Golden Globes 2020: The highs, the lows and the head-scratchers

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

The 77th Golden Globes officially kicked off the 2020 awards season with a star-studded telecast filled with surprises, tears and “what the heck just happened?” moments. In other words, it was business as usual for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual party, which is always a reliable source of memorable highlights and even more memorable lowlights. Here’s Yahoo Entertainment’s recap of the night’s best, worst and most confounding moments.

HIGH: Kate McKinnon walked so Ellen DeGeneres could run

The emotional high point of this year’s telecast came early on in the evening, when Saturday Night Live’s comic superstar Kate McKinnon got seriously personal when she introduced Ellen DeGeneres — this year’s recipient of the Carol Burnett Award for career achievement in television. “In 1997, when Ellen’s sitcom was at the height of its popularity, I was in my mother’s basement lifting weights in front of the mirror and thinking, ‘Am I... gay?’ And I was,” said McKinnon, who made history as SNL’s first openly lesbian cast member. “That’s a very scary thing to suddenly know about yourself. ... And the only thing that made it less scary was seeing Ellen on TV.”

Ellen DeGeneres, winner of the Carol Burnett award, poses in the press room at the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards. (Photo: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

DeGeneres picked up the emotional baton when she took the stage to a tidal wave of applause. “All I ever wanted to do was make people feel good and laugh and there's no greater feeling than when someone tells me I've made their day better with my show or that I've helped them get through a sickness or a hard time with their lives,” DeGeneres said, visibly moved. “That is the power of television and I'm so, so grateful to be a part of it."

LOW: Ricky Gervais is more snoozy than shocking

At the turn of the 21st century, Ricky Gervais was the toast of Hollywood thanks to his beloved U.K. series The Office. Flash-forward to 2020, and it’s clear he has overstayed his welcome. In his fifth — and final (we think) — outing as Golden Globes host, the comic went after Hollywood with barely disguised contempt, and the audience in the room mostly responded in kind. While it was admittedly refreshing to hear someone call out industry hypocrisy and self-importance (not to mention poke ribald fun at a legend like Judi Dench), Gervais’s own self-importance as some kind of “voice of truth” wound up puncturing a lot of his punchlines. “I don’t care anymore,” the host said at one point. We could tell — he all but disappeared from the show for the last 45 minutes. 

HEAD-SCRATCHER: Sam Mendes’s 1917 leaps over Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino in a single take

Once upon a time in Hollywood, the HFPA handed the Best Director trophy to Sam Mendes over presumed frontrunners Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Mendes’s single-take World War I film, 1917, won that category, as well as Best Motion Picture Drama in a major upset — not too shabby for a movie that hasn’t even opened in general release yet. Mendes seemed almost apologetic about his jaw-dropping victory. “There’s not one director in the world who is not in the shadow of Martin Scorsese; I just had to say that,” the filmmaker said after winning the Best Director statue. We can honestly say that we expected 1917 to remain in the shadow of The Irishman throughout awards season. Suddenly, 1917 is the movie to beat.

HIGH: Michelle Williams is our choice for the night’s best acceptance speech 

Just when you thought that Michelle Williams gave the “best speech ever” at the Emmys last year, the Fosse/Verdon star went and said, “Hold my beer.” Taking the stage to accept her Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Limited Series, Williams seized the moment to make a rousing pro-choice statement. “As women and girls, things happen to our body that are not our choice,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose — to choose when to have my children and with whom.” (That was a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to recent news that Williams is pregnant and engaged to Fosse/Verdon director, Tommy Kail.) As presenter Tiffany Haddish vocally cheered her on in the background, the actress went on to encourage women to make their choices known at the ballot box. “When it is time to vote, please do so in your own self-interest. It’s what men have been doing for years.” We’d totally vote for a Williams/Haddish ticket in 2020. 

LOW: Quentin Tarantino makes it all about himself 

Typically, a winner uses his or her acceptance speech to thank the others who helped him get to the dais. But Quentin Tarantino had no trouble thanking… himself, in one of the night’s many lackluster speeches. “I don’t really have anyone to thank for writing; I did it,” the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood writer and director said after nabbing the Globe for Best Screenplay. It’s a me-first reaction that definitely got attention on Twitter, with some loving Tarantino’s honesty and others cringing at his ego. To be fair, Tarantino did thank the cast for taking his script to another level, and one of those cast members schooled him in what an acceptance speech should sound like...

