Steven Spielberg

Ah, well, at least that was an improvement over last year - when the strike-disrupted Golden Globes shriveled to more of a misshapen pyrite orb, in the form of a glorified press conference.

Ah, well, at least that was an improvement over last year – when the strike-disrupted Golden Globes shriveled to more of a misshapen pyrite orb, in the form of a glorified press conference. OK, so the room seemed inordinately unruly, or maybe it was just all that ambient sound coming out of the commercial breaks, forcing presenters to hush the audience like stern schoolmarms. For the most part the telecast managed to live both up and down to the Globes’ reputation – a relatively loose, breezy affair offering plenty of eye candy, without any major glitches or, alas, indelible snafus.

Frankly, the night would have been worth the price of admission strictly for Ricky Gervais, who – referencing his lack of a nomination for the boxoffice flop “Ghost Town” – said that would be “the last time I have sex with 200 middle-aged journalists.” (That’s even funnier considering that the figure is roughly 2 ½ times the HFPA’s actual membership.)

Yet there were other memorable moments: Sally Hawkins’ tearful acceptance for “Happy-Go-Lucky;” the spontaneous standing ovation for the late Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” and director Chris Nolan’s eloquent tribute; Steven Spielberg’s simple pitch for the industry’s fortunate few to pay it forward by mentoring others; the ebullient response to “Slumdog Millionaire,” infectious even here; and Sacha Baron Cohen producing uncomfortable groans with, of all things, a joke about Madonna’s marital woes.

That said, the Globes’ high tolerance for windy speeches can render someone as seemingly charming as Kate Winslet tedious if they persist in rifling through a laundry list of thank-yous (twice, no less), or, in the case of Colin Farrell, merely semi-comprehensible. A happy medium between playing people off ruthlessly and letting them prattle on endlessly surely must exist somewhere.

Still, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. always manages to keep things interesting by virtue of their choices, which invariably yield a highly telegenic, star-laden broadcast.

Politics were a part of the festivities, but in a relatively muted way. Tracy Morgan joked that Barack Obama’s election made him the official spokesman for “30 Rock,” while Laura Dern expressed enthusiasm for the new administration after playing Republican bogeywoman Katherine Harris in HBO’s “Recount.” The director of Israel’s foreign-language victor “Waltz With Bashir” also voiced hope for Middle East peace.

As for the restlessness that lurked off camera, perhaps that was just pent-up energy after the last muted go-round, the uncertainty surrounding the Screen Actors Guild contract negotiations and all the grimness regarding the economy. And from that perspective, who could blame them?

66th annual Golden Globes

Special; NBC, Sun. Jan. 11, 8 p.m.

Production

Broadcast from Beverly Hills and produced by Dick Clark Prods. in association with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. Executive producers, Orly Adelson, Barry Adelman; producers, Ken Shapiro, Al Schwartz; director, Chris Donovan; writers, Adelman, Shapiro; special material, Jon Macks. 3 HOURS

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