Jane Campion's dark Western 'The Power of the Dog' became only the second film directed by a woman to win the best drama prize. The film also won for best director and best supporting actor for Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story' remake claimed top honors for best comedy or musical, as well as lead and supporting actress prizes for stars Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose.
Will Smith and Nicole Kidman won the prizes for best actor and actress in film dramas for their turns in 'King Richard' and 'Being the Ricardos.'
But none of the stars were present as usual at the Beverly Hilton, with the ceremony held behind closed doors.
The awards, which are usually closely followed for the immediate boost to box office tallies and Oscar hopes that a Globes win can provide, were hugely overshadowed by a long-brewing row over ethical lapses by the organizers.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of 100-odd entertainment writers with links to foreign publications, has been accused of a litany of failings from corruption to racism.
The Globes are traditionally billed as Tinseltown's biggest party -- in past years, the event was watched by TV audiences of millions, and spawned frenzied debate and memes on social media.
This year, NBC scrapped its broadcast, the HFPA did not offer a livestream, and the event failed to take off on Twitter, where pop culture fans were more preoccupied with the death of US comedian Bob Saget.
'Work to be done'
The young stars of 'West Side Story' took to Twitter to mark their wins, with Zegler noting that she had been awarded her Globe exactly three years after being cast as an unknown by Spielberg from among 30,000 hopefuls.
"Life is very strange," she wrote.
DeBose thanked the HFPA while cautioning that further reform is needed.
"There is still work to be done, but when you've worked so hard on a project -- infused with blood, sweat, tears and love -- having the work seen and acknowledged is always going to be special," she tweeted.
A Los Angeles Times expose last year found the HFPA had no Black members, opening the floodgates for criticism from across Hollywood including from A-list stars such as Tom Cruise.
Since the scandal broke, the HFPA has rushed through reforms, admitting its biggest ever annual intake, including several Black and other minority members.
It has banned members from accepting lavish gifts and hotel stays from studios courting their votes, and highlighted its philanthropic work.
During the behind-closed-doors ceremony on Sunday, the HFPA tweeted pre-recorded videos from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis praising the group's community work.
"I'm proud to be associated with them in this venture," said Curtis, referring to funding by the HFPA for community programs.
But celebrities were otherwise conspicuously absent from the proceedings, leaving the Golden Globes website's live blog to inform readers: "No other awards community shows as much love and generosity to others quite like the HFPA!"
Despite the subdued atmosphere surrounding the Globes, three wins apiece for "The Power of the Dog" and "West Side Story" confirm their credentials as contenders for an award season that culminates in March with the Oscars.
Campion's 'Power of the Dog,' starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which tackles toxic masculinity in 1920s Montana and was released by Netflix with a limited theatrical run, has received rave reviews.
Spielberg's 'West Side Story' remake flopped at the box office but was also adored by critics.
Kenneth Branagh, whose black-and-white account of the outbreak of sectarian violence during the late 1960s in 'Belfast' is considered a strong award season contender and had jointly topped the nominations, won only for best screenplay.
Andrew Garfield won best actor in a comedy of musical for 'tick, tick ... Boom!', which is based on the semi-autobiographical musical of the same name written by "Rent" composer Jonathan Larson.
'Succession,' HBO's tale of about a media tycoon's warring family, topped the television side with three prizes including best drama.