The cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain topped the field as expected Monday at the Golden Globes in Los Angeles, taking four prizes including for best dramatic film and director.
In a mild upset, Palestinian film Paradise Now won the prize for foreign language film, beating out Kung Fu Hustle, the favored film from Hong Kong. Shot in Israel and the West Bank, Paradise Now tells the story of two Arab friends tapped to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Accepting the award, director Hany Abu-Assad said he considered the Golden Globe "a recognition that the Palestinians deserve their liberty and equality unconditionally."
Another film dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict, Steven Spielberg's Munich, had been nominated for two Golden Globes but was passed over by voters. Based on a widely discredited account of the Mossad's response to the terrorist killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the controversial film opens in Israel next week.
For the most part, however, it was a night dominated by films dealing with homosexuality and transsexuality. Along with the victories for Brokeback Mountain, acting honors went to Felicity Huffman in a gender-bending role as a man preparing for sex-change surgery in Transamerica, and to Philip Seymour Hoffman as gay author Truman Capote in Capote.
"I know as actors our job is usually to shed our skins, but I think as people our job is to become who we really are, and so I would like to salute the men and women who brave ostracism, alienation and a life lived on the margins to become who they really are," Huffman said.
The Johnny Cash biography Walk the Line won the Globe for best musical or comedy film and earned acting honors for stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.
Director Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, the story of two rugged Western family men (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) concealing their affair, has emerged as a front-runner for the Oscars - which occasionally have handed out top acting prizes for performers in homosexual or gender-bending roles but have never given the best picture Oscar to a gay-themed film.
Oscar nominations come out Jan. 31, with the awards presented March 5.
Phoenix and Witherspoon won for best actor and actress in a movie musical or comedy for the biopic that follows country legend Cash's career and his long courtship with the love of his life, June Carter.
The Globe audience clapped along to Cash's song "I Walk the Line" as Phoenix took the stage.
"Who would ever have thought that I would win in the comedy or musical category?" said Phoenix, poking fun at his image for dark, brooding roles. "Not expected."
"This film is really important to me," said Witherspoon, who offers a spirited performance and fine singing as Carter. "It's about where I grew up, it's about the music I grew up listening to, so it's very meaningful."
George Clooney, who was among the directing nominees for Good Night, and Good Luck, won the supporting actor Globe for the oil industry thriller Syriana, and Rachel Weisz earned the supporting-actress prize for the murder thriller The Constant Gardener.
Syriana spins a convoluted story of multiple characters caught up in a web of deceit, greed, corruption and power-brokering over Middle Eastern oil supplies. Clooney plays a fiercely devoted CIA undercover agent who comes to question his country's actions in the region.
Television winners included Geena Davis for best drama series actress as the U.S. president in Commander in Chief, Hugh Laurie for drama series actor as a cranky, pill-popping doctor in House and Steve Carell for best comedy series actor as an incompetent boss in The Office.
"This is really wonderful for a fledgling little show like ours," said Davis, who added that a little girl coming into the Globes stopped her to say, "Because of you I want to be president some day.
"Well, that didn't actually happen," Davis joked. "But it could have."
Mary-Louise Parker of Weeds beat out the four lead actresses of Desperate Housewives for best actress in a comedy series. But Desperate Housewives did win for best musical or comedy series.
The Globes are awarded by the relatively small Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which has about 80 members, compared with the 5,800 film professionals eligible to vote for the Oscars.
Still, the Globes have an excellent track record at predicting the Oscars. Globe winners catch momentum that can boost their chances come Oscar night.