With four awards Sunday including best drama, "Slumdog Millionaire" emerged as the potential film to beat at the Academy Awards, an unexpected position for a movie with a cast of unknowns and a story set among orphans and criminals on the streets of Mumbai.
"Is this really happening to me? My first film wins four Golden Globes? I just can't believe it," co-star Freida Pinto gushed to reporters backstage as she stood among her collaborators, including Danny Boyle, who won the best-director prize.
A critical darling and solid box-office success, "Slumdog Millionaire" knocked off best-drama nominees that included Brad Pitt's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio's "Revolutionary Road" and Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon."
"They have this expression - which I hope I pronounce correctly - in Hindi, which is when you do something, you should do it from the heart," Boyle said backstage. "The film was made from the heart, and we never expected to be here, and it's incredible that we are."
Best screenplay and musical score prizes also went to "Slumdog Millionaire," the story of an orphan boy who rises from terrible hardship to become a champ on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," all the while trying to reunite with a lost love from his childhood.
"Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon" and Meryl Streep's "Doubt" all tied for the lead with five nominations and all went away empty-handed.
Woody Allen's Spanish romance "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" won for best musical or comedy film.
The night belonged mainly to non-A-listers and films below the radar.
Sally Hawkins, a British actress virtually unknown in America, was chosen best actress in a comedy or musical as an eternal optimist in "Happy-Go-Lucky." Colin Farrell took the comedy or musical actor prize as a hit man in "In Bruges," a little-seen movie released last winter. Mickey Rourke returned from the wilderness to earn the Globe for best dramatic actor in "The Wrestler," a film whose comeback theme paralleled the actor's own journey back from Hollywood pariah.
"There ain't no quit in me," said Rourke, whose role as a washed-up wrestler with one last shot at glory re-established him as a viable star after he wrecked his career with bad behavior in the 1990s. "I didn't care about repercussions, and I paid the price for that. It took 13, 14 years for the doors to open up again."
"The Wrestler" also won the best-song Globe for Bruce Springsteen, who wrote the film's title tune.
Winslet, previously nominated five times without winning at both the Globes and Oscars, won for her role as a woman in a crumbling marriage in "Revolutionary Road" and as a former Nazi concentration camp guard in "The Reader."
"Revolutionary Road" was directed by Winslet's husband, Sam Mendes, and reunited her with her "Titanic" co-star Leonardo DiCaprio.
To DiCaprio, Winslet said: "I've loved you for 13 years and your performance in this film is nothing short of spectacular." To Mendes, she added: "Thank you for directing this film, babe, and thank you for killing us every single day and really enjoying us actually being in such horrific pain."
There was little surprise in the supporting-actor category. Virtually since he died nearly a year ago, Ledger has been the name on everyone's lips for that award.
Ledger won the prize for his diabolical turn as the Joker in the Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight," raising his chances to become only the second actor to win a posthumous Oscar. The first was Peter Finch, who won the best-actor Oscar for 1976's "Network."
"Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan accepted the Globe for Ledger, who died Jan. 22 from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Oscar nominations come out on the anniversary of Ledger's death.
"All of us who worked with Heath on `The Dark Knight' accept with an awful mixture of sadness but incredible pride," Nolan said. "After Heath passed, you saw a hole ripped in the future of cinema."
Among the stars Hawkins beat was Streep, who had a nomination for musical or comedy actress for "Mamma Mia!" Backstage, Hawkins said that as she walked up to accept her Globe, Streep asked, "`Are you happy now?' Yes, Meryl, I'm happy."