The big surprises came at the finale of Sunday’s 2014 Golden Globes. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, whose taste generally favors show-biz sparkle and spectacle over demanding fare, named “12 Years a Slave” best drama over the presumed front-runner, “Gravity.”

Director Steve McQueen, who took the stage at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles with cast members and backers including Minneapolis-based producer William Pohlad, said the award was “a shock,” and he appeared to be genuinely stunned. He struggled to remember the names of everyone he ought to thank, and asked his party to “hit me” with reminders.

Matthew McConaughey won as best actor in a drama for his turn as an emaciated AIDS therapy pioneer in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

“Unexpected but graciously accepted,” he exulted, noting the film was “turned down 86 times. I’m glad it was passed on so many times or it wouldn’t have come to me.”

Leonardo DiCaprio hoisted his second best-actor Golden Globe for a funny, crackling turn in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

“I never would have guessed that I would have won as best actor in a comedy,” said the nine-time nominee, who last won for playing Howard Hughes in 2005’s “The Aviator,” an earlier collaboration with director Martin Scorsese. “Thank you for allowing me to stalk you into making this movie,” he said to a beaming Scorsese.

The three-hour, R-rated rollercoaster of sex, greed and financial manipulation lost in the comedy category, however, to a film similar in tone and subject matter, “American Hustle.” The 1970s-set story of con men and women working a political sting immediately moved up a notch in the competition for the best picture Academy Award.

Globes also went to the film’s two leading ladies. Co-star Amy Adams won as best actress in a comedy, beating a field including Meryl Streep and Julie Delpy.

Wearing a gown as low-cut as the sternum-baring extravaganzas she flaunted in the disco-era caper, she tearfully declared, “I always cry when I’m not supposed to and then whan a director asks me to cry, I can’t. It sucks!”

Jennifer Lawrence, who last year won a Globe as best actress — and then an Oscar — as a loopy widow in “Silver Linings Playbook,” won a supporting-actress award Sunday night for playing a con man’s screwball wife in “American Hustle.”

Lawrence added to her litany of charming public appearances with a giddy, nervous turn in the spotlight. The 23-year-old recalled her awestruck reactions when she first saw the early films of David O. Russell, her “Silver Linings” and “Hustle” director.

“He’s the man who made my career what it is,” she marvelled. She said of winning the new award, “Obviously it’s a good thing, I don’t know why I’m so nervous,” and lightheartedly added to the Globes voters, “Don’t ever do this again.”

Accepting her award as best actress in a drama for Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” Cate Blanchett expressed her gratitude to Allen, “who writes and directs these things with such alarming regularity that we almost take it for granted,” weaving an eloquent tribute despite claiming that her tablemates “plied her with vodka as I imagine Judy Garland was plied.”

Diane Keaton wore an Annie Hall-worthy men’s tuxedo to accept a lifetime achievement award for Allen, her friend of 45 years. She hailed his long, prolific career, “74 movies in 48 years” and his rare gift for writing rich, complex roles for women as the camera cut to Julia Roberts, Dianne Wiest, Mariel Hemingway and other actresses who stared in Allen’s films.

“Gravity” won one award, for director Alfonso Cuaron. He thanked his cast and crew who, “because of my thick accent, did what they thought I said.” He also thanked his star, Sandra Bullock, for not quitting when he told her, “‘Sandra, I’m going to give you herpes.’ What I was trying to say was, ‘Sandra I’m going to give you an earpiece.’ ”

Somali-born Minneapolis chauffeur-turned-actor Barkhad Abdi, got a shout-out from co-host Tina Fey who said his meteoric rise offered “an important life lesson. Sleep with your limo driver tonight before he becomes famous.” The “Captain Phillips” actor lost to Jared Leto for his performance as a drug-addicted transvestite in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

In the television categories, AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and its star, Bryan Cranston, won for drama. And Andy Samberg’s new series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” won awards for best comedy and for its star.

HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” was named best TV movie or miniseries, while Michael Douglas won best actor for his performance as the not-so-closeted gay piano star Liberace. Saluting his costar Matt Damon, who played the entertainer’s much younger lover, he said, “the only reason you’re not up here is I had more sequins.”

Such moments are among the entertaining reasons to heed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes. The gowns are glittery, and the comments from winners who begin their celebrations early can be, shall we say, uninhibited. The case for taking the event seriously — as seriously as any rhinestone-wrapped entertainment industry banquet of self-congratulation — is to sift the awards for evidence about which films are likely to be nominated Thursday morning when the field for the Academy Awards is announced, and to refine the odds on which will be named best picture March 2.

Three-time nominee Amy Poehler took a break from her co-hosting duties with Tina Fey to accept her prize as best actress in a TV comedy for “Parks and Recreation.” Fey congratulated her with an onscreen hug and said, “I love you. There’s a special place in hell for you.”