12 Years A Slave cast. Picture: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Although 12 Years A Slave has won the Golden Globe for best drama, its victory in this most prestigious of categories, unlike previous years, does not anoint it as the Oscar favourite.

For the first time in memory films in the comedy/musical category, which was won by American Hustle, offer a major challenge to the dramas (The Artist did the double two years ago but its Oscar win was the first for a comedy since The Apartment in 1960).

Indeed, there is such a strong line-up of movies slugging it out during award season that victories for 12 Years A Slave and American Hustle are just the first shots across the bow in a battle that will continue through to March.

Confusing things even further is that not one of the comedies is actually an outright comedy. American Hustle, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and even The Wolf of Wall Street are comedy-laced dramas (Spike Jonze's Her is, in fact, a tragic love story that will leave audiences reaching for their tissues).

The depth of quality of this year's films is most marked by Leonardo DiCaprio's victory as best actor in a comedy/musical, a category in which he would have been considered the least favoured, behind Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Christian Bale (American Hustle).

The biggest surprise of the evening came when Matthew McConaughey's name was read out for his performance as a homophobic HIV-positive rodeo rider in Dallas Buyers Club, an acclaimed drama that has been somewhat overlooked because of the extraordinarily high quality of films in competition.

In recent years McConaughey has worked tirelessly to reinvent himself as an actor and cast off his image as the empty-headed pretty boy in romantic-comedies such as How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days, Fools Gold, Failure To Launch and Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past.

Then came a remarkable run of movies in which he revealed himself to be an actor of great subtlety, power and versatility, following the game-changing Lincoln Lawyer with Bernie, Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Mud and Magic Mike, which has culminated in the low-budget sensation Dallas Buyers Club.

McConaughey's victory over favourite Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) and Robert Redford (All Is Lost) make him the dark horse of this year's Oscars along with the movie itself, backed by the win of rocker-turned-actor Jared Leto's victory for best supporting actor.

Cate Blanchett affirmed her Oscar favouritism by winning best actress in a drama, besting Judi Dench (Philomena), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr Banks), Sandra Bullock (Gravity) and Kate Winslet (Labor Day).

Bullock, Dench and Thompson picked up a lot of heat during the earlier part of award season because their films are fresher in the memory and have generally received stronger reviews than Blue Jasmine.

But the Australian actress, who makes a stunning return to the big screen after spending several years running the Sydney Theatre Company with husband Andrew Upton, has the role of a lifetime playing a fallen socialite forced to begin her life again in the home of her working-class sister (amazingly the man who gifted her that role, Woody Allen, had to settle for the Cecil B. DeMille Award for his lifetime achievement).

Jennifer Lawrence's victory in the best supporting actress category is no surprise as everyone has been raving about her hilarious turn as con man Christian Bale's unhinged young wife in American Hustle, revealing that her Silver Linings Playbook Oscar was no fluke.

It can now be safely said that the 23-year-old Lawrence, who moves effortlessly between blockbusters (The Hunger Games, X-Men), indie dramas (Winter's Bone) and comedy (American Hustle), is the world's biggest female star. A third Oscar nomination and a second victory will seal the deal.

The ridiculously competitive best director category, which found no room for Spike Jonze (Her), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street), Stephen Frears (Philomena), Joel Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), was won by Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron.

This separation of the best director from the best picture winners follows the pattern of the Oscars in the past few years, with Ang Lee picking up the directing Academy Award for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi but neither films winning the main prize.

12 Years A Slave, Gravity and American Hustle emerge as the frontrunners from this year's Golden Globes, which were hosted with the usual envelope-pushing panache by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (replete with a very funny vagina quip), but there is a long way to go and so many amazing movies demanding to be honoured.

In the television awards section, Breaking Bad - which some believe to be the greatest of all series in this golden age of television - received the send-off it deserved, winning best drama series and its star Bryan Cranston winning best actor.

Interestingly, the Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra won two awards - best actor for Michael Douglas and best movie made for television - and brought into focus the breakdown of the barrier between film and television.

Behind The Candelabra was made by HBO after director Stephen Soderberg failed to convince Hollywood to finance a movie that treats the sexual life of the flamboyant pianist in such bracingly frank terms.

Such is the quality of the movie that it premiered not on television but at the Cannes Film Festival and competed for the Palme d'Or (some critics believed it to be the best movie screened during the event). It won 11 Emmys and, just to confuse matters further, premiered in Australia in cinemas.

Even the line-up of actors that Douglas beat in the mini-series/television movie category - his Candelabra co-star Matt Damon, Al Pacino (Phil Spector), Idris Elba (Luther), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dancing on the Edge) - are all A-list movie stars, with Elba and Ejiofor competing in the movie drama section for 12 Years A Slave and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

This new era of blurring between film and television was also marked by Elizabeth Moss' win for Top of the Lake, the New Zealand-set mini-series directed by Jane Campion, one of the world's most celebrated auteurs.

Top of the Lake was produced by the Anglo- Australian company See-Saw Films (The King's Speech) and has heavy Australian involvement, including David Wenham in the key role as a detective working with Moss' Robin Griffin to find a missing girl in a small New Zealand town.

The West Australian

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