'Chicago'

Catherine Zeta-Jones is shown in a scene from the film "Chicago," which received a leading 13 Oscar nominations today, including best-picture and actress nods for Queen Latifah, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. (AP/Miramax Films)

"Chicago," the Prohibition-era musical about two singing-and-dancing murderesses, and "The Hours," the poignant literary drama revolving around three women, won the major best-picture awards Sunday night at the 60th annual Golden Globes.

In a harbinger of what is likely to be a closely fought Oscar race, the Globes split its trophies among a variety of critically praised films ranging from late-life crises to historical drama to a sendup of Hollywood screenwriting.

"Chicago" was the only film to capture more than two awards. It was named best musical or comedy, and two of its stars, Renée Zellweger and Richard Gere, won best actress and actor. "The Hours" received two awards: best dramatic picture of 2002 and best actress for Nicole Kidman. Also receiving a pair of Globes were the quirky comedy "Adaptation," the historical epic "Gangs of New York" and the dark comedic-drama "About Schmidt."

As different as they were, all the major winners had something in common -- they tackled complex subjects with questionable commercial appeal that were arduous to translate to the screen.

Kidman, best actress in a musical or comedy last year for "Moulin Rouge," alluded to that as she accepted her award for her performance in "The Hours" as the mentally troubled novelist Virginia Woolf. She praised the "enormous amount of really good performances by women in television and cinema....Please keep giving us rich, complicated characters to play."

Martin Scorsese, who won his first Golden Globe on Sunday for directing his story of street violence between 19th century Americans and Irish immigrants in "Gangs of New York," said the film had preyed on his soul since he was 7 years old and "first heard the stories of this time."

Jack Nicholson won best dramatic actor for his performance in "About Schmidt," as a recently retired, bitter widower trying to stop his daughter from marrying. "I don't know whether to be happy or ashamed because I thought we made a comedy," Nicholson wisecracked from the podium, referring to the lighter aspects of the film. Nicholson last won a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical five years ago for "As Good as It Gets."

"About Schmidt" also received the screenwriting award for Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's adaptation of Louis Begley's novel.

From a studio perspective, Miramax Films was the winner Sunday. Its films -- "Chicago," "The Hours" (produced with Paramount), "Gangs of New York" and "Frida" -- won eight of the 13 awards.

The three-hour ceremony, held at the Beverly Hilton, was sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and telecast by NBC. Although the foreign press group's membership consists of 90 journalists -- less than 2% of the number of entertainment-industry figures who cast Oscar ballots -- and the organization is taken less than seriously by many in Hollywood, the Golden Globes have become a powerful marketing tool in studios' Oscar campaigns as well as an often reliable barometer: The winners of the Golden Globe for best drama or comedy/musical have won the Oscar for best picture for the past seven years. This year's Oscars will be awarded on March 23.

On numerous occasions, the Globes have ventured far from the taste of Oscar voters. In 1955, for example, the Globes honored "East of Eden," with James Dean playing his first leading role, as best drama, while the Oscar for best picture went to the low-budget, black-and-white "Marty." In 1970, the Globes honored the sentimental box office hit "Love Story" and the acerbic antiwar comedy "MASH" while the Oscar went to the more traditional biopic "Patton." In 1991, the Globes went to "Bugsy" and "Beauty and the Beast" while the Oscar went to "The Silence of the Lambs."

Scorsese has been praised for fighting to have "Gangs of New York" made during the past three decades. But the film still faces an uphill battle: Box office so far has been disappointing and the director, , who has never won an Oscar, has been shut out this year in awards presented by a variety of film critics associations.

"Chicago's" Zellweger, who plays the aspiring-actress-turned-murderess Roxie Hart, received her second best-actress Golden Globe in this category; she won two years ago for "Nurse Betty." Gere, who plays flamboyantly cynical lawyer Billy Flynn, told the audience, "I didn't even want to do this movie." Backstage, he expanded: "It wasn't an easy fit for me. I literally didn't see how you could make this a film."

The award bolstered Gere's chance of being considered in the Oscar best actor category, rather than as a supporting actor.

"Adaptation," which told the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's tortured efforts to turn novelist Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief'" into a screenplay, took the supporting actor and supporting actress categories.

Much-honored Meryl Streep, who portrayed Orlean, joked in her acceptance speech about her recent drought. "I've been nominated 789 times and I was getting settled over there for a long winter's nap....I didn't have any [acceptance remarks] prepared because it's been since the Pleistocene Era that I won anything." Streep won her last Golden Globe 20 years ago for "Sophie's Choice."

Streep's co-star, Chris Cooper, who won for portraying an eccentric, toothless but sexy orchid thief in the comedy, quipped, "You've given millions and millions of stringy-haired and toothless people hope." Cooper had previously won awards from several film critics groups for his role, including the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

Other winners included "Talk to Her," Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar's drama about two men and the comatose women they love, as best foreign film; Elliot Goldenthal for best original score in "Frida"; and the Irish rock group U2 for best original song, "The Hands That Built America," in "Gangs of New York."

"I was afraid this movie would be received with scandal or create a polemic in this country," Almodóvar said. "But I think the audience has embraced this film completely without prejudice."

Gene Hackman, receiving the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award, quoted a line from his boyhood idol, James Cagney, in "White Heat": "Top of the world, Ma. Top of the world."

In the television awards, cable shows -- some from unlikely sources -- dominated the evening. In the night's biggest upset, FX's gritty police drama "The Shield" won best dramatic series, beating out such favorites as HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under," NBC's "The West Wing" and Fox's critically acclaimed "24." The show's star, Michael Chiklis, who plays an overbearing L.A. police detective, took home the best dramatic actor award.

HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the work of Larry David, who plays a man obsessed with the bleak side of life, won for best musical or comedy series. "This is a sad day for the Golden Globes," deadpanned David, the co-creator of "Seinfeld." "It is, however, quite a good day for Larry David....I'd like to thank my parents, who always taught me that when you have the opportunity to annoy someone, you should do so."

HBO's "The Gathering Storm," a portrait of Winston Churchill shortly before he became a World War II icon, won for best miniseries or motion picture. Albert Finney won the award for best actor for his portrayal of Churchill.

Uma Thurman won best actress in a miniseries or motion picture for her portrayal a young working-class New Jersey woman in HBO's "Hysterical Blindness."

Tony Shalhoub won best actor in the musical or comedy series for his portrayal of a neurotic detective on the USA cable network show "Monk," which also aired on ABC.

Two actresses struggled with ailments in accepting television best actress awards. Edie Falco, whispering her thanks due to a case of laryngitis, won the drama award for her role as a mob boss' wife in HBO's "The Sopranos." Jennifer Aniston, who won in the musical/comedy field for NBC's "Friends," struggled toward the podium on a cane because of a stubbed toe.

Kim Cattrall won the award for best supporting actress in a series, miniseries or motion picture for her portrayal of a randy New York publicist in HBO's "Sex and the City." Donald Sutherland, who played policy advisor Clark Clifford in HBO's "Path to War," a study of the Lyndon Johnson White House during the escalation of the Vietnam War, received the best supporting actor in the same category.

Times staff writers Lorenza Munoz and Robert W. Welkos contributed to this story.