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Film Golden Globe nominations cling to the shiny, safe and popular – and the Oscars should take notice

Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born was practically grown in a lab to appeal to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

With its high-wattage leads, big emotional moments, soaring musical numbers and a central hook that boils down to “fame, man, it’s complicated,” the drama is tailor-made for the 88 journalists and critics who make up the HFPA – a notorious bunch of junketeers whose tastes historically cling to the mainstream.

So it was little surprise that Cooper’s directorial debut nabbed five Golden Globe nominations on Thursday morning – just behind the celebrity-heavy Vice’s six nods and tying with the similarly engineered crowd-pleaser Green Book (and the outlier, Yorgos Lanthimos’s idiosyncratic The Favourite).

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Read more: Cheney biopic Vice leads Golden Globe nominations with six nods

Earning nominations for best picture (drama), best director, best actor for Cooper, best actress for Lady Gaga, and best original song (Shallow), A Star Is Born cemented its place among the fall season’s prestige offerings, with runners-up including Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (four nominations), Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk (three) and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (two nods; although it could have traded in its best foreign-language film nomination for a more prestigious honour, had the HFPA changed its antiquated rules barring foreign-language films from its leading best-picture categories).

Meanwhile, the snubs rang loud and clear, with once-presumed front-runners such as Damien Chazelle’s First Man, Steve McQueen’s Widows, Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Paul Schrader’s First Reformed more or less flatlining. (Well, let’s be real: His work with Martin Scorsese aside, the words “Paul Schrader” and “HFPA” seem diametrically opposed to one another.)

But why do we care? The HFPA is so easy to beat up on. Thanks to its shadowy membership, odd taste in hosts (Ricky Gervais not once but four times), and sensibilities that cling so close to the obvious that they sometimes tip over into the whoa-too-obvious-buddy (past selections The Greatest Showman, The Tourist and Florence Foster Jenkins earned nods as if they were sight unseen), the HFPA hasn’t exactly lived up to any assumed reputation of being a supreme arbiter of cinematic art.

Yet, by this point in its history, there’s no stopping the shiny and safe Golden Globes. The HFPA gets its nominations out earlier than any other Hollywood awards body, continually lures stars into its clutches (as evidenced by Thursday morning’s presence of Idris Elba, whose daughter Isan will be this year’s “Golden Globes Ambassador”), and guesses just right enough most of the time that its ceremony portends the industry’s true end game, the Academy Awards.

And besides, shiny and safe just might be the way to go this awards season. It was only a few months ago that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced, then quickly abandoned, plans for a new “most popular film” category – a move that queasily implied there was no way Oscar voters would otherwise lower themselves to honour blockbusters (and diversity-forward ones at that) such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians.

Well, if the Golden Globe nominations act like the bellwethers they’re intended to be, this year’s Oscars are going to look quite popular indeed. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther became the first superhero film in the history of the Globes to be nominated for best picture in the drama category, while Crazy Rich Asians snagged a best picture nomination in the comedy or musical slot.

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Cynics will immediately ask: These films are good, but are they good enough? Well, both are certainly better works of cinema than the simplistic and borderline-insulting Green Book or the shambolic Bohemian Rhapsody (which earned two Golden Globe nominations, including a mystifying nod for best picture in the drama category). And there’s little question that Black Panther will outlast A Star Is Born in the cultural firmament. Which movie will we still be talking about in 20 years, and examining as a moment of real change? And which movie will someone just inevitably be remaking yet again?

Legacy shouldn’t be the only thing weighed by the HFPA when voting – but then again, the HFPA has only lasted this long because of considering exactly that. Maybe, as Cooper warbles in A Star Is Born, it’s time to let the old ways die.

The 76th annual Golden Globes air live Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. EST

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