The harrowing drama "12 Years a Slave" won the coveted best drama Golden Globe and crime caper "American Hustle" won the musical/comedy film prize and two acting awards.
Hollywood turned out in their fashion finest for the 71st annual Golden Globes, Tinseltown's biggest honors fest before the Academy Awards in March -- and a key indicator as to who could be tipped to take home Oscars.
Australian Cate Blanchett won best drama actress for Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" and Matthew McConaughey triumphed for best drama actor in "Dallas Buyers Club."
"The Wolf of Wall Street" star Leonardo DiCaprio and Amy Adams from "American Hustle" won the equivalent awards in the musical/comedy category.
Best director went to Mexican Alfonso Cuaron for spectacular 3D space drama "Gravity," starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts stranded in orbit after a space station accident.
On the small screen, cult series "Breaking Bad" took the best drama prize and best drama actor for Bryan Cranston, while best TV movie or mini-series went to Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra."
Blanchett paid tribute to Woody Allen, who also received the Cecil B DeMille award for lifetime achievement at the Globes -- accepted on his behalf by Diane Keaton.
Allen "writes and directs these things with such alarming regularity that we almost take him for granted," Blanchett said.
"Then people like me are in his slipstream picking up these heavy things that make biceps look great."
There was a near disaster just hours before the show began, when a sprinkler malfunctioned and soaked a large part of the red carpet where the stars were due to arrive at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
The first prize of the night went to "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence for her supporting role in "American Hustle," inspired by an FBI sting operation in the 1970s known as ABSCAM, The Oscar-winning 23-year-old said she hopes to do more than act.
"I would love to direct one day, but I don't want to suck. I want to keep learning," she told reporters backstage.
Minutes later Adams took best actress for her role in the movie, which also won nominations for Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper.
But Bale was beaten by DiCaprio in the best musical/comedy actor category, won by the "Titanic" star for Martin Scorsese's epic about high finance greed.
And Cooper was defeated by Jared Leto, who took best supporting actor for his portrayal of a transgender woman suffering from AIDS in "Dallas Buyers Club."
Based on a true story, "Dallas Buyers Club" stars McConaughey as an AIDS sufferer who smuggles drugs for other patients to treat the HIV virus in the early days of the disease in the 1980s.
Best foreign film went to Italian Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty," defeating the Cannes-winning "Blue is the Warmest Color" as well as "The Hunt," "The Past" and "The Wind Rises."
Disney's musical fairy tale adaptation "Frozen" won the Golden Globe for best animated film, beating "The Croods" and "Despicable Me 2."
The Globes are run by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), and voted on by barely 80 journalists -- in contrast to the Oscars, chosen by 6,000 members of the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
"American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave" have had a series of boosts in recent weeks, winning nominations from the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and the Directors Guild of America (DGA).
In the last 10 years, all but one of the winners of the DGA's top prize went on to win the best director Oscar.
"12 Years a Slave" also topped nominations for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, announced last month.
Nominations for the Oscars will be announced on Thursday. The Academy Awards will be held on March 2.