BEVERLY HILLS, California – Heath Ledger won the supporting-actor Golden Globe on Sunday nearly a year after his death, earning the prize for his diabolical turn as the Joker in the Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight."
The award was accepted by "Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan, who said he and his collaborators were buoyed by the enormous acclaim and acceptance the film and Ledger's performance have gained worldwide.
"All of us who worked with Heath on `The Dark Knight' accept with an awful mixture of sadness but incredible pride," Nolan said. "After Heath passed, you saw a hole ripped in the future of cinema."
The Globe win boosts Ledger's prospects for the supporting-actor honor at the Academy Awards, whose nominations come out Jan. 22, the one-year anniversary of the actor's death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.
Only one actor has ever won a posthumous Oscar, best-actor recipient Peter Finch for 1976's "Network."
The robot romance "WALL-E" won the Golden Globe for best animated film, Sally Hawkins earned the best-actress prize in a musical or comedy as an eternal optimist in "Happy-Go-Lucky," and Kate Winslet took supporting actress for "The Reader," in which she plays a former Nazi concentration camp guard in a romantic fling with a teenager.
Hawkins, a relatively unknown British actress and newcomer to Hollywood's awards scenes, was visibly nervous accepting her prize.
"I'll try and get through as much as my voice and nerves and knees will let me," said Hawkins, thanking family, cast mates and collaborators on the film, including director Mike Leigh.
"WALL-E" director Andrew Stanton thanked producer Pixar Animation and distributor Walt Disney, saying the unusual love story between two robots who communicate in beeps and squeaks "couldn't have been made anywhere else."
Winslet, who also was up for best dramatic actress at the Globes with the domestic drama "Revolutionary Road," is a five-time Oscar nominee but has never won.
"You have to forgive me because I have a habit of not winning things," Winslet said as she opened what she acknowledged was a long acceptance speech.
"Sorry this is going on a bit, but I'm going to make the most of it," she said amid thanking everyone from her children to the film's makeup artists.
"Slumdog Millionaire," an underdog story some awards watchers think could emerge as an Oscar favorite, won its first two categories of the night, best screenplay for Simon Beaufoy and musical score for A.R. Rahman. The film's four nominations also included best director and drama.
"We really weren't expecting to be here in America at all at one time, so it's just amazing to be here," said Beaufoy, who adapted the script from Vikas Swarup's novel "Q & A."
Directed by British director Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire" features a generally unknown cast in the story of an orphan boy in Mumbai who rises from terrible hardship to become a champ on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," all the while trying to reunite with a lost love from his childhood.
Bruce Springsteen received the best song prize for the title track to "The Wrestler."
"This is the only time I'm going to be in competition with Clint Eastwood," said Springsteen, referring to the filmmaker who had a song nomination for writing the title tune to his "Gran Torino." "It felt pretty good, too."
The foreign-language film prize went to Israel's "Waltz With Bashir," director Ari Forman's animated documentary about a soldier struggling to recall suppressed memories of his involvement in the war with Lebanon.
Among TV categories, "30 Rock" won best comedy series, with stars Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin earning the acting Globes in a musical or comedy.
The 66th annual Globes, the town's second-biggest movie celebration after the Academy Awards, returned to their somewhat boozy glory.
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 got 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." This year's Oscar ceremony comes on Feb. 22.
The Globes are presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of about 90 reporters covering show business for overseas outlets.