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Golden Globes: The stars, and the swipes

Hollywood gets set for its close-up at the first big awards show tonight

Hollywood has been gripped by awards fever for weeks, but for the rest of the world, the hoopla begins tonight, with the first major red-carpet event of the season: the Golden Globe Awards, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

The gong industry is now in full cry. Last Saturday saw the Palm Springs International Film Festival Gala. The New York Film Critics' Circle held its annual awards dinner on Monday. On Wednesday the British Academy of Film and Television Arts announced its shortlists, followed at 5.30 the next morning by the Academy Award nominations, moved forward to ensure they took place before the Globes. Hours later, on Thursday evening, Ben Affleck took home the Best Director and Best Picture prizes from the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, for his Iran hostage drama, Argo. Affleck had been left off the list for Best Director at February's Oscars. "I would like to thank the Academy," he said as he picked up his gong. "Just kidding, this is the one that counts!"

The Golden Globes don't quite "count" like an Oscar does, but they remain unique, setting themselves apart from their more austere counterpart, not least by serving booze to their guests. By splitting their awards into separate categories for Drama and for Musical or Comedy, the Globes allow films overlooked by the Academy to have their day in the sun. And by honouring movies and television on the same evening, they force the film industry to rub shoulders with its increasingly serious screen rival.

This year's awards season is an open field. While the top awards went to Affleck and Argo on Thursday, the New York Film Critics' Circle gave its Best Director and Best Picture prizes to Kathryn Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty, her film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. And though the two directors are in the running for Golden Globes, neither was nominated for an Oscar. Both ceremonies seem likely to be dominated by Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's film about the final days of the 16th President's life, which is in the running for seven Golden Globes and 12 Oscars, including Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis: the sole runaway favourite in any big category.

British-made movies, meanwhile, may enjoy a good showing in the musical or comedy categories, with Les Misérables contesting Best Picture with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Hopes will be high in the TV categories, too, where Downton Abbey, The Hour and Episodes have been nominated. Damian Lewis is up for Best Actor for Homeland, for the second year in a row.

The Globes are awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), founded in the 1940s by a group of LA-based journalists, who hoped it might afford them readier access to studios and stars. Today, the HFPA's 90 members are routinely accused of skewing their nominations to attract big-names. At the 2011 ceremony host Ricky Gervais singled out Johnny Depp, who was nominated in spite of terrible reviews for The Tourist. "It seems like everything this year was three-dimensional," Gervais crowed, "except the characters in The Tourist." This time hosting duties are with Saturday Night Live alumnae Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Inevitably, many look to the Globes to predict the Academy Awards, yet the Oscar for Best Picture has gone to a Globe-winning film twice in the past eight years.