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They came close, and they did it in part by continuing the Gervais tradition of skewering the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the secretive and pampered club of 93 Tinseltown star lovers who bestow the Globes in 14 film and 11 television categories.
GALLERY:Red carpet photos
But they were almost upstaged by actress/director Jodie Foster, who, responding to a special Globes tribute to her career, confirmed to a shocked audience the long-whispered rumours — including a joke by Gervais at the 2012 awards — that she is a lesbian.
In the enigmatic speech she also hinted she may be quitting acting.
Lincoln didn’t do as well as expected, losing six of its seven categories, taking only best dramatic actor for Daniel Day-Lewis. Another slave-era drama, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchanged, won two film awards: Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz) and Best Screenplay (Tarantino).
The most painful loss for Spielberg was the Best Director prize, which instead went to Argo’s Ben Affleck, whom Oscar nominators snubbed for the same category at the Feb. 24 Academy Awards. Argo also won the night’s top prize, Best Picture, Drama.
Nobody much cared about winners and losers in a night devoted to cocktails and carousing.
They also had zingers for the well-lubricated celebrities packing the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Pointing out Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow, whose terrorist manhunt drama has sparked controversy for its frank depiction of torture, Poehler said, “When it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron.”
That brought the house down, and so did Fey when she compared Anne Hathaway’s heartbreaking Les Misérables portrayal of an abused single mom with her Oscars co-hosting stint two years ago: “I have not seen anyone so totally alone and abandoned like that since you were onstage at the Oscars with James Franco.”
But Hathaway didn’t feel at all neglected when she later took the Globe for Best Actress, Dramatic Picture.
“That you for this lovely blunt object that I will forever use as a weapon against self-doubt,” she said in her acceptance speech, which she’s the odds-on favourite to repeat at the Academy Awards.
The night’s sweet sarcasm was infectious amongst the other presenters and guests.
Referring to the “unsavory deals” Abraham Lincoln is seen brokering in Lincoln to advance anti-slavery legislation, former U.S. president Bill Clinton winked and quipped, “I wouldn’t know anything about that!”
And as Jennifer Lawrence accepted the award for Best Actress, Musical/Comedy, she crowed, “I beat Meryl (Streep)!” and then thanked her studio boss Harvey Weinstein for his no-holds-barred awards season lobbying.
“To Harvey, thank you for killing whoever you had to kill for getting me up here today.”
There were also moments of inspired lunacy, such as when Fey and Poehler pointed out Daniel Day-Lewis in the room and announced he was really the actor inside the alien suit in Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi blockbuster, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
“Do the finger!” they commanded, and a smiling Day-Lewis — who of course didn’t really play E.T. — obliged with the alien’s famous point.
And there was a weird synchronicity with Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger (flanked by New York-born Sylvester Stallone), giving the Best Foreign-Language Film award to Austrian director Michael Haneke, for the end-of-life romance Amour.
Canada was amongst the early winners. Toronto composer Mychael Danna took the Best Score prize for his work on Life of Pi, the screen adaptation of fellow Canadian Yann Martel’s symbol-laden shipwreck adventure. Danna, a first-time Globes winner, called Ang Lee’s work “a film of a lifetime.” He’ll compete in the same category at the Feb. 24 Academy Awards.
Fey and Poehler were also in the running for a Golden Globe themselves, competing against each other in the Best Actress, TV Series, Musical/Comedy category. Fey was nominated for 30 Rock and Poehler for Parks and Recreation.
The last laugh, however, went to Lena Dunham, the star of the popular new series Girls, who took the Globe in a mildly surprising win over favourite Julia Louis-Dreyfus, nominated for Veep. And Dunham’s win was no fluke: Girls also won for Best TV series, Musical/Comedy.
If there were a Globes award for Best Co-Hosts Upstagers, it would have gone to Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, who began their presentation for Best Actress, Musical/Comedy Picture by proclaiming the importance of watching the five films of all the nominees — and then hilariously demonstrating how little they knew about them.
Adding to the humour was the sight of a stone-faced Tommy Lee Jones obviously not getting the joke, or appreciating it.
Ferrell and Wiig knew exactly what the show was about. It’s what Ricky Gervais said last year, with Fey and Poehler in the audience, when he proclaimed that the Golden Globes are “just like the Oscars, but without all that esteem.”