Despite Shallow Politics, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' And 'Green Book' Lead Best Picture Race

The critically contested movies won top prizes at the Golden Globes, all but ensuring they'll become Oscar nominees, too.

What’s in a Golden Globe win? Publicity. 

Long seen as the Oscars’ most distinguished precursor, the Globes send awards season into overtime, providing a massive stage for the contenders still determining their stature in a months-long derby to crown the previous year’s best movie.

To wit, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book” got a PR boost on Sunday, winning the night’s top prizes and all but guaranteeing they’ll become Best Picture nominees when the Oscar roster is unveiled on Jan. 22. 

The Golden Globes’ exact impact is hard to determine, but there’s no doubt that a win is a boon to any film racing toward the Oscars’ finish line. It’s not the trophies that matter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as there is no voting overlap between it and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Instead, it’s the glitz, glamour and carefully articulated speeches surrounding the awards that carry influence.

In this way, the Globes are an audition for the Academy Awards: Deliver at the January show and you’ll be rewarded with a ticket to the main attraction a few weeks later. 

That’s especially important this year, given the heated conversations surrounding “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book.” The former is a surface-level Freddie Mercury biopic that paints the Queen frontman’s homosexuality as his vice; the latter, also based on a true story, is a mind-numbingly simplistic 1960s-set race dramedy about black pianist Don Shirley and the white chauffeur in his employ.

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in "Green Book."
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in "Green Book."

Both films suffer from a questionable ethos, no matter how entertaining or well-intentioned they may be, and the artistic choices that portray real-life subjects or timely social topics in a questionable light are exactly the sort of fodder that gets the movie community buzzing right before Oscar nominations are unveiled. 

The publicity wheels were spinning hard when “Green Book” maestro Peter Farrelly delivered his acceptance speech for Best Picture - Comedy or Musical. The director, a first-time winner best known for rowdy comedies like “There’s Something About Mary,” “Dumb and Dumber” and “Shallow Hal,” talked about his movie’s relationship to racism, immigration and finding hope in “divided times.”

By invoking socially conscious buzzwords, Farrelly knew that he was painting himself as an artist with only the most positive aims. Without saying as much, he tried to relieve himself of accusations that “Green Book” borrows a tired white-savior complex and misrepresents its subject’s biography

“Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King wasn’t quite as grandiose. In accepting the Best Picture - Drama award, he kept his speech to safe chatter about the “power of movies” and bringing the “magic” of Queen’s music to the big screen.

With the Globes telecast already running long, King then resorted to a conventional list of thank-yous as the movie’s lead actor, Rami Malek, who also won a high-profile Globe on Sunday, stood nearby. Neither King nor Malek explicitly mentioned Mercury’s sexuality, which actors and filmmakers chronicling gay characters usually love to wax on about in speeches.

Rami Malek in "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Rami Malek in "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The “Rhapsody” team’s self-aggrandizement wasn’t as glaring as Farrelly’s. Does that mean Oscar voters will be more charmed or less? Of course, everyone knew better than to mention the movie’s co-director, Bryan Singer, who was fired from the production for erratic behavior before being accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old in 2003. 

All of this will leave studio flacks scrambling to plot the best course for maintaining the Globes’ good will.

The idea that the Globes predict the Oscars can be somewhat overstated. Last year, for example, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Lady Bird” won the Globes’ biggest accolades only to see “The Shape of Water” take home the Oscar. But there’s no doubt that the Globes can help soften the divide between negative critical reception and robust award campaigns. Sunday’s wins for “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book” help to diminish the many think-pieces and tweets that have challenged both films’ politics.

One lingering factor that could stymie “Rhapsody” and “Green Book” is the Oscars’ preferential balloting system, which requires an onslaught of passionate Academy voters willing to place the movie at No. 1. Even with Globes to their names, neither “Rhapsody” nor “Green Book” seems to have the widespread cultural fervor of “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” or “Roma.”

But they can at least claim one thing that pays off in Hollywood: optics. “Golden Globe winner” is a pretty advantageous bragging point. Tickets to the Oscars will surely follow, whether or not more statuettes do, too.