01/15/2012 07:59 EST | Updated 03/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Golden Globes roll out red carpet for Hollywood

The silent film homage The Artist went into Sunday's Golden Globes Awards as the evening's top contender and left with a trio of trophies from the high-profile Hollywood awards gala celebrating U.S. film and television.

The nostalgia-filled black-and-white tale, about a silent film star whose career dims during the advent of the talkies, won the trophy for best comedy or musical film at the 69th annual edition of the Globes in Beverly Hills, Calif. The movie's lead, Jean Dujardin, won best actor in a comedy or musical film.

"When I started out, an agent said to me 'You'll never do movies. Your face is too expressive,'" Dujardin said. "I've always followed my instinct to fight for my dreams. So I want to thank him for letting me prove him wrong."

The French-made film also picked up a trophy for its original score, and composer Ludovic Bource noted "right now, if I were to write a song, it would be a tap dance number."

The evening saw awards spread out across a range of films and television shows. The Descendants, set in Hawaii and based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, won two top awards: best dramatic film and best actor in a dramatic film for George Clooney, who portrays a struggling father in the family drama.

A cinematic turn as Hollywood siren Marilyn Monroe earned My Week with Marilyn's Michelle Williams the trophy for best actress in a comedy or musical film a little more than 50 years after Monroe herself won the same honour for Some Like It Hot.

My Week with Marilyn is inspired by a British man's real-life story about his time with Monroe during the shooting of 1957's The Prince and the Showgirl.

"I consider myself a mother first and an actress second," Williams noted before thanking her young daughter Matilda for putting up with "six months during which all the bedtime stories were read aloud in a Marilyn Monroe voice."

On the drama side, Meryl Streep won best actress for her controversial Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady, which drew criticism from the former British prime minister's Conservative Party colleagues and contemporaries following its theatrical release.

"This is such a thrill, but really, really embarrassing in a year when we saw so many extraordinary performances by women," Streep said, acknowledging her fellow best actress nominees.

She also referenced the film's critics, quipping that she had to "thank everyone in England who let me come over and trample all over their history."

Early Canadian win

Canadian star Plummer was the night's first winner, picking up best supporting actor in a motion picture for his turn as an ailing widower who comes out of the closet in the father-son tale Beginners.

"What a wonderful welcome back to the home of King Kong, Rin Tin Tin and all our youthful fantasies. Thank you so much Foreign Press Association," Plummer said as he took the stage.

"I want to salute my partner Ewan, that wily Scot," the stage, film and screen veteran said of his co-star Ewan McGregor. "Also a 21-gun salute goes to [filmmaker] Michael Mills, whose talent and wisdom made Beginners such an enchantingly lovely story."

Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress in a film for the female-led, box office hit The Help, based on a civil rights-era novel about black maids who tell a young, Caucasian writer about their lives.

Pop music icon Madonna was also a musical winner, taking the best original song award for co-writing the tune Masterpiece from the film W.E., which she also directed.

The acclaimed Iranian movie A Separationwon the Globe for best foreign film and The Adventures of Tintin, which saw influential directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson team up, won best animated film.

Martin Scorsese scored the best director trophy for his 3D children's adventure Hugo, while Woody Allen won the best screenplay for a motion picture for his romantic fantasy Midnight in Paris.

TV newcomers earn kudos

Though returning favourite Modern Family earned the title of best TV comedy series, freshman titles dominated the television categories. Post-9/11 terrorism drama Homeland, one of the noted TV newcomers, was crowned the past year's best TV drama.

"I want to thank everyone who watches and enjoys the show," co-creator Howard Gordon said, with the ensemble show's cast behind him. "You make this very special for us to do."

Its star, actress Claire Danes, was also honoured as the best actress in a TV drama. She previously won the same category at the age of 15 for the teen drama My So-Called Life and recalled being so flustered on stage she neglected to thank her parents.

This time around, she remembered: "I am so lucky to have another opportunity to let them know how lucky I am to have their love and encouragement," Danes said.

Television stalwart Kelsey Grammer — known for his turns in sitcom classics Cheers and Frasier — won best actor in a TV drama for Boss, a new political drama in which he plays the powerful mayor of Chicago.

Laura Dern picked up the third Golden Globe of her career early on in the evening, snagging the award for best actress in a musical or comedy TV series for the first season of Enlightened. Matt LeBlanc, best known for the long-running sitcom Friends, won best actor in a musical or comedy series for playing a fictionalized version of himself in the debut series Episodes.

"[The writers] wrote a Matt LeBlanc who, let's be honest, was a lot more interesting and fun than the real thing," he said as he accepted the honour. "I wish I was him."

Two additional newcomers to the TV scene were acknowledged in the categories of supporting actor and actress in a series, miniseries or TV movie: Fantasy epic Game of Thrones earned a trophy with actor Peter Dinklage's win, while veteran actress Jessica Lange won for her role in American Horror Story.

Buzzworthy, critically acclaimed, British-made period drama series Downton Abbey, created by actor-writer Julian Fellowes, picked up the Golden Globe for best miniseries.

"The whole Downton Abbey adventure has been an extraordinary one, like spotting a promising child and waking up to find they won the Olympics," Fellowes said. "I thank the audience, because it's the audience that makes a success."

Film star Kate Winslet, a previous winner for the movies The Reader and Revolutionary Road, earned her third Golden Globe — best actress in a miniseries — for Mildred Pierce. English actor Idris Elba won the corresponding best actor in a miniseries trophy for Luther.

Morgan Freeman honoured

The evening celebration also included a tribute to actor Morgan Freeman, who received the HFPA’s Cecil B. DeMille Award. Hollywood icon Sidney Poitier, a past-winner of the lifetime achievement honour, led the homage.

"You become the character. The character becomes you. And so begins a process that captivates your audience,” Poitier said to Freeman, whose credits range from TV's The Electric Company in the 1970s to an eclectic body of film work that includes The Shawshank Redemption, Driving Miss Daisy, Glory, Bruce Almighty, Million Dollar Baby and Invictus.

"In my humble opinion, you are a prince in the profession you have chosen. We thank you, Mr. Freeman, for raising the level of excellence yet another notch."

Helen Mirren, Freeman’s co-star in the Toronto-shot action film Reds, continued with a lighter speech and also introduced a video montage of his performances. After viewing the clips, Freeman said he was struck by two things: "That I've had the chance to play people that I really, really admire and how much fun I've been having," he said, after receiving a standing ovation.

"It's been said that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. If that's so, for the past 45 years I haven't done a day of work."

Gervais returns

The Globes gala, broadcast this year by NBC, is spearheaded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of nearly 90 entertainment reporters who file for media outlets outside of the U.S.

Comedian, writer and actor Ricky Gervais hosted the Globes telecast for his third consecutive year, despite causing a kerfuffle in 2011 for delivering biting, edgy commentary — the sort of comedy for which he is known.

Former HFPA president Philip Berk publicly denounced Gervais, saying the Brit "definitely crossed the line" for his skewering of Hollywood celebrities, some of the nominees present at the ceremony as well as the HFPA itself. Though there were hurt feelings, Gervais nonetheless boosted ratings for the 2011 telecast and was invited back.

Still, the broadcast reportedly aired with a seven-second delay. Gervais said he was surprised at the outrage that followed his 2011 performance. He promised to deliver more of the same Sunday night, though his comments and introductions ultimately proved less inflammatory, with Kim Kardashian, long acceptance speeches, Jodie Foster and the Globes themselves among his targets.