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'Three Billboards' and 'Big Little Lies' are the top winners of a very different kind of Golden Globes awards

The Golden Globes are, by reputation, the loosest, booziest and most decidedly unserious ceremony on Hollywood’s awards season calendar, with the awards themselves quite often the butt of the joke. Hosting the awards in 2016, Ricky Gervais repeatedly savaged them as “meaningless.”

But, in a year that has seen the entertainment industry upended by a wave of sexual harassment scandals, the 75th Golden Globes flipped the script. At Sunday evening’s ceremony, everything — from the black dresses women wore on the red carpet in solidarity to the jokes and speeches to the winners themselves — seemed freighted with meaning.

“It’s 2018 — marijuana is finally allowed and sexual harassment finally isn’t,” show host Seth Meyers said, summing up the sense of change in the air.

GOLDEN GLOBES 2018: Full coverage | Winners | Red carpet photos

In what has been one of the most wide open awards seasons in years, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. offered little clarity, spreading its love among a handful of top contenders. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Lady Bird” and “The Shape of Water” all took home major prizes, while other critical favorites such as “Dunkirk,” “Get Out,” “Call Me by Your Name” and “The Post” left empty-handed.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s darkly hued morality play “Three Billboards,” which drew six nominations, proved the evening’s biggest winner with four wins, including the top prize in the drama category as well as awards for McDonagh’s screenplay and for the performances of Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand.

Accepting the award for lead actress in a drama for her role as a grieving mother trying to spur the police to solve her daughter’s murder, McDormand captured the undercurrents that ran through the entire evening’s proceedings, as an occasion normally devoted to self-congratulation was dominated instead by thorny issues of sexual misconduct and gender inequality.

“As many of you know, I keep my politics private, but it was really great to be in this room tonight and to be part of a tectonic shift in our industry’s power structure,” she told the crowd. “Trust me, the women in this room tonight are not here for the food. We are here for the work.”

Coming into the evening with four nominations, writer-director Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age dramedy “Lady Bird” took home the top prize in the comedy or musical category as well as an award for lead actress Saoirse Ronan, who plays a fiercely independent-minded teenager who bristles against what she sees as her stultifying upbringing in Sacramento.

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Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical fable “The Shape of Water” — a love story between a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) and an aquatic humanoid creature — led the pack heading into the evening with seven nominations but ended up with just two awards. Alexandre Desplat won for the film’s score while Del Toro took home the director prize in what presenter Natalie Portman pointedly noted was an “all-male” category over McDonagh, Steven Spielberg (“The Post”), Ridley Scott (“All the Money in the World”) and Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”).

“Since childhood I’ve been faithful to monsters,” Del Toro said, accepting the award. “I believe they are patron saints of our blissful imperfection.”

When it comes to the Oscars race, the Globes, which are decided by fewer than 100 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., are not considered terribly predictive. And given how unpredictable this year has been, it is difficult to say that the evening delivered any stunning snubs or shocks.

Many, however, likely expected a stronger showing for Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers drama “The Post,” which came into the night with six nominations and carries a timely story of the collision between presidential power and press freedoms. Meyers even did a bit at the top of the evening hinting that the film was a shoo-in for awards, and the camera cut to Spielberg looking sheepish in the audience.

In other film acting categories, Gary Oldman won the lead actor in a drama prize for his turn as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” and seven-time Emmy winner Allison Janney earned her first ever Golden Globe for her supporting turn as the mother of figure skater Tonya Harding in the dark comedy “I, Tonya.” James Franco won the award for lead actor in a comedy for his turn as hapless filmmaker Tommy Wiseau in “The Disaster Artist” — bringing a sunglasses-wearing Wiseau to the stage in one of the evening’s odder moments.

Last year’s Globes, coming in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, saw a shocked and outraged Hollywood turn its collective fire on then-President-elect Trump. But this year, that fire was continuously aimed inward, keeping the spotlight on the industry’s ills.

“There’s a new era underway — and I can tell because it’s been years since a white man was this nervous in Hollywood,” Meyers quipped, adding, “For the male nominees in the room tonight, this is the first time in three months it won’t be terrifying to hear your name read out loud.”

Meyers delivered particularly sharp digs at Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein, who he predicted “would be the first person ever booed in the In Memoriam.”

On the television side, shows centered on women led the night. HBO’s limited series “Big Little Lies” won four awards, including acting prizes for stars Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgard and Laura Dern, while Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” won two awards apiece, including the top prizes, respectively, in the comedy and drama series categories.

In perhaps the evening’s most emotional moment, Oprah Winfrey, accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award in recognition of her illustrious career, brought the crowd to its feet with a rousing speech that encapsulated the evening’s blend of outrage, inspiration and determination to bring about long-overdue change.

“I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon,” Winfrey said. “And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say 'Me too' again."

josh.rottenberg@latimes.com

Twitter: @joshrottenberg

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