Meryl Streep nailed it when she said, in the final seconds of the 72nd Golden Globe Awards telecast: “How much are we going to miss Amy and Tina?” The co-hosts, sparingly but brilliantly deployed throughout NBC’s three-hour-three-minute telecast, opened the show with a string of zingers connected to the Sony hack, North Korea and The Interview. Fey welcomed “all you despicable, spoiled, minimally talented brats,” referencing (perhaps even defusing) an email between a certain film producer and a certain SPE executive.

Golden Globe Awards 1The were ably assisted by comedienne Margaret Cho, impersonating a North Korean member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who was decidedly non-plussed by the event (where are 1,000 children playing the same song on the guitar, she demanded to know. Where’s Dennis Rodman?). They executed several exquisite barbs (I especially loved Poehler’s “Boyhood proves there are still roles for women over 40—as long as you’re hired before you’re 40,” and another aimed at Bill Cosby, even if he already is an easy target) while mostly keeping out of the way of the business at hand. Which was presenting trophies, looking great and, occasionally, speaking power to truth—not always in that order. After all, these were extremely privileged people given a bullhorn with global reach, if only for a few precious seconds before the orchestra gave them the hook. Many used their time both wisely and compellingly.

Two themes emerged in the most memorable of several very memorable speeches. Unlike the Oscars, the HFPA’s awards are at least nominally a press event. So the usually booze-fueled ceremony was naturally shaded by last week’s terrorist massacre at the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the knowledge that on the day the awards were being celebrated, millions were marching in support of free expression not only in France but around the world.

George Clooney GlobesPresenter Jared Leto said, “To our friends, our thoughts and our prayers and our hearts are with you tonight. Je suis Charlie.” George Clooney, receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award for contributions to the industry, and his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, were among those prominently wearing “Je Suis Charlie” buttons. His gracious acceptance speech inevitably turned to that subject: After thanking the group “for keeping small films alive,”and paying tribute to Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams, he said,

“Just to reiterate what we’ve all been talking about, today was an extraordinary day. There were millions of people that marched not just in Paris but around the world. And they were Christians and Jews and Muslims. They were leaders of countries all over the world, and they didn’t march in protest. They marched in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear. We won’t do it. So je suis Charlie.”

Gina Rodriguez Globes

Related Golden Globes: George Clooney, Jared Leto Say “Je Suis Charlie”

If another theme emerged throughout the evening, it was that in both film and television, this was the year of the disenfranchised. Gina Rodriguez, winning for Jane The Virgin, set the bar with her emotional thank you:

This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes. My father used to tell me to say every morning, Today is going to be a great day. I can and I will. Well, Dad, today is a great day. I can and I did.

She was not the only person in tears by the end of that one. Not long after, however, the rapper Common was simply stunning in his speech, accepting with John Legend the award for best original song, “Glory,” which they co-wrote for Selma:

The first day I stepped on the set of Selma, I began to feel like this was bigger than a movie. As I got to know the people of the Civil Rights movement, I realize—I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid who maybe needed a hand but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. Selma has awakened my humanity.

John Legend and Common, Best Original Song 'Glory' for the Motion Picture Selma
John Legend and Common, Best Original Song ‘Glory’ for the Motion Picture Selma

That was speaking the power—of filmmaking, of dedication to art, to a higher purpose—to truth. It hardly ended there. The night was a very good one for Jill Soloway and her extraordinarily funny, humane Amazon series Transparent, in which Jeffrey Tambor plays a man who decides, after a marriage and three grown children, to live the rest of his life as a woman. Grasping his trophy and trembling, Tambor thanked Soloway and the company.

“You led me through the steps to find more of Jeffrey than I’ve ever known in my entire life…And finally, if I may, I would like to dedicate my performance and this award to the transgender community. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your courage. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for your patience. And thank you for letting us be a part of the change.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal, accepting the award for her performance in The Honourable Woman, offered a new spin on the subject of roles for older women:

[When] I think about the performances that I’ve watched this year, what I see actually are women who are sometimes powerful and sometimes not, sometimes sexy, sometimes not, sometimes honorable, sometimes not. What I think is new is the wealth of roles for actual women in television and in film. That’s what I think is revolutionary and evolutionary, and it’s what’s turning me on.

Matt Bomer, winning for the AIDS drama The Normal Heart, poignantly memorialized “the generation that we lost and the people we continue to lose due to this disease,” adding that “I just want to say we love you, we remember you.” But not all the emotional high points were political. Michael Keaton, winning for his performance in Birdman, said

My name is Michael John Douglas. I’m from Forest Grove, Pennsylvania. I’m the seventh child of George and Leona Douglas. I don’t ever remember a time when my father didn’t work two jobs, when my mother wasn’t saying the rosary or going to Mass or trying to take care of seven kids in a rundown farmhouse. She was volunteering at the Ohio valley hospital where I was born in the hallway. I’ve got six wonderful brothers and sisters. I have some tremendous, tremendously loving and generous friends all over the world. My best friend is kind, intelligent, funny, talented, considerate, thoughtful. Did I say kind? He also—he also happens to be my son, Sean.

NBC's "72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards" - Press RoomKeaton was reminding many in the room of where they’d come from and what they’d sacrificed. He also was paying silent tribute as well to his son’s mother, Caroline McWilliams, who died in 2010. There were plenty of lighter moments during the evening, and the orchestra too often seemed overeager to rein in the winners. But the HFPA will have a tough time replacing Fey and Poehler, whose swan song this was. The show managed the remarkable feat of being mostly dignified (Jennifer Lopez? Ricky Gervais? C’mon the shtick is tired) while being fleet and entertaining.

The comic gravitas, or grim comedy, was captured perfectly by winner Billy Bob Thornton, who gave the evening’s briefest acceptance speech (possibly because it took him so long to reach the podium): “These days, you get in a lot of trouble no matter what you say,” he noted ruefully. “Do you know what I mean? You can say anything in the world and get in trouble. I know this for a fact. So I’m just going to say thank you.”

And that was that.