It's the element of surprise that produces the fun at movie award shows.
Like watching action heroes on the red carpet and being surprised at how short they are in real life.
Although they're broadcast live and feature the most glamorous cast in reality TV, these ceremonies are actually the ultimate fantasy. Honoring the best screen achievements of the past year, they sometimes stray into poignant moments of powerful, unguarded emotion. Sunday's Golden Globe tribute to the lifetime achievements of Jodi Foster was one of those times, leaving few dry eyes in the theater as the unique film artist reflected on having spent 47 of her 50 years, growing up in the industry, first in front of the camera and then behind it.
For the most part though, as much as these shows pretend to take the audience behind the curtain of movie magic, what they're really about is just the opposite - making us think these unbelievably gorgeous women in seven-figure jewels and gowns, and the men who seem born to wear tuxedoes, are our friends.
It's an easy mistake to make. Since they have led us into so many emotionally rich places and experiences, we feel we know them, deeply. For brief moments, they made us feel we were them.
Sunday's Golden Globes were the best in years. Almost all the right people and projects won (even though, as many of the winners graciously acknowledged, they shouldn't have been contests in the first place). Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were a breath of fresh air after those nervous years hosted by Ricky Gervais - not because they were any less edgy, but because they were funnier.
Despite its diplomatic-sounding name, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association actually consists of a handful of quasi-journalists with charming accents from around the world fortunate enough to have landed the Hollywood beat. No matter - they still know how to throw a great party; it's the Oscars with an open bar.
Whether or not the Golden Globes prefigure the Academy Award winners is anyone's guess. There are always peculiar politics around the Oscars. The men behind the Globes' big winners - "Argo's" Ben Affleck and "Les Miserables' " Tom Hooper - were snubbed in the Oscar race for best director, as was the outstanding director of this week's box-office winner, "Zero Dark Thirty's" Kathryn Bigelow.
For all their glitzy artificiality, it's fun to watch award ceremonies as travel shows - a three-hour, globe-circling visit to worlds made of movies. Blending the year's best films and TV into a collage produces a fascinating time-lapse of how things are looking to us at the moment.
Take the CIA, for example. Following our forced bravado following Sept. 11, it's actually taken a decade to get up to speed with the challenges of the modern world. As the Golden Globe wins for "Argo" and Affleck, "Zero Dark Thirty's" Jessica Chastain and "Homeland" and its star Claire Danes attest, regardless of recent real-life scandals, the CIA is cool again.
So is the rich vein of emotion tapped by Victor Hugo and then set to music in "Les Miserables," winner of Globes for stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway as well as best musical/comedy. Jennifer Lawrence brought home a best-actress prize for my favorite movie of the year, "Silver Linings Playbook," and Daniel Day-Lewis seems invincible for an Oscar to add to his Globe for "Lincoln." Any comparisons between that film's iconic subject - brilliantly scripted by Tony Kushner and reverently directed by Steven Spielberg - and our current president are purely intentional, as Bill Clinton made clear when he introduced "Lincoln" at the Golden Globe ceremonies.
Clearly the left coast is back in stride after a decade of letting other media set our political agenda. Whatever surprises Oscar has in store, the Globes' golden afterglow seems especially bright this year.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org