A Golden flight
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"The Aviator" soared — sort of. "Million Dollar Baby" decked the competition — but wasn't a knockout. "Sideways" uncorked a couple winners — although it wasn't drunk with success. And "Closer," a dark film about love and betrayal, whose award chances even its own studio had begun to doubt, walked off with two acting awards Sunday night at the 62nd Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.'s annual awards extravaganza was an equal-opportunity benefactor — but bestowed little clarity on the Oscar race, for which it is traditionally a bellwether. If anything, with no films dominating, this year's winners only muddied the picture.

"The Aviator," Martin Scorsese's epic biography of playboy filmmaker and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, considered a top contender for the Oscars, won three Golden Globes, the most of any film. It captured statuettes for best dramatic film, best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and best score.

Clint Eastwood's somber boxing drama, "Million Dollar Baby," won two Globes: best director for Eastwood and best actress for Hilary Swank. As did "Sideways," Alexander Payne's quirky buddy movie, which picked up statuettes for best comedy and best screenplay.

In television, the season's most-watched prime-time soap opera, ABC's "Desperate Housewives," won best comedy series and best actress for Teri Hatcher.

Another water-cooler show, "Nip/Tuck," the FX cable series about two South Florida plastic surgeons, was awarded best TV drama series — beating out such favorites as "The Sopranos," "24" and "Lost."

Despite its glitz and glamour and a worldwide television audience, the Golden Globes is still seeking respectability after six decades. Although it annually throws one of the entertainment world's biggest parties, even five-time Golden Globe winner Robin Williams, who received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for life achievement, tossed a few barbs its way when he recalled being named "best newcomer" by the group 26 years ago for the TV comedy series "Mork & Mindy" and "was humbled" when Pia Zadora won three years later.

But for the most part, the stars seemed thrilled to be recognized.

Accepting his award, DiCaprio said that growing up in show business, he always wanted to be part of the world of film and that now he was "truly a privileged person" to be working alongside director Scorsese, not only in Miramax's "The Aviator" but also two years ago in "Gangs of New York."

Jamie Foxx, who was nominated for three Golden Globes, won best actor in a comedy or musical for "Ray," in which he played the R&B singer Ray Charles, who died last year before the film opened. A former stand-up comedian, Foxx accepted the award, giving a shout-out to Charles' memory, then saying: "Can I just tell you that I am having the ride of my life right now?" He also made a tearful thank you to his grandmother, Esther, and Terrell, Texas, the small town in which he was born and later raised by his grandparents. Backstage, he said he used to watch people get emotional at awards shows and thought it was silly: "Until it happens to you, you think it's corny."

Swank, who shot to stardom five years ago when the then 25-year-old unknown actress captured a Golden Globe and an Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry," made a triumphant return to the Beverly Hilton ballroom stage Sunday night. In "Million Dollar Baby," she plays a down-on-her luck country girl with dreams of becoming a champion boxer. Swank noted that she spent weeks in training and thanked "all the boxers at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn" as well as "all the women who took those amazing knockouts who made me look like a champ."

The ceremony, which aired on NBC, had a number of comical moments. Actor Will Ferrell drew laughs, for instance, when he walked onstage wearing a patch over his right eye and deadpanned: "Rest assured, the boating accident was not as bad as was reported. I didn't actually lose my eye. I just have to wear this for a couple of months."

One of those in the audience who laughed at Ferrell's humor was Annette Bening, the star of the independent romantic comedy "Being Julia."

Seconds later, Ferrell was reading her name as the winner of best actress in a comedy for her performance as an aging British stage star in the 1930s. Actor Warren Beatty, Bening's husband and the father of their four children, kissed her on both cheeks. She later thanked him from the stage, noting "the lunch at the pizza joint was delicious." Backstage, she explained that when she'd pulled on her ear as the camera panned the nominees, it was a signal to her children watching at home. Two stars from the adult relationship drama "Closer" captured Golden Globes for supporting roles: British actor Clive Owen as the brooding, sexually adventuresome dermatologist and Natalie Portman as a free-spirited American who becomes an exotic dancer in London, where she tantalizes Owen's character.

Both Owen and Portman were outwardly stunned by their wins. Going into the ceremony, most handicappers had expected Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen, who had critically acclaimed performances in "Sideways," to be on the podium accepting awards.

"Wow!" Owen said as he arrived onstage. He gave a bow to his costars Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Portman, noting: "Any actor knows you're only good as the scene you are in."