HIGH: Brad Pitt makes it all about LDC 

Most people couldn’t get away with referring to Leonardo DiCaprio as “LDC.” But then, Brad Pitt isn’t most people. DiCaprio’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood co-star charmed the audience with a slyly funny, and entirely humble acceptance speech that’s a warm-up for his almost certain repeat victory at the Oscars next month. “I wouldn’t be here without you, man,” he told LDC, before slipping in the mother of all Titanic references. “I would have shared the raft.” Pitt’s parting shot to the crowd was even funnier. “I wanted to bring my mom, but I couldn’t because any woman I stand next to, they say I’m dating and it’d just be awkward,” Pitt said, as the cameras cut to his ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston, cracking up. Nice to see there’s no apparent awkwardness between those two former friends

HIGH: Awkwafina makes history

Awkwafina in the press room after winning her historic Golden Globe. (Photo: Getty)

The actress took home the trophy for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy for her moving turn in The Farewell, and she was the first actress of Asian descent to do so. In fact, she’s the first actress of Asian descent to win a lead actress Golden Globe for any film. “I just heard that fact and it was pretty mind blowing,” Awkwafina told reporters backstage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “There’s also this other feeling that you want there to be more and I hope this is just the beginning.” History was also made in the Best Original Score category when Joker composer Hildur Guðnadóttir became the first female solo winner in this category. (Lisa Gerrard shared the statuette with Hans Zimmer for Gladiator in 2001.)

LOW: Holy F-bombs, Batman! Joaquin Phoenix’s acceptance speech was a crime

Joaquin Phoenix accepts the award for Best Actor for Joker during the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal Media, LLC via Getty Images)

With the vocal endorsement of such capital-A actors as Cate Blanchett and Jessica Chastain, Joaquin Phoenix is poised to win every award in sight for his scarily committed title performance in Joker. But he didn’t necessarily put the best foot forward in his first acceptance speech, a rambling, F-bomb-heavy affair that was repeatedly bleeped by NBC censors. “We all know there’s no f****** competition between us,” he said to his fellow nominees upon taking the stage. Later, he added, “Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want to rock the boat, but the boat is f****** rocked.” That’s why you always need a Bat-life preserver in your utility belt. 

HEAD-SCRATCHER: Disney missed out on an animation statue thanks to Missing Link 

With Frozen 2, The Lion King and Toy Story 4 in contention, Disney had three chances to win the Golden Globe for Best Animated feature. Instead, the statue went to Missing Link, a movie that no one saw coming… mostly because almost nobody saw the film in the first place. The stop-motion animated film from Laika only grossed $16 million during its brief theatrical run in April, the studio’s lowest-grossing movie to date. In the end, though, the Mouse House was MIA as Missing Link celebrated an upset victory that should increase its streaming revenue. 

HIGH: Phoebe Waller-Bridge thanks Obama — and means it

After Fleabag won the award for best comedy, its creator and star expressed her gratitude to former President Barack Obama for including the show on his list of the movies and TV shows he enjoyed in 2019. “I’d like to thank Obama for putting us on his list as some of you know, he’s always been on mine,” she teased, referencing a scene in the first season of Fleabag in which her character is sexually aroused by him.

HIGH: Tom Hanks tears up 

The actor has received a boatload of awards over his illustrious career, but he was truly touched when he accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in film, visibly choking up while thanking his family. His entire speech was humble, as always, and he thanked the many actors he has shared scenes with over the past four decades. “You’re a dope if you don’t steal from everybody you’ve ever worked with and I’ve stolen from the likes of the people that only need one name,” he said, calling out Meg (Ryan), Denzel (Washington) and Meryl (Streep).

LOW: Netflix whimpered, rather than roared 

Heading into the Golden Globes, Netflix seemed poised to make history with a whopping 34 nominations across the movies and television categories. In the end, though, the streaming giant only took home two statues: Laura Dern’s Best Supporting Actress win for Marriage Story and Oliva Colman’s Best Actress in a Drama Series victory for The Crown. That’s a mighty reversal of fortune for Netflix in general and its marquee attraction, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, in particular. After dominating early predictions, the film was completely shut out in all nominated categories.  

HEAD-SCRATCHER: Ramy Youssef comes out of nowhere

As the star of Hulu’s Ramy stood onstage, he joked, “Look, I know you guys haven’t seen my show.” Even he was surprised to clinch the win for best actor in a musical or comedy TV series. He faced tough competition: Bill Hader (Barry), Paul Rudd (Living With Yourself), Ben Platt (The Politician) and last year’s winner in the category, Michael Douglas, for The Kominsky Method. “My mom, also, by the way, was rooting for Michael Douglas,” Youssef cracked.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

Want daily pop culture news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle’s newsletter.