Argo, the story of the CIA operation to get six American diplomats out of Iran during the hostage crisis, made a surprisingly strong showing at the awards from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
Ben Affleck was awarded the best director honour — a marked change of thinking from Academy Award organizers, who didn't give him a nod in the directing category.
He won in a field that included Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, Ang Lee for Life of Pi and Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained.
"I don't care what the award is, when they put your name next to the names that you just read off, it is the best thing in your life," a nervous Affleck said as he accepted the Golden Globe.
Les Misérables also got a lot of love from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – earning best comedy or musical and acting awards for leads Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.
"Les Misérables is a product of passion. It took a lot of courage to make it," Jackman said.
He revealed that he almost backed out of the project three weeks before filming began after a disastrous day of rehearsal, but credits his wife with talking him out of it.
"Thank you for always being right," he said.
Hathaway's supporting actress win came for her role as a doomed single mother in the big-screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel.
"Thank you for this lovely blunt object that I will forever more use as a weapon against self-doubt," a tearful Hathaway said before thanking co-star Jackson.
Jessica Chastain won best actress for her role as the CIA agent in Zero Dark Thirty. She is considered a strong contender for an Oscar for the role, as is Jennifer Lawrence who won best actress in a musical or comedy for her role as a troubled widow in a shaky new relationship in Silver Linings Playbook.
"What does this say? I beat Meryl," Lawrence joked as she looked at her award, referring to fellow nominee and multiple Globe winner Meryl Streep. Lawrence thanked her mother for believing in her and her father for making her maintain a sense of humour.
Toronto composer Mychael Danna won a Golden Globe Award for best film score for his work on Life of Pi, while the best song award went to Adele for Skyfall, making her first public appearance since the birth of her baby last year.
Screenplay win for Django Unchained
A surprised Quentin Tarantino won the best screenplay award for Django Unchained, his violent and controversial anti-slavery film, thanking the group of friends he read to as he wrote his script, as well as his cast and crew.
“I write a scene and I polish it as much as I can, but then when I read it to you I hear it through your ears and it lets me know I’m on the right track and you never know how much encouragement you give me,” Tarantino said.
The first award of the evening, best supporting actor in a film, went to Christoph Waltz playing a genteel bounty hunter in the film.
“It’s extraordinary,” Waltz said, thanking Tarantino. "You entrusted me with this character and it took me on a journey."
Girls named best comedy
New comedy series Girls got a huge endorsement, winning best comedy over established favourites such as Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory.
Lena Dunham, who writes and produces as well as acting in the edgy series, won best actresss in a comedy. In accepting the award for best series, she thanked cast members and network HBO.
“Making this show is the most validating thing I’ve ever felt, it’s made me feel so much less alone in this world. I can’t define it, Thank you,” she said.
HBO political drama Game Change scored a triple win at the Golden Globes Sunday night, with the series taking best TV miniseries and stars Julianne Moore and Ed Harris took best TV actress and actor in a miniseries.
The political drama is based on events of the 2008 United States presidential election campaign.
Homeland was a triple winner taking the award for best TV drama, with its stars Damian Lewis and Claire Danes taking best actor and actress honours.
“I wish you could have seen Claire Danes, eight months pregnant, chased down an alleyway with an iron rod at three o’clock in the morning, over and over again take after take. All of us overdid ourselves this year trying to live up to the hype of that first season,” said producer Alex Gansa.
As the stars sat at tables ranged around the hall, they applauded appearances by presenters including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sacha Baron Cohen and Bill Clinton, who introduced the film Lincoln, one of the contenders for best picture.
Saturday Night Live alums Tina Fey and Amy Poehler began the ceremony by poking fun at some of Hollywood’s leading men.
Fey referred to Django Unchained director Quentin Tarantino as the “star of all my sexual nightmares.”
She also remarked on Anne Hathaway’s performance in Les Misérables, saying she “hadn’t seen anyone so alone and abandoned since she (Hathaway) shared a hosting gig with James Franco last year,” a reference to the pair’s disastrous appearance as Oscar hosts.
Meanwhile Poehler took aim at Canadian James Cameron and the controversy over a depiction of torture in the movie by his former wife, Kathryn Bigelow.
“When it comes to torture, I trust a lady who spent three years married to James Cameron,” Poehler quipped.
The evening also included a tribute to Jodie Foster, this year's winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award.
In her coy acceptance speech, she appeared to come out and mused about backing away from her acting career.
The 50-year-old Oscar-winner has always been protective of her private life and reluctant to discuss her sexual orientation.
Then she stated: "I'm just going to put it out there, loud and proud … I am, uh, single," pausing for dramatic effect before that last word. "I hope you're not disappointed that there won't be a big coming-out speech tonight. I already did my coming-out about a thousand years ago."
Foster joked that celebrities are now expected to reveal they're gay "with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show. … You just might be surprised but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. Please don't cry, because my reality show is so boring."