Amy Poehler made out with Bono, Tina Fey mocked George Clooney's taste in women and Matt Damon emerged, bizarrely, as the night's theme.
But at the end of a madcap Golden Globes (Fey toasted it as "the beautiful mess we hoped it would be"), the major honors soberly ended up with the favorites. David O. Russell's con-artist caper "American Hustle" led with three awards, including best film comedy. And despite missing out in the other six categories it was nominated in, the unflinching historical drama "12 Years a Slave" concluded the night as best film drama.
"A little bit in shock," said director Steve McQueen, before shrugging the lyrics to the old gospel song sung in the slavery epic: "Roll, Jordan, roll."
Russell's 1970s Abscam fictionalization "American Hustle" had the better night overall, winning acting awards for Amy Adams (best actress drama) and Jennifer Lawrence (best supporting actress). Best picture was the only award for "12 Years a Slave," which came in with seven nominations, tied for the most with "American Hustle."
Awards were otherwise spread around.
Matthew McConaughey took best actor in a drama for his performance in the Texas HIV drama "Dallas Buyers Club." Leonardo DiCaprio, a nine-time Golden Globe nominee, won his second Globe for best actor in a comedy for his work in "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Alfonso Cuaron won best director for the space odyssey "Gravity," a worldwide hit and critical favorite.
The night's biggest winners may have been hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, whose second time hosting the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Beverly Hills, Calif., ceremony was just as successful as last year's show (a six-year ratings high with 19.7 million viewers).
The pair came out with a spree of punch lines, dishing them around the Beverly Hills Hilton, much to the delight of its starry audience. Damon, Meryl Streep and, naturally, George Clooney were among the targets. Fey particularly had the crowd roaring with a description of "Gravity," which stars Sandra Bullock and Clooney.
"George Clooney would rather float away in space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age," said Fey.
Many of the night's surprise winners were literally caught speechless. Andy Samberg (best actor in a comedy series, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"), Elisabeth Moss (winner of best actress, miniseries or movie, for "Top of the Lake"), Robin Wright (best actress in a TV series, drama) and even Poehler, herself (best actress in a TV series, comedy), appeared particularly shocked to win and each stumbled through their thank you's. Poehler celebrated by making out with Bono.
Spike Jonze was also blindsided by his best screenplay win for his futuristic romance "Her."
"I'm a terrible public speaker," said Jonze. "And I'm bad at English. And it's the only language I know."
Four months after its final episode, AMC's "Breaking Bad" won for best drama TV series and best actor in a drama series for Bryan Cranston (both their first Globes). Cranston called his honor "a lovely way to say goodbye." Creator Vince Gilligan said the award gave him "one more chance to thank the fans of the show," but left the final word for star Aaron Paul.
"Yeah, bitch," declared Paul, with what essentially became his character's catch phrase.
U2 and Danger Mouse won the award for best original song for "Ordinary Love," recorded for the Nelson Mandela biopic "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." Bono said working on the film completed a decades-long journey with Mandela, having played an anti-apartheid concert some 35 years ago.
"This man turned our life upside down, right-side up," said Bono of the South African leader who died in December. "A man who refused to hate not because he didn't have rage or anger or those things, but that he thought love would do a better job."
Accepting the Globe for best supporting actor, Jared Leto also paid tribute to his inspiration. The actor, whose rock band took him away from movies for years before the part, won for playing a transsexual in "Dallas Buyers Club."
"To the Rayons of the world, thanks for the inspiration," said Leto.
As expected, the Emmy-winning HBO film "Behind the Candelabra," the acclaimed Liberace drama directed by Steven Soderbergh, won for best movie or miniseries, as well as best actor in a TV film for Michael Douglas. He thanked his co-star Damon.
"The only reason you're not here is I had more sequins," Douglas told Damon. (Earlier in the evening, Poehler said among such a famous crowd that Damon was "basically a garbage person.")
The telecast managed two expletives in its first 30 minutes, one from Moss, the other from Jacqueline Bisset (best supporting actress, miniseries or movie, "Dancing on the Edge"). Both were surprise winners.
But the playful interplay of Fey and Poehler again stole the show in the early going. The "SNL" duo, signed up to host next year, too, brought last year's Globes' telecast to a six-year ratings high of 19.7 million.
"This is Hollywood," explained Fey. "If something kind of works, they'll just keep doing it until everyone hates it."
The Tracy Letts play adaptation "August: Osage County," starring Streep, Fey said, proved "that there are great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over 60."
Poehler and Fey, as they did last year, sought to get off the stage and mingle among the guests. In one memorable bit that parodied the Hollywood legacies who serve as stage guides, Poehler played Fey's surly daughter. They left it open as to whether Harvey Weinstein was the father.
Poehler was a winner, too, taking the Globe for best actress in a comedy TV series ("Parks and Recreation").
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of about 85 mostly freelance foreign journalists (Fey and Poehler mocked their publications), has recently undergone a change in leadership and, perhaps, a shift toward respectability. While the Globes have in the past been known for curious nominees like "The Tourist" and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," this year's nominees were seen as without such oddities.
This year, the Globes fall days after Oscar nomination voting concluded.
Full list of award winners
— Picture, Drama: "12 Years a Slave."
— Picture, Musical or Comedy: "American Hustle."
— Actor, Drama: Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club."
— Actress, Drama: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine."
— Director: Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity."
— Actor, Musical or Comedy: Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street."
— Actress, Musical or Comedy: Amy Adams, "American Hustle."
— Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club."
— Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle."
— Foreign Language: "The Great Beauty."
— Animated Film: "Frozen."
— Screenplay: Spike Jonze, "Her."
— Original Score: Alex Ebert, "All Is Lost."
— Original Song: "Ordinary Love" (music by Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr. and Brian Burton, lyrics by Bono), "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom."
— Series, Drama: "Breaking Bad."
— Actor, Drama: Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad."
— Actress, Drama: Robin Wright, "House of Cards."
— Series, Musical or Comedy: "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."
— Actress, Musical or Comedy: Amy Poehler, "Parks and Recreation."
— Actor, Musical or Comedy: Andy Samberg, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."
— Miniseries or Movie: "Behind the Candelabra."
— Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Elisabeth Moss, "Top of the Lake."
— Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Michael Douglas, "Behind the Candelabra."
— Supporting Actress, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Jacqueline Bisset, "Dancing on the Edge."
— Supporting Actor, Series, Miniseries or Movie: Jon Voight, "Ray Donovan."
Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award: Woody Allen.
This story has been updated.