The Golden Globes offered plenty of surprises as the kickoff to the film industry's awards season Sunday in Los Angeles. In a stunning upset, "Argo" surpassed the presumed favorite "Lincoln" to win best movie drama, while its director/star, Ben Affleck, who was passed over for a directing Oscar nomination last week, won that category here, besting some of the most respected filmmakers in the industry: Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow.
Affleck appeared stunned. He stammered through his acceptance speech, forgetting to thank his producer, George Clooney. The audience gave Affleck a standing ovation. "Lincoln" director Spielberg did not look pleased at his snub.
As expected, Daniel Day-Lewis won best actor for "Lincoln," praising Spielberg as "a humble master, generous and kind." A moist-eyed Jessica Chastain won the award as best actress in a drama for "Zero Dark Thirty," honoring director Kathryn Bigelow for creating a role that allowed her to break gender roles.
The awards ceremony, run by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, repeatedly showed its international roots. Australia's Hugh Jackman won best actor in a comedy or musical for his turn as the tormented Jean Valjean in the French revolution epic "Les Miserables," a British production that also won the best-picture award in that category. Austria's Christoph Waltz was named best supporting actor in a film for "Django Unchained." England's Maggie Smith was named best supporting actress in a TV show for "Downton Abbey," while countryman Damian Lewis took best actor in a TV drama for "Homeland." Even the best animated film prize went to a Scottish-themed adventure, Pixar's "Brave."
English pop star Adele won the best original song award for "Skyfall," her theme for the Bond film of the same name. She seemed genuinely flustered, declaring, "Oh my god! Honestly, I came for a night out with my friend Ida, we're new mums. I literally came for a night out."
Sunday's show was, as usual, a relaxed and sometimes raucous affair. Hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey set the tone in their introduction. Poehl-er observed that "only at the Golden Globes do the beautiful people of film rub shoulders with the rat-faced people of television." Aziz Ansari pretended the cast of "Downton Abbey" got him high backstage, Fey wore several absurd disguises in jokey audience cutaways and Poehler made her way onto Clooney's lap.
Even when the subject matter of nominated films and TV shows was charged, the show's tone was light. Addressing the controversy around scenes of extreme interrogation in Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," Poehler said "when it comes to torture, I trust the woman who spent three years married to James Cameron."
The longest sustained standing ovation of the evening went not to the award winners or the other stars but to former President Bill Clinton, making a surprise appearance to present a clip of his friend Spielberg's film "Lincoln."
"Winning required the president to make a lot of unsavory deals that had nothing to do with the big issue. I wouldn't know anything about that," he said.
Jodie Foster, receiving a lifetime achievement award, played bait and switch, seemingly preparing to deliver a public statement about her sexuality. Instead she made a plea for privacy.
"Every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference. If you had been a public figure from the time you were a toddler ... maybe you too might value privacy above all else." She specifically thanked her "co-parent" Cydney Bernard, with whom she has two sons.
'Thank you for this blunt object'
Jennifer Lawrence took the award for best actress in a movie comedy or musical for "Silver Linings Playbook." Studying the inscription on the award, she joked of her stellar competition, "What does it say? I beat Meryl!"
Winning as best supporting actress in that same category for "Les Misérables," Anne Hathaway stammered "Blergh." She paid tribute to her director, Tom Hooper, and promised not to spoil his reputation as an stoic Englishman by revealing that he cried right alongside her during the filming of emotional scenes.
"Thank you for this blunt object," she said, hefting the award, "that I will forever use as a weapon against self-doubt."
Displaying ebullient self-confidence, writer/director Quentin Tarantino bounded onstage to accept the best screenplay award for his wild and woolly revisionist Western "Django Unchained." He shared credit with the friends and actors who listen to him as he reads his scenes. "I don't want input," he said. "When I read it to you I hear it through your ears."
The award for best foreign film went to Austrian master Michael Haneke for "Amour," his austere portrait of an octogenarian couple facing the end of life. (See next Friday's Star Tribune for an interview with Haneke and a review of the film, which opens locally this weekend.)
When Haneke received the prize from presenter Arnold Schwarzenegger, he marveled, "I never thought to get a foreign film award from an Austrian!"
In the television awards, Showtime's "Homeland" and lead actress Claire Danes won their second Golden Globes in addition to the first-time award for co-star Lewis.
HBO's movie on the vice presidential campaign of Sarah Palin, "Game Change," earned a best actress award for Julianne Moore, best actor for Ed Harris, who played Sen. John McCain, and the best movie/miniseries award.
HBO's "Girls" was another major winner. It was named best TV comedy, and the series' star and creator Lena Dunham took a best actress award. Thanking her crew and producer Judd Apatow, Dunham effused, "It took a village to raise this very demented child!"
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186