Many things are said about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association but nobody can deny the group goes its own way, as evidenced by the 70th annual Golden Globes on Jan 13.

Ben Affleck, who three days earlier missed out on an Academy Award nomination for best director, walked away with the best director Globe for Argo. He was clearly shaken and humbled to have beaten fellow nominees Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Kathryn Bigelow and Quentin Tarantino.

What also became clear was that the fast-rising director was taking nothing for granted on the night. In a heartfelt speech Affleck had forgotten to thank fellow producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov. He must not have expected to return to the Beverly Hilton stage, which is why he asked his wife Jennifer Garner to belatedly offer thanks to the Smokehouse Pictures duo during her subsequent turn as a presenter.

And yet by the end of the show the newly anointed best director was back on the podium with an expression that lurched from shell-shock to ecstasy as he and the Argo entourage revelled in the best dramatic picture prize.

Two key awards for Argo offers pause for thought in the run-up to the 85th annual Academy Awards, although the Hollywood grapevine has already decreed that best picture glory is highly unlikely, given that every best picture Oscar winner since 1990 has also garnered a best director nomination. Still, exceptions can and do happen.

Working Title’s Les Misérables earned the most wins on the night – three – with honours for best musical or comedy, best musical or comedy actor for Hugh Jackman – who did well to prevail against Bradley Cooper of Silver Linings Playbook – and best supporting actress for an over-wrought Anne Hathaway.

This last award was expected and overall the acting triumphs were predictable, although that did not preclude some recipients from delivering genuinely moving acceptance speeches.

Lincoln started the night as the leading nominee and thus had the furthest distance to fall. Seven nods evaporated into a solitary win for dramatic actor frontrunner Daniel Day-Lewis. The Briton thanked those he needed to thank in a stilted, almost bewildered address.

Best dramatic actress winner Jessica Chastain spoke elegantly about the years of hard work that preceded her burgeoning fame and expressed gratitude in particular to her Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow.

The occasion earlier in the night of Jennifer Lawrence’s win for best musical or comedy actress for Silver Linings Playbook revisits a familiar awards season trope: the winners of the two Globes categories now dovetail in a tight race for the best actress Oscar. The nature of Chastain’s more serious role puts her marginally ahead of her closest rival.

Christoph Waltz was the biggest surprise in the acting categories and seemed taken aback as he accepted his second Golden Globe for a Quentin Tarantino movie, this time Django Unchained.

Tarantino can hold his own with anybody on his day, but his best screenplay win was also a mild upset, given the weight of expectation and acclaim that has accompanied Tony Kushner for Lincoln, David O Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, newcomer Chris Terrio for Argo and former Oscar winner Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty.

Michael Haneke claimed the best foreign language movie for Amour and in this the HFPA and the Academy appear to think as one, although it would be foolhardy to second-guess this category.

One need only think back to how Departures beat The Class in 2009, recall that it was The Secret In Their Eyes and not Haneke’s The White Ribbon that emerged triumphant in 2010, or remember that In A Better World and not Incendies beat the class of 2011 to realise this is the least predictable of all categories.

Brave won the animation contest and even though this is in retrospect an almost inevitable result for the Pixar machine, it was by no means a given. Corporate siblings Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie are strong contenders for the Oscar and this category will remain fiercely competitive all the way to Feb 24.

The emotional highlight of the show was undoubtedly Jodie Foster’s fierce, impassioned Cecil B DeMille Award acceptance speech. The actress, who has always kept her personal life off-limits, intimated playfully that she was about to make a public statement about her sexuality and said, “But I’m just going to put it out there, loud and proud, right? So I’m going to need your support on this. I am… single.”

Foster went on to say, “There won’t be a big coming-out speech tonight, because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago in the Stone Age…” She waxed lyrical about her love for family and friends and paid tribute to her former partner and the co-parent to her two boys, Cydney Bernard. She has no intention of retiring, she disclosed to reporters after the show.