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The cast of 'Dreamgirls'
The cast of "Dreamgirls," which won the best musical or comedy motion picture award, poses. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Dreaming big

Golden night for 'Dreamgirls,' 'Babel,' and Mirren

If you heard a giant groan in the wind last night around 10:30, it was probably the sound of Golden Globe viewers listening to Sacha Baron Cohen. The winner of the best comedy actor for "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" took us and his star-packed audience to some very dark places indeed -- too dark, perhaps, for a family paper. But hysterically dark, and typical of the loose tone of last night's ceremony.

Hollywood cynicism, boredom, and plastic gratitude took a short holiday last night, and the Golden Globes atmosphere seemed bright and real right from the opening moments, when an emotional Jennifer Hudson accepted the award for best supporting film actress. The breathless "Dreamgirls" star may be an "American Idol" reject, but last night she found herself on a fast track to an Oscar nomination.

"I have always dreamed, but never, ever this big," she gushed, paying special tribute to a one-time member of the Supremes, Florence Ballard.

As the awards toggled between TV and movies, with "Dreamgirls" and "Babel" taking the top movie prizes, they moved from one happy acceptance to another. Kyra Sedgwick has a lot more experience in the industry than Hudson, but she was equally joyous and shocked upon winning the best actress in a TV drama for "The Closer."

Forest Whitaker, who won best actor in a dramatic movie for his turn as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," was literally speechless for what felt like minutes, finally managing to get out a few heartfelt thanks, including a nod to "the ancestors who let me stand on their shoulders and every day whisper in my ear."

Even the ever-cool Hugh Laurie appeared to be stymied by his second win as best actor in a TV drama for "House": "This is stunning," he admitted. Martin Scorsese, winning as best director for "The Departed," was especially perky, perhaps hoping that after six nominations, he is finally on the road to an Oscar win. And Shonda Rhimes, collecting the prize for best TV drama for "Grey's Anatomy," was exhilarated and star-struck by seeing the likes of Jack Nicholson sitting in the audience.

If anyone in Hollywood has the right to be blasé about awards, it would be Meryl Streep. But her acceptance speech for best actress in a comedy or musical film for "The Devil Wears Prada" was Merylicious, as she praised all the other nominated actresses, noting it was "such a fun year to be watching movies because of you gals" and urging filmgoers to ask theater managers to screen the small movies, too.

What is it about Streep that makes it so easy to give her so many awards? Helen Mirren, too, is easy to honor, although she generally takes a more elevated approach than Streep in her thanks. She accepted her statues for best dramatic film actress for "The Queen" and best actress in a TV miniseries for "Elizabeth I" with regal grace.

For awards selected by only the 85 or so members of the Hollywood Foreign Press, compared to the 5,800 film professionals who vote for the Oscar, the Golden Globes have become quite a deal. Partly that's the event's party vibe, helped by the booze, and partly that's because it serves as a predictor of the Oscars .

But the Golden Globes also provide an early opportunity for actors to give thanks, before they've given thanks so many times that their hearts are no longer in it. At its best, the Globes has a fresh feeling to it. If Hudson wins an Oscar, chances are her speech will be a lot less ecstatic. The "Ugly Betty" wins, for best comedy and for best actress in a TV comedy for America Ferrera, probably won't be as exuberant and touching if the series is honored at the next Emmy Awards. Ferrera, in tears, kept it real by thanking her "mommy" and noting how important such an average-looking heroine has been for young female viewers.

Even veterans such as Alec Baldwin, who won best comedy actor for "30 Rock," and Clint Eastwood, who won the best foreign film award for "Letters From Iwo Jima," were quite openly pleased. Eastwood referenced newcomer Hudson's acceptance speech. "You don't know what this does for my confidence," he said. He was joking, or was there a touch of truth in there?

The "Dreamgirls" fire started by Hudson burned all night long, with a best supporting actor prize for Eddie Murphy and then a best movie musical win that left producer Laurence Mark giddy. With its honors as best dramatic movie, "Babel" will likely be next to "Dreamgirls" in Oscar's best film category. "I swear I have my papers, governor," Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of "Babel" joked as he took the award from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The E! preshow was all up in our favorite celebrity faces last night, thanks to its dreaded "glam-cam." The camera cruised ever so slowly up stars' bodies, with the inch-by-inch deliberateness of a leering guy on the make. The lens zoomed too closely for comfort on the likes of a big-haired Vanessa Williams and a thin-haired Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a sort of cinematic equivalent of the close talker on "Seinfeld."

And, of course, Ryan Seacrest did his part to get up close and personal. He was exceedingly excited to learn that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were coming, that they were THERE, that they were ON HIS PLATFORM. Faced with the couple, Seacrest appeared beside himself. With her heavy eyelashes and a scowl threatening, Jolie stayed away from the microphone. "We're thinking a soccer team," Pitt answered when Seacrest asked how big his family would get.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

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