Los Angeles - The black-and-white silent film The Artist came away with the most prizes with three wins at the Golden Globes, but the show spread the love around among a broad range of films and TV shows.
Ricky Gervais, who ruffled feathers at past shows with sharp wisecracks aimed at Hollywood's elite and the Globes show itself, returned as host for the third-straight year.
THE LIST: All the 2012 Golden Globe winners
Wins for The Artist included best musical or comedy and best actor in a musical or comedy for Jean Dujardin, while the family drama The Descendants claimed two awards, as best drama and dramatic actor for George Clooney.
Other acting winners were Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, and Octavia Spencer, while Martin Scorsese earned the directing honour.
Streep won for dramatic actress as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, her eight win at the Globes.
Williams won for actress in a musical or comedy as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, 52 years after Monroe's win for the same prize at the Globes. Dujardin won for musical or comedy actor for the silent film The Artist.
The supporting-acting Globes went to Plummer as an elderly widower who comes out as gay in the father-son drama Beginners and Spencer as a brassy housekeeper joining other black maids to share stories about life with their white employers in the 1960s Deep South tale The Help.
Scorsese won for the Paris adventure Hugo. It was the third directing Globe in the last 10 years for Scorsese, who previously won for Gangs of New York and The Departed and received the show's Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement two years ago.
He won over a field of contenders that included Michel Hazanavicius, who had been considered by many in Hollywood as a favourite for his black-and-white silent film The Artist.
Williams offered thanks for giving her the same award Monroe once won and joked that her young daughter put up with bedtime stories for six months spoken in Monroe's voice.
"I consider myself a mother first and an actress second, so the person I most want to thank is my daughter, my little girl, whose bravery and exuberance is the example I take with me in my work and my life," Williams said.
It's a breakout role in Hollywood for Dujardin, a star back home in France but little known to US audiences previously. His French credits include The Artist creator Michel Hazanavicius' spy spoofs OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio.
The Artist, which led the Globes with six nominations, also won the musical-score prize for composer Ludovic Bource but lost out on three other awards, including the screenplay prize for Michel Hazanavicius.
Woody Allen won the screenplay honour for his romantic fantasy Midnight in Paris, the filmmaker's biggest hit in decades. Never a fan of movie awards, Allen was a no-show at the Globes, where he previously won the screenplay honor for 1985's The Purple Rose of Cairo.
The wins boost Williams, Spencer and Plummer's prospects for slots at next month's Academy Awards, whose nominations come out January 24.
The Oscars are an honour for which Monroe herself never was nominated, though she was a two-time nominee at the Globes and won for best actress in a musical or comedy for 1959's Some Like It Hot.
In My Week with Marilyn, Williams plays Monroe as an insecure performer struggling to establish herself as a genuine actress rather than a movie star sexpot just a couple of years before "Some Like It Hot." The film chronicles Monroe's contentious time shooting the 1957 romance The Prince and the Showgirl alongside exasperated director and co-star Laurence Olivier.
Like Monroe, Oscar consideration has been elusive for the 82-year-old Plummer, who has been nominated for Hollywood's top honour only once in his 60-year career - two years ago, for the Leo Tolstoy drama The Last Station.
"I must praise my distinguished competitors, who whom I have the greatest admiration and to whom I apologise most profusely," said Plummer, who added warm regards to Beginners star and Scottish actor Ewan McGregor.
"I want to salute my partner, Ewan, that wily Scot, Ewan 'My Heart's in the Highlands' McGregor, that scene-stealing swine from the outer Hebrides."
Plummer is regarded as one of the finest Shakespearean stage actors of the last half century. His film roles range from Austrian widower Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music and Tolstoy in The Last Station to newsman Mike Wallace in The Insider and a treacherous Klingon general in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country. He also co-starred in the current thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The prize for best animated film went to Steven Spielberg's action tale The Adventures of Tintin, a Paramount-Sony co-production that dealt the first Globes loss to Disney unit Pixar Animation. Pixar films such as Ratatouille, WALL-E and Toy Story 3 had won all five previous times since the Globes added the category.
The Iranian drama A Separation was chosen as best foreign-language film. Writer-director Asghar Farhadi uses a divorcing couple's domestic troubles with a young child and an ageing parent as the means to examine gender, religious and class distinctions in contemporary Iran.
Gervais started the show with some slams at the Globes as Hollywood's second-biggest film ceremony, after the Oscars.
Gervais joked that the Globes "are just like the Oscars, but without all that esteem. The Globes are to the Oscars what Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton. A bit louder, a bit trashier, a bit drunker and more easily bought. Allegedly. Nothing's been proved."
He also needled early winners, saying the show was running long and stars needed to keep their speeches short.
"You don't need to thank everyone you've ever met or members of your family, who have done nothing," Gervais said. "Just the main two. Your agent and God."
After winning for musical score, The Artist composer Bource apologised for his halting English, saying, "I'm sorry, I'm French," adding that he's better with music than words.
"Right now, if I were to write a song, it would be a tap-dance number," Bource said. "The power of music is at least universal. The gift of the silent film is that it is so universal."
Madonna, Julie Frost and Jimmy Harry won the Globe for best song for Masterpiece from the King Edward-Wallis Simpson drama W.E., which Madonna also directed.
Among television winners were Kate Winslet as best actress in a miniseries or movie in Mildred Pierce, Idris Elba as best actor in a miniseries or movie in Luther, Laura Dern as comedy or musical actress in Enlightened, Kelsey Grammer as dramatic actor in Boss, Homeland for drama series and Downton Abbey for miniseries or movie.
A drama with comic touches, Beginners was a fitting recipient to start the Globe ceremony, which has a strong line-up of lighter fare to match the more sober-minded films that generally dominate Hollywood awards.
Yet Sunday's musical or comedy contenders made up a strong bunch that could give their best-drama cousins at the Globes a run for their money come Oscar time.
This time, the dual categories at the Globes could create an Oscar showdown between the dramatic and musical-comedy winners.
The Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of 89 entertainment reporters for overseas outlets.
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