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Life begins at 45: Bullock wins best actress award at Golden Globes

She used to be the girl next door. Now she's a woman with the gravitas to rival Meryl Streep, says Geoffrey Macnab

The mid-forties are usually the most treacherous period for Hollywood female stars – a time when they have grown too old to play romantic leads but aren't yet senior enough for dotty character turns as spinster aunts or matriarchs in Dynasty-like soap operas.

Countering the trends, Sandra Bullock, 45, has enjoyed box-office success and a growing critical respectability.

And at Sunday night's 67th Golden Globes, broadcast live for the first time from Beverly Hills, she beat a trio of Brits (Emily Blunt, Helen Mirren and Carey Mulligan) as well as Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe to the best actress award – her first – for her role in the true-life drama The Blind Side as a conservative suburban woman who adopts a homeless teenager.

Bullock, the former waitress with gumption and charm who built a career on her folksy, girl-next-door appeal, has successfully transformed herself from Miss Congeniality into a performer with a Meryl Streep-like gravitas. She is in the running for the same gong at the Oscars, which will be presented on 7 March at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

Streep, meanwhile, seems to be heading in the opposite direction, picking up another award (best actress in a comedy or musical) for her pantomime-dame depiction of chef Julia Child in Julie and Julia. In doing so she set a new Globes record of seven statuettes, surpassing the half-dozen collected by both Jack Nicholson and Angela Lansbury.

The annual movie beauty pageants seldom compare like with like, and this was starkly illustrated by two other big winners. While James Cameron carried off both the best picture and best director prizes for Avatar – now being talked up as the front-runner for the Oscars – Jeff Bridges won best actor for his wonderful performance as the grizzled old country and western star in Crazy Heart.

Avatar and Crazy Heart are from different universes. The former is an event movie that could never have been made without digital technology. It is closer to the world of video games than to what we used to regard as cinema. Crazy Heart, by contrast, is a character-driven drama about a recognisable human being. Its pace is beguilingly slow. Instead of Cameron's 3D depiction of a distant planet Pandora, the main landscape it offers us is Jeff Bridges' face.

Michael Haneke's magisterial and old-fashioned The White Ribbon won best foreign film, as expected. Its presence despite the shadow of Avatar is reassurance that there remains a place for the well-crafted and provocative European arthouse movie.

Notable losers in the Globes included Rob Marshall's Nine, nominated in five categories and winning nothing. Jason Reitman's Up In The Air, starring George Clooney, won only best screenplay.

Cameron's ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow had been tipped for best director for The Hurt Locker, her superb film about a bomb disposal expert in Iraq. It could be argued that this was purer and better crafted filmmaking than Avatar.

Financed independently, shot on a shoestring, it has few bells and whistles. It's not in 3D and doesn't have aliens. What it does offer – and what will surely win it awards elsewhere – is intensity and depth of characterisation.

Mixed reviews Gervais teases the A-listers

Some said he gave the stars a hard time; others called his witticisms "toothless"... You decide.

* "Honestly, I like a drink as much as the next man, unless the next man is Mel Gibson." (Gibson was convicted of drink driving in 2006.)

* "It's an honour to be here in a room full of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet – actors. They're just better than ordinary people, aren't they?"

* "On a serious note, just looking at all the faces here reminds me of all the great work that's been done this year... by cosmetic surgeons."

* "Actors aren't just loved here in Hollywood, they're loved the world over, because they're recognisable ... You can be a little child, a little Asian child, with no possessions, no money – but you see a picture of Angelina Jolie and you think, 'Mummy!' "