Bale, Bening early winners at Golden Globes

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British actor Christian Bale and US actress Annette Bening were among early winners at the Golden Globes on Sunday, which launch Hollywood's glittering annual awards season.

Low-key British historical drama "The King's Speech" and Facebook movie "The Social Network" were also hoping for glory at the Beverly Hills show, seen as a key pointer to next month's more prestigious Oscars.

Bale won best supporting actor for his role in boxing movie "The Fighter," which was also tipped to win other awards at the Globes, while Bening was named best actress in a musical or comedy for "The Kids Are All Right."

The Globes are the first major show in a season that includes the Directors Guild awards on January 29 and the Screen Actors Guild gongs the following night, leading up to the Oscars on February 27.

British comic Ricky Gervais, hosting the Globes for the second year, arrived on stage sipping a beer, promising: "It's going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking - or as Charlie Sheen calls it, breakfast."

He took several early digs at the show's organizers, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HPFA), citing rumors that they only nominated "The Tourist" to get to meet its stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.

"They also accepted bribes," he added, to gales of laughter.

The bigger prizes were saved up for the climax of Sunday's three-hour-long show.

"The King's Speech," starring Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, was nominated for awards in seven categories: best picture, director, actor, screenplay, score and supporting actor and actress.

"The Social Network" and "The Fighter" were nominated in six categories at the show, which gathers the multi-billion-dollar industry's A-listers for the first such event of the year.

The "King's Speech" was the surprise top nominee when the Globes short lists were announced last month, having only just opened in the United States and taken a tiny fraction of the box office earnings of "The Social Network."

Some suggest this was a wily move by the Weinstein Company behind the film, which let it slowly impress critics and audiences with a limited opening rather than trying for a blockbuster, head-on approach to seeking Oscar glory and fortune.

"The Social Network" was tipped for best picture, director and actor for Jesse Eisenberg's arresting performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, as well as best supporting actor and screenplay.

Best actor nominees for the drama category also include James Franco for Danny Boyle's latest movie "127 hours," Ryan Gosling for "Blue Valentine" and Mark Wahlberg for "The Fighter."

In other categories, best director nominations went to Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan"), David Fincher ("The Social Network"), Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech"), Christopher Nolan ("Inception") and David Russell ("The Fighter").

One film's inclusion in the short list triggered smirks around Hollywood.

"The Tourist," starring Depp and Jolie, was critically panned but won a surprise nomination in the comedy or musical category, in what gossips suggested was a blatant bid to gets its A-list stars to attend Sunday - which they duly did.

That kind of surprise nomination underlines the questions raised by a lawsuit filed by a former Golden Globes publicist just a few days before Sunday's show.

Michael Russell, who worked for the Globes' organizers for 17 years, wants at least two million dollars in damages and lost wages, accusing them of running a "payola" scheme, according to the lawsuit.

The HFPA dismissed the lawsuit, calling the allegations "completely without merit."