In the first big gathering of the Hollywood awards season, actors used the event to hold up signs on the red carpet and defend freedom of expression after the killing of cartoonists at the Paris weekly Charlie Hebdo last week.
The attack brought a somber note to what is deemed one of the most lighthearted nights for the film and television industry, organized by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA).
"As international journalists we also understand the importance of freedom of artistic expression," said HFPA President Theo Kingma.
"Together we will stand united against anyone who would repress free speech anywhere from North Korea to Paris," he added, bringing the star-studded room to a standing ovation.
Third-time hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey took a more humorous tack about free expression, opening with a joke about the hacking at Sony Pictures, which the U.S. government has blamed on North Korea. The country, which denies it is behind the hacking, was angered over the studio's comedy "The Interview," which depicts the assassination of leader King Jong Un.
"Tonight we are celebrating all TV shows we know and love and all the movies North Korea was OK with," Fey said.
"BIRDMAN" TESTS FLIGHT
In the first award of the night, JK Simmons won best supporting actor as an intense music teacher in the indie film "Whiplash."
A film that satirizes show business, "Birdman," leads all nominees with seven nods and is the favorite to win best comedy/musical film. Star Michael Keaton, embodying the comeback in film and real life, could win best comedy/musical actor.
Sunday will be a major test for a small film that has wowed critics, "Boyhood," the favorite to win the more coveted best drama Globe. A bold endeavor made over 12 years with the same actors tells the simple tale of a boy growing up.
Two biopics are also vying for attention: "The Imitation Game," about a heroic World War Two British codebreaker persecuted for being homosexual, and the portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma," a 1960s drama that resonates in the current U.S. debate over race.
"Selma," which has four nominations, won best original song for "Glory" by John Legend and Common.
The outcome of the 72nd Globes will not influence the Academy Awards slate, since voting for next week's nominees announcement is closed. But it can give crucial momentum to the Feb. 22 Oscars.
In television awards, the HFPA anointed "Transparent" as best comedy series, the first big award for original programming streamed online from retail giant Amazon Inc.. The show is about a divorced father transitioning to become a woman and how his grown children react.
Clooney will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the HFPA and showed up with his new wife, Amal, who wore a one-shoulder Dior black gown and sported a "Je Suis Charlie" pin on her purse.