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The Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globes -- the entertainment industry's most ludicrous example of a contest winning national recognition simply because of a splashy awards show -- roused derisive laughter even from reporters covering the nominations this morning.

When Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie were announced as contenders for best actor and best actress in a motion picture musical or comedy for "The Tourist," snorts of disbelief crackled over the airwaves. ("The Tourist" was also nominated for best motion picture musical or comedy, as was the equally lambasted "Burlesque.") By contrast, Emma Stone's name drew applause when announced in the same category for "Easy A."

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Who knows? Maybe the Hollywood Foreign Press didn't nominate, say, Jeff Bridges over Depp because they just didn't get the 19th-century American wit of "True Grit" or realize that it is in many ways a comedy. (Depp was also nominated for "Alice in Wonderland.") But how could they nominate Jolie over, say, Helen Mirren in "Red" or "The Tempest?"

Aside from ignoring "True Grit," Mirren and other worthies, the Globe nominations largely reflected conventional wisdom with well-earned nods to my own critical favorites "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" and evidence of surging support for "Black Swan" and "The Fighter" (I'll see these two when they open in Baltimore on Friday).

But the "Tourist" and "Burlesque" nominations make it a good time to clarify who exactly is in the HFPA. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star wrote the best recent rip on the group about a year ago: "Current HFPA members include real-estate agents, car salesmen, showbiz publicists, hairdressers and even a few journalists. All that is required to maintain membership is permanent residence in Southern California (so much for 'foreign') and a mere four published articles per year, often in obscure publications that aren't freely disclosed.

Howell continued, "The HFPA pretends to be a democratic operation, but it operates mainly in the dark, revealing only the names and the 55 countries represented by its members. (There are four Canadian members, one of whom, Ray Arco, also represents Denmark.)

"Membership is strictly kept below 100, making it easier for studio publicists to court them with dinners, private screenings and valuable one-on-one celebrity interviews. New recruits are added rarely and only with the sponsorship of two active HFPA members. Any single member can blackball an applicant for whatever reason."

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