The Golden Globe Awards are Hollywood's second-biggest awards ceremony, the Burger King to the Academy Awards' McDonald's, Miss USA to Oscar's Miss America. Sunday's 68th Golden Globe ceremony was not important in and of itself so much as the marker ending Phase One of the Oscar race.

"The Social Network" and "The Kids Are All Right" advanced as leading contenders for a best-picture Oscar, winning the Globes for best drama and comedy, respectively. "Social Network" also won for direction, screenplay and musical score. David Fincher, who directed the Facebook-inspired tale, thanked not only the film's top-line talent but the unsung crew members "without whom I'd be just a bitter man with a lot of opinions." Both "Kids" and "The Fighter" got two awards apiece.

The Globes, selected by the 90-member Hollywood Foreign Press Association, only sporadically predict winners of the Academy Awards, chosen by 6,000 members. Last year's Globe-winning drama, "Avatar," lost at the Oscars to "The Hurt Locker." This year's selections included a number of hard-to-rationalize choices. In what bizarre alternate universe are "Burlesque," "Alice in Wonderland," "Red" and "The Tourist" best pictures? Meanwhile, "True Grit" -- a likely multiple nominee at the Oscars -- was shut out entirely.

An observer might be forgiven for concluding that the nominees are chosen for ratings-generating star power rather than artistic achievement. In fact, a former Globes employee sued the HFPA Thursday, claiming it engages in payola schemes for nominations and awards. In a move that provoked charges of flat-out bribery, Sony, the studio behind the clunker "Burlesque," flew Globe judges to Las Vegas for an all-expenses-paid trip that included a private concert by the film's star, Cher.

Emcee Ricky Gervais touched on the issue in his cheeky opening monologue: "Some people say the only reason 'The Tourist' was nominated is so the foreign press could hang out with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Rubbish. They also accepted bribes." Gervais waved away the "Burlesque" scandal with a joke. "Who wants to see a Cher concert?" he asked. "Nobody. It's not 1975."

Christian Bale, accepting the evening's first award as best supporting actor in "The Fighter," admitted he wondered who the HFPA was during press junkets when they squabbled among themselves rather than interviewing him. Holding his Golden Globe aloft, he said, "Suddenly I've realized how wise, perceptive and spectacular these guys are."

"The Kids Are All Right," the story of a lesbian couple whose teenage children decide to meet their biological father, beat out the aforementioned "Red," "Alice in Wonderland," "The Tourist" and "Burlesque."

Natalie Portman was named best actress in a drama for her portrayal of a deranged ballerina in "Black Swan." In a pink maternity dress, she thanked her partner Benjamin Millepied and her costar and onscreen lover "Mila 'Sweet Lips' Kunis."

Colin Firth, best dramatic actor for his performance as King George VI in "The King's Speech," was all English dignity and composure, thanking the voters for their "gentle encouragement," which he said would help him deter a midlife crisis. Holding his award, he deadpanned, "This is the only thing standing between me and a Harley-Davidson."

Melissa Leo took home a supporting-actress award for her turn as a beehived blue-collar battle-axe in "The Fighter." Veteran character actor Paul Giamatti beat Kevin Spacey, Jake Gyllenhaal and twice-nominated Johnny Depp as best actor in a musical or comedy for "Barney's Version." After his opening remarks were bleeped, he attributed his nervousness to eating five boxes of "the free Godiva chocolates."

'Glee' tops television awards

"Glee" was named best TV comedy and two of its cast won Globes for supporting actor. Jane Lynch, the show's evil cheerleading coach, took her moment in the limelight to say, "I am nothing if not falsely humble." Co-star Chris Colfer, visibly moved, dedicated his statue to kids "who are constantly told no ... by bullies at school [and told] they can't be who they are. Well, screw that, kids!"

"Carlos," director Olivier Assayas' 5 1/2-hour French TV miniseries about the terrorist Carlos the Jackal, won best miniseries or TV movie, beating out such U.S. entries as HBO's Emmy winner "Temple Grandin" and "The Pacific."

Al Pacino picked up a Golden Globe to accompany his Emmy for his performance as right-to-die activist and convicted murderer Dr. Jack Kevorkian in HBO's "You Don't Know Jack." Claire Danes earned HBO another prize with her best-actress award as the autistic livestock scientist in "Temple Grandin."

The cable network's "Boardwalk Empire" was named the best dramatic TV series, with star Steve Buscemi taking the award for best actor. Katey Sagal won best actress for the FX network's "Sons of Anarchy."

Several of the evening's presenters hit fun, frivolous notes in their comments. Michael Douglas, presenting the award for best film drama, was warmly applauded. His voice pitched high from throat cancer treatments, he joked, "There's gotta be an easier way to get a standing ovation." Presenting a best-actress award to "Kids Are All Right" star Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr. introduced the contenders with an elaborate double-entendre that concluded: "I'd like to give it to all five of you at once."

Tina Fey and Steve Carell, actors who are also writers, presented the award for best screenplay -- "screenplays we could have written," Fey said -- to Aaron Sorkin for "The Social Network." Sorkin apologized for characterizing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a misogynistic twerp in the film, praising him as a philanthropist and entrepreneur.

Robert De Niro accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, thanking the voters who decided to bestow the honor "well before you had the chance to review 'Little Fockers.'"

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186