The Golden Globes - the first major event in Hollywood's awards season - opened Sunday with a show of solidarity with France after Islamist attacks and a pledge of support for freedom of expression.
Actress Salma Hayek. AFP
Comic duo Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opened the three-hour show -- second only to next month's all-important Oscars - with a monologue making fun notably of the recent Sony Pictures hack and the firestorm over 'The Interview,' a farce about killing North Korea's leader.
Hosts Tina Fey (L) and Amy Poehler attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards. AFP
The duo joked that the evening was to celebrate "all the movies that North Korea was okay with."
The evening took a more serious turn when the head of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association - which hands out the Globes - brought the audience at the Beverly Hilton to its feet with a pledge to support freedom of expression in the wake of both the Sony hack and the French attacks.
Producer Susan Downey (R) and actor Robert Downey, Jr. (L) arrive on the red carpet for the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards, January 11, 2015 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. AFP
"Together we will stand united against anyone who will repress free speech, anywhere, from North Korea to Paris," said HFPA chief Theo Kingma.
On the red carpet, several stars including George Clooney, Helen Mirren and Kathy Bates displayed the 'Je Suis Charlie' sign that has become a rallying cry in the wake of the deadly gun attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
Actor George Clooney and his wife Amal Clooney. Reuters
'Birdman' eyes glory
While an eve-of-show computer glitch appeared to suggest two other films could take the top prizes, 'Birdman' is still in strong position with the most nominations at seven.
The movie, starring former 'Batman' Michael Keaton as a washed-up film actor trying to revive his career on stage, earned the most nominations with seven, on top of a string of accolades and other nominations leading up to the Globes.
Actor Eddie Redmayne and Hannah Bagshawe. AFP
Coming-of-age drama 'Boyhood' and Nazi code-breaking thriller 'The Imitation Game' starring Britain's Benedict Cumberbatch are also hotly tipped to take home trophies with five nods apiece.
JK Simmons won the first prize of the night -- the best supporting film actor Globe for his performance as a bullying jazz drumming teacher in 'Whiplash'.
Actors Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy. AFP
'Fargo' took home the prize for best miniseries or television movie, while 'Transparent' won Amazon's first Golden Globe, for best comedy/musical television series.
This year's crop of nominated movies is heavy on true stories: four of the five Globes best drama contenders are based on real-life events.
Actor Ethan Hawke and Ryan Hawke. AFP
Among the historical figures featured are British geniuses Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing, and Martin Luther King Jr.
In the best musical or comedy category, the widely acclaimed 'Birdman' still seems to be the film to beat.
The movie also earned nods for best actor for Keaton, best supporting actor (Edward Norton), best supporting actress (Emma Stone) and best director (Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu).
Its rivals include Wes Anderson's 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' Disney's dark musical fairytale romp 'Into the Woods,' 'Pride' and 'St Vincent'.
On the drama side, the best film contenders are: 'Boyhood,' 'Foxcatcher,' 'The Imitation Game,' 'Selma' and 'The Theory of Everything.'
Barely 48 hours before the curtain goes up for the 72nd Globes ceremony, a website glitch appeared to suggest that 'Selma' and 'Into the Woods' could be set for best film honors.
The films were briefly posted on the Globes website as winning the best drama and best musical/comedy film awards, before the captions were taken down, according to industry journal Variety.
A spokesman said the films were chosen "randomly" from nominees' lists as Web technicians fine-tuned the website ahead of the show, and that the captions should not have been live.
Open TV field
On the small screen, 'Fargo' had the most nominations at five. In the television categories, critics see a free-for-all now that the widely acclaimed 'Breaking Bad' is no longer on the air or in the running.
A victory for Netflix's 'House of Cards' for best drama series after Amazon's win for 'Transparent' for best comedy would highlight the increasing influence of online streaming providers as they battle the traditional broadcast and cable networks.
Unlike the Oscars, which are voted on by some 6,000 industry members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Globes are selected by fewer than 100 journalists from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
But a Globes win can still provide a huge boost for an Oscars campaign. Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday. The Academy Awards will then be held on February 22.