Review: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jodie Foster highlight a memorable Golden Globes

Good luck following that, Seth MacFarlane.

The 2013 Golden Globes were that rarest of 21st century beasts: an entertainment awards show that was genuinely entertaining on its own merits, even with a variety of technical glitches along the way. It had two sterling, hilarious hosts in Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, a slew of other amusing and/or memorable presenters and speeches, some surprising winners and a few tears being genuinely jerked along the way.

It had all those things in part because of how the night broke, in part because of the talents of people like Fey, Poehler, Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell, and in part because of that thing the Golden Globes always has going for it, even on less successful nights:

The Globes go first.

Really, the only reason we care about this particular ceremony at all is timing. No one knows exactly who’s in the Hollywood Foreign Press or what they do, but these strange people with their strange tastes had the good sense to put on an awards show that comes many weeks before the Oscars – and that, for a long time, was the televised start of awards season. There are now other precursors – both the people and the critics have already chosen their winners in televised ceremonies – but the Globes are where and when this stuff really starts to feel like it matters to the business. The Globes show sets the agenda for what follows, and often make the biggest splash in terms of how the winners react. When Jamie Foxx did the Ray Charles call-and-response when he won at the Globes, it was fresh and exciting; by the time he did it at that year’s Oscars, even he seemed tired of the gimmick.

So it’s hard to imagine Anne Hathaway giving an Oscar speech as good as the one she gave tonight, with the way it smartly drew a line from fellow nominee Sally Field (who went from “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun” to a pair of Oscars) to her own “Princess Diaries” beginnings – not unless she’s just going to give the same speech each time. If Jessica Chastain beats Jennifer Lawrence (and Emmanuelle Riva, for that matter) for the Academy Award, it’s hard to believe her emotions will seem quite as raw as they were this evening.

After weeks and weeks of awards season, it’s hard to imagine any moment quite as spontaneous, strange, riveting and touching as Jodie Foster’s acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille Award – a winding discourse touching on her career, her sexuality, reality television and the loss of privacy, her ailing mother, and so much more.

And with all due respect to MacFarlane, it’s hard to imagine him doing much with the gauntlet thrown down by Fey and Poehler as hosts.

It’s not that the longtime pals did anything unexpected with the job – their opening patter was essentially a “Weekend Update” reunion with fancier hairstyles and a more specific target – but few in the business do it as consistently, hilariously, well as they do it, particularly together. The warm rapport the two have achieves a remarkable thing: it takes jokes that were at times just as vicious as anything Ricky Gervais said during any of his three Globes stint – Poehler on Kathryn Bigelow: “When it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron” – and makes them seem somehow much less mean.

As usual with any long awards shows, the hosts can only do so much after the first 10 minutes, but Fey and Poehler made their later appearances count, whether they were pretending to be nominees – Fey went all drag king “as a professional volleyball player battling restless leg syndrome, Damian Francisco in ‘Dog President'” – or breathlessly responding to the appearance by President Clinton. (Poehler: “Wow! What an exciting special guest: that was Hilary Clinton’s husband!”) After “Girls” creator/star Lena Dunham beat both hosts for the comedy actress award, Fey and Poehler returned from a commercial break as a pair of mean drunks, with Fey referencing Dunham’s speech by sneering, “Congratulations, Lena. I’m glad that we got you through middle school!” Poehler even closed the show with the perfect line: “Good night! We’re going home with Jodie Foster!”

But with the hosts’ presence more and more minimal as the three-hour show moved along, it was up to others to keep things interesting. And the winners and presenters obliged, whether it was Ferrell and Wiig inventing plots for nominated movies they hadn’t seen – a bit made all the funnier by Tommy Lee Jones’ stone-faced reaction to it – Dunham’s two speeches alternating between endearing terror, heartfelt insight (“This award is for every woman who’s ever felt like there wasn’t a space for her”) and unexpected digs at Hilary Swank (alluding to Swank’s first Oscar speech, “I always promised myself if I ever got this opportunity, I would thank Chad Lowe!”), or Chastain and Kevin Costner each alluding to the early career struggles that eventually led to this moment.

So even when the audio dropped out, or the telemprompter failed while Paul Rudd and Salma Hayek were attempting to introduce the TV drama series nominees, you could count on something entertaining to happen in short order.

Sometimes, the Golden Globes can be as much of an ordeal as any other awards show – if not more, due to the eccentric tastes of HFPA. This was a very good night, though, and one I imagine we’ll be thinking back to a lot on that night, many weeks from now, when the Oscars finally take their turn at the dance.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at