BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – The carpet's rolled out, the winners are safely tucked in sealed envelopes and the wine is under chill. It's been two years since the stars came out for a Golden Globes ceremony, and they wasted no time making their way back Sunday night, trickling in early for the show. Even the weather cooperated, lighting up the scene with sunshine and 80 degree temperatures after several days of damp and cool had gripped greater Los Angeles.
Just in case any starlets found themselves schvitzing in the heat, four makeup artists were stationed inside the Beverly Hilton hotel's ladies room, ready for touchup duty.
Only a few celeb faces were walking the carpet by late afternoon, but a crush of big stars was expected very soon: After Hollywood labor strife shut down last year's Golden Globes, organizers promised their show would be back, bigger and better than ever.
Fans will find out as the 66th annual Globes, the town's second-biggest movie celebration after the Academy Awards, return in their somewhat boozy glory.
A looser, more relaxed affair than the Oscars, the Globes are a televised dinner party where Hollywood's elite share a meal and drinks, sometimes cutting loose with unexpected antics (this is the place Jack Nicholson once mooned the crowd for a laugh). The tables were decorated with white lilies and roses; oversized bottles of champagne awaited guests.
The show could be punctuated with a solemn moment, though. Nearly a year after his death, Heath Ledger might be honored as best supporting actor for his frenzied performance as the Joker in the Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight."
Other acting nominees include Angelina Jolie for "Changeling" and romantic partner Brad Pitt for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; "Titanic" co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet for their reunion film, "Revolutionary Road"; Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. for "Tropic Thunder"; and Anne Hathaway for "Rachel Getting Married."
Winslet also has a nomination for "The Reader," while Meryl Streep is competing for two awards, dramatic actress with "Doubt" and musical or comedy actress with "Mamma Mia!"
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Doubt" and "Frost/Nixon" lead the field with five nominations each.
Last year's Globe show was scrapped after stars said they would stay away in honor of picket lines by the Writers Guild of America, which was engaged in a bitter strike against producers. In its place was a briskly paced news conference where winners were announced from a podium.
One of 2008's scheduled honorees finally will get his prize. Globe organizers had intended to present Steven Spielberg with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, but the strike delayed it a year.
The Globes serve as a barometer for potential Oscar contenders, often singling out deserving newcomers who might have been overlooked among bigger-name stars. Relative unknown Hilary Swank won for dramatic actress at the Globes for 1999's "Boys Don't Cry," then went on to an upset win at the Oscars over Annette Bening, who had been considered the front-runner for "American Beauty."
Sunday's winners could get a last-minute boost for the Oscars, whose balloting closes the following day. Oscar nominations come out Jan. 22, with the awards following on Feb. 22.