I like the Golden Globes. They kick off the entertainment industry’s awards season with just enough red carpet glamour – but in a much more relaxed, almost intimate setting. (“Look at all those actors sitting together eating their Godiva chocolates! They’re just like us!”) Watching the Golden Globes is less work than watching the Academy Awards. It has fewer categories, fewer presenters, fewer musical numbers, and it doesn’t tend to run over into all hours of the night. 

This year’s Golden Globes celebration began (as all awards shows do, now that we have hundreds of cable channels that need content) with a red carpet pre-show packed with stars in gorgeous dresses. Well, most of them were in gorgeous dresses. There were, as usual, a few misses – some near and some nowhere near enough. Helena Bonham Carter’s ensemble – mismatched shoes (one red, one green), tangled bouffant and eccentric layered asymmetrical gown – looked like one of her husband Tim Burton’s creations. And would someone please tell Mad Men’s January Jones that there’s simply no excuse for a woman so beautiful and talented to continue to appear on Hollywood events’ “worst dressed” lists.  Strips of red tape do not a dress make.

Aside from the entertaining “Glamour Don’ts,” the show did have plenty of gorgeous women in sumptuous designer gowns. And this year, thanks mostly to the entire cast of Glee, there were actresses in virtually every shape and size and color represented. There were also several older actresses – well, older by Hollywood standards – not only represented but recognized.

Annette Bening received Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for The Kids Are All Right. In a slim, long-sleeved lace Tom Ford gown and funky glasses, she not only looked great, she looked smart. Bening, 52, expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to be in a movie about a lesbian family and thanked her onscreen partner, another striking and talented over-50 actress, Julianne Moore (right).
Melissa Leo (left), who at 50 isn’t old enough to be the mother of Mark Wahlberg or Christian Bale, even by MTV’s 16 and Pregnant standards, won Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for The FighterKatey Sagal (right), 57, was recognized for her work  as Best Actress in a Television Show Drama for Sons of Anarchy.

And as many expected, Jane Lynch (above), another 50-something, won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Glee’s outrageously inappropriate Sue Sylvester. Laura Linney (below right), a mere 46, won Best Actress in a Television Series – Comedy for Showtime’s The Big C. (Linney missed this year’s ceremony; her father, playwright Romulus Linney, passed away on Saturday.) Linney’s absence notwithstanding, these women shone on awards night, and their acceptance speeches were as colorful as their gowns.

How exciting to see so many mature women honored, especially in an industry where younger, cuter and curvier usually equates to better box office. In fact, there were only two young actress winners: Claire Danes for Temple Grandin and Natalie Portman for Black Swan.

If only the progress demonstrated by the wins for older actresses had extended into other categories. Because the Golden Globes are given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, one might assume that the selection process is less political. In theory, at least, critics are not on the major studios’ payroll. In fact, entertainment journalists seem to take pride in discovering and promoting smart, independent, otherwise unrecognized works. So it was disappointing to see so many big-budget movies lauded and so many smaller films passed over. And as always, there was a distinct scarcity of women in the categories of Best Screenplay and Best Motion Picture. And no women at all nominated at the top of the food chain: Best Director.

Here are a couple of colorful women that the HFPA missed:

Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right. No, the Golden Globes certainly didn’t ignore this movie. After all, both its stars were nominated for Best Actress, and Annette Bening won. It was also nominated for Best Screenplay. And it walked away with one of the evening’s biggest trophies, Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. But here’s where I’m confused. If it was nominated for Best Screenplay (co-authored by Cholodenko), and nominated for – and won – Best Motion Picture, why didn’t Cholodenko make the short list for Best Director?

Debra Granik for Winter’s Bone. Astounding young star Jennifer Lawrence (remember her name) was nominated for Best Actress. But this remarkable movie should have been in several other categories as well – Director, Screenplay, and Best Motion Picture, for sure. Writer-director Granik achieved a near miracle with a negligible budget, and given how many critics’ “Top 10” lists her film appeared on, it’s a surprise and a shame that she wasn’t in the running for a Golden Globe.

I like to repeat the assertion, “Progress, not perfection.” The 2011 Golden Globes, by honoring so many mid-life, mid-career actresses, is an example of great progress.  Maybe next year, we will see more women behind the camera recognized as well.

And we still have those Oscar nominations coming up. Stay tuned.