service of the greater good. Parks and Recreation had its ups and downs in 2013, but the “London” episode alone should stand as a rebuke to anyone who insists that old shows can’t find new themes and emotional tones.
Category: Best Performance By An Actress In A Television Series, Comedy Or MusicalNominees: Zooey Deschanel, New Girl, Lena Dunham, Girls, Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep, Amy Poehler, Parks & RecreationWho Should Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, VeepWhy: Veep basically followed the Parks and Recreation template in its second season, giving Vice President Selina Meyer actual things to do, and actual skills that make it clear why we’re supposed to root for her. Seeing Selina out on the hustings or smacking down a sexist diplomat who tried to harass her became something I actively rooted for. Louis-Dreyfus is incredibly good at being the stiff bourbon in Veep’s often silly cocktail. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.
Category: Best Performance By An Actor In A Television Series, Comedy Or MusicalNominees: Jason Bateman, Arrested Development, Don Cheadle, House Of Lies, Michael J. Fox, The Michael J. Fox Show, Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory, Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-NineWho Should Win: Nobody?Why: Comedies run by women may not have racked up ratings in the numbers we would have wished, but it’s a mark of the strength of those shows, and of the current class of female comedians that these nominees just make me think of the women — and supporting men — in these shows and others who are doing better, more interesting work. Step it up, dudes and HFPA nominators!
Category: Best Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For TelevisionNominees: American Horror Story: Coven, Behind The Candelabra, Dancing On The Edge, Top Of The Lake, White QueenWho Should Win: Behind The Candelabra or Top Of The LakeWhy: I honestly can’t decide which of these projects I’d rather see win, because they’re both terrific. Top Of The Lake is strange and powerful, and Elisabeth Moss is fantastic in it. Behind The Candelabra is a scabrously funny meditation on the power of celebrity, the poisonousness of beauty culture, and what happens when gay men’s relationships are driven underground. A win for either is a win for very good, innovative television.
Category: Best Performance By An Actress In A Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For TelevisionNominees: Helena Bonham Carter, Burton & Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, The White Queen, Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven, Helen Mirren, Phil Spector, Elisabeth Moss, Top of the LakeWho Should Win: Elisabeth Moss, Top of the LakeWhy: A ferocious, range-expanding performance for Elisabeth Moss that made me incredibly excited to see what she’ll decided to do full-time when Mad Men is over. Let’s hope someone is creating a show just for her.
Category: Best Performance By An Actor In A Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For TelevisionNominees: Matt Damon, Behind The Candelabra, Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing On The Edge, Idris Elba, Luther, Al Pacino, Phil SpectorWho Should Win: Matt Damon and Michael Douglas should tie for Behind The CandelabraWhy: As Liberace and Scott Thorson, the young man who became his driver, lover, and adopted son, Douglas and Damon have tremendous fun together at Steven Soderbergh’s direction. The movie is tremendously funny, and Liberace and Thorson have real comedic and sexual chemistry, but their performances also get at the rot and humiliation that come with presenting your relationship to the world as something that it’s not, and from the idea that reshaping someone in your image is a reflection of love rather than a kind of hate.
Category: Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Series, Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For TelevisionNominees: Jacqueline Bisset, Dancing On The Edge, Janet McTeer, White Queen, Hayden Panettiere, Nashville, Monica Potter, Parenthood, Sofia Vergara, Modern FamilyWho Should Win: In an ideal world, the entire supporting cast of Orange Is The New Black. In the one we’ve got, Hayden Panettiere, Nashville.Why: Seriously, that House Of Cards is getting awards love rather than Orange Is The New Black is everything that’s wrong with television awards these days. But Panettiere is really excellent on Nashville. As Juliette Barnes, Panettiere has created a fully-realized woman who’s unashamed of her sexual hunger, and whose horrible childhood has lead her not to retreat into cringing victimhood, but into vigorous self-assertion. Even when Juliette steps wrong, you can see where she’s coming from, and sympathize with the challenge of trying to create a career that doesn’t require a person to sacrifice all of her integrity.
Category: Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In A Series, Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made For TelevisionNominees: Josh Charles, The Good Wife, Rob Lowe, Behind the Candelabra, Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad, Corey Stoll, House Of Cards, Jon Voight, Ray DonovanWho Should Win: Actually, I’d be okay with anyone on this list winning.Why: Even in the shows on this list that don’t blow me away, House Of Cards and Ray Donovan, both Stoll and Voight are very good. And in the others, which I loved, Charles is wonderfully human, Lowe is campy and hilarious, and Paul was wounded almost beyond the point of bearing. It’s nice to have at least one category where any win is good news.