The sweeping epic "The English Patient" and the musical "Evita" received best movie honors at the 54th annual Golden Globe Awards presented Sunday night in Beverly Hills.
The tally for "Evita" included a best-actress award for Madonna, as well as best song, and as the best film in the musical or comedy category.
The film's victory represented something of an upset, given the critical honors heaped upon the dark comedy "Fargo."
The overall awards thus seem to augur a wide-open Oscar race, as "The People Vs. Larry Flynt" nabbed awards for director Milos Forman as well as for its writers.
Tom Cruise was named best actor in a musical or comedy for his role as a fast-talking sports agent in "Jerry Maguire."
The sentimental favorite among the winners was film legend Lauren Bacall, who won the evening's first award, as best supporting actress for playing the possessive mother of Barbra Streisand in "The Mirror Has Two Faces." Bacall, an acclaimed actress since her debut at age 19 with future husband Humphrey Bogart, came to the podium to a standing ovation, and waved her award aloft.
By contrast to the musical/comedy honors, drama awards went to two performers relatively unknown in the United States: Brenda Blethyn for "Secrets & Lies," Mike Leigh's British film about a mother reunited with her lost daughter, and Australian stage actor Geoffrey Rush, who received an enthusiastic standing ovation accepting a Golden Globe for his performance as piano prodigy David Helfgott in another independent film, "Shine."
"I was so happy to be in the building, let alone standing here," said Blethyn, who admitted to being "star-struck" by the festivities at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
And Rush mentioned how some had questioned his being chosen for "Shine." He drew a laugh by thanking his "newfound friends" at Creative Artists Agency, a top talent agency, then held his statue aloft with a broad smile and added, "To all those people who were happy to bankroll the film as long as I wasn't in it. . . ."
Presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the awards are most significant as a potential bellwether for the Academy Awards, for which balloting for nominations closes at the end of the month.
"The English Patient," a war-torn romance told through flashbacks and starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, led the field with seven nominations but won only for best original score before taking the night's final sweepstakes prize as best drama.
Writer-director Anthony Minghella called the award "total vindication of my passion for a great book," which, he noted, "people said was unadaptable."
Minghella and producer Saul Zaentz recounted how they "went through hell" with the project, in Zaentz's words, with work halting four weeks before production was supposed to begin, then lying dormant for a month until Miramax Films bailed them out.
Similarly, the two producers of "Evita" (released by Hollywood Pictures, which is, like Miramax, a division of the Walt Disney Co.) and director Alan Parker said that among them, they had spent more than 40 years trying to bring the stage biography of Eva Peron to the screen.
Madonna--who had lobbied heavily for the role--also made mention of the film's numerous false starts, and she said she had been "incredibly blessed" over the past year, referring to the role as well as to the birth of her daughter. (She called motherhood "absolutely the most important thing for me.")
No stranger to celebrity, Madonna said of Eva Peron, "I feel that I completely understood her compassion and ambition and all she experienced."
(As for how she selected her skintight, low-cut black dress, the singer said, "To tell the truth, nothing else fit.")
Backstage, Rush said he would have been "disappointed if the role had been played by anyone not quintessentially attuned to the Australian culture." The actor is suddenly much in demand and next begins work on a new film version of "Les Miserables."
Director Forman acknowledged some concern that voters might dismiss "The People Vs. Larry Flynt" because of its subject matter, dealing with pornographer Larry Flynt.
"I never bought a copy of Hustler magazine, and I don't have any argument with people who think it's rather tasteless," he said, noting that the movie is about much more than that, including the 1st Amendment. Larry Karaszewski, who wrote the film with Scott Alexander, also thanked his wife "for putting up with those boxes of Hustler magazines."
Bacall said the Golden Globe was the first award or nomination she had ever received for a specific performance, excluding life-achievement honors.
"It just goes to show you if you live long enough and keep working, anything can happen," she said backstage.
Edward Norton took the other supporting honor for the thriller "Primal Fear," starring Richard Gere, though backstage he expressed more enthusiasm about his part in "Larry Flynt," letting out a cheer when Forman was announced as best director.