By Mark Armstrong
Updated January 25, 2004 01:00 PM

It took three years, but the Hobbits finally had their day at the 61st annual Golden Globe Awards. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” the final chapter in Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy, topped the competition Sunday night with four wins, including best dramatic picture and best director.

Following with three trophies was Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” which was named best musical or comedy, along with best screenplay and best actor for Bill Murray — who solidified his Oscar front-runner status for his role as an aging actor who strikes up a platonic relationship with a young woman in Tokyo.

Murray thanked Coppola “for writing a film that was so good that every actor in this room says, ‘That lucky son of a bitch.’ ”

Murray’s biggest competition come Oscar time? That’ll be Sean Penn, who was named best actor in a drama for Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River.” (The movie also nabbed Tim Robbins a win for best supporting actor.)

Charlize Theron was named best actress in a drama for her chilling transformation into real-life hooker-turned-serial-killer Aileen Wuornos for “Monster,” costarring Christina Ricci.

“Ohhhh, my god. This is so crazy. I’m from a farm in South Africa,” Theron said, before thanking the film’s writer-director, Patty Jenkins.

“Cold Mountain,” which came into Sunday night with a leading eight nominations, picked up just one win Sunday night, for best supporting actress, Renee Zellweger. On the musical/comedy side, Diane Keaton was named best actress for “Something’s Gotta Give.”

For “Rings,” its Globe wins (including trophies for best original score and best original song, for “Into the West”) leave the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy poised for Oscar glory when the Academy Awards are handed out Feb. 29.

“Really I just want to accept this award and pay tribute to professor Tolkien,” said Jackson, who was joined by the cast and crew onstage.

Among the big TV winners, HBO’s “Angels in America” ? the six-hour miniseries directed by Mike Nichols and based on Tony Kushner’s play about AIDS in the Reagan era ? pulled a clean sweep, picking up five wins: best miniseries or TV movie, best actor for Al Pacino, best actress for Meryl Streep, best supporting actor for Jeffrey Wright and best supporting actress for Mary-Louise Parker.

A voluptuous Parker, who was named best supporting actress for “Angels,” jokingly reserved special thanks for her newborn son, for “my boobs looking so good in this dress.” (Parker recently split from the father, “Big Fish” star Bill Crudup.)

In one of the night’s big surprises, best TV comedy honors went to BBC America’s biting British import “The Office,” and best actor went to the show’s creator and star, Ricky Gervais.

Sarah Jessica Parker rounded out the TV comedy category with her fourth win in five years for HBO’s “Sex and the City,” which will wrap its run this season. “This is for the cast and the crew … over 300 people who have enriched my life,” Parker said, also giving thanks “to the city of New York, for being so good to us for so many years.”

Best TV drama honors went to FOX’s thriller “24,” while Anthony LaPaglia was named best actor for CBS’s “Without a Trace” and Frances Conroy was named best actress for HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”

The night’s Cecil B. De Mille award for career achievement went to Michael Douglas for his decades of work both in front of and behind the camera. Douglas thanked his parents, wife Catherine Zeta-Jones and many of his early mentors, including Saul Zaentz (with whom he produced “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) and actor Karl Malden, his former costar on TV’s “The Streets of San Francisco.”

“I’m so grateful to Karl Malden for showing me what a work ethic was about,” Douglas said. “Karl you were a surrogate father to me.”

Finally, best foreign-language film honors went to “Osama,” from Afghanistan.

Next stop in the awards race: Oscar nominations, which will be announced Tuesday morning.

Go to the winner’s tally’s complete Globes coverage

9 p.m.: Bill, Renee Score Globes
Bill Murray, Renee Zellweger, Diane Keaton and HBO’s acclaimed miniseries “Angels in America” emerged as the big winners during the first hour of Sunday’s 61st annual Golden Globe Awards.

Murray, a crowd favorite and Oscar front-runner for Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” was named best actor in a musical or comedy. “You can all relax. I fired my agents a couple months ago,” the star joked, before thanking Coppola “for writing a film that was so good that every actor in this room says, ‘That lucky son of a bitch.’ ”

Keaton, meanwhile, scored best actress for “Something’s Gotta Give,” Tim Robbins picked up best supporting actor for Clint Eastwood’s drama “Mystic River,” and Zellweger was named best supporting actress — her third win in four years — for the Civil War romance “Cold Mountain” (which came into the evening with a leading eight nominations).

Zellweger thanked her costars, including nominee Nicole Kidman, saying, “It was a privilege to shovel out the barn with you.”

But the biggest winner of the first hour was “Angels,” the two-part HBO drama based on Tony Kushner’s play about AIDS in the Reagan era that racked up three wins: best miniseries or TV movie, best actress for Meryl Streep and best supporting actor for Jeffrey Wright.

Among the night’s surprises (aside from the censors missing Diane Keaton uttering “s–t” during her acceptance) was in the best TV comedy category, as BBC America’s biting British import, “The Office,” beat out such American faves as “Sex and the City” and “Will & Grace.”

“I’m not from these parts,” joked creator and star Ricky Gervais. “We’re from England. A little place that ran the world before you.”

Other winners from the first hour: Anthony LaPaglia was named best actor in a TV drama for CBS’s “Without a Trace,” Frances Conroy was named best actress in a TV drama for HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and Sarah Jessica Parker picked up her fourth best comedic actress trophy in five years for “Sex and the City.”

In keeping with the Globes’ casual, waste-no-time approach, the celebs were barely seated when Robbins picked up his trophy for “Mystic River.” He cracked, “Wow, we just sat down! Good thing about getting this early is I get to drink now.”

Go to the winner’s tally

7 p.m.: The Stars Arrive
Red carpet? Check. Nicole and Jude? Check. Offensive comments from Joan Rivers? Check.

It’s a bit early this year, but all the elements were in place Sunday night for the 61st annual Golden Globe Awards, airing on NBC at 8 p.m. ET from the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Nominees Tom Cruise, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Renee Zellweger were among the stars on hand just before the ceremony got under way. Even Jennifer Lopez showed up on the red carpet, despite her high-profile break from Ben Affleck just days ago.

Though this year’s Oscar race has been accelerated (the Academy Awards go down on Feb. 29, rather than the usual March date) the Hollywood Foreign Press Association still expects to play a major role in picking the big-screen front-runner with Sunday’s ceremony.

Leading the way is the Civil War romance “Cold Mountain,” which picked up eight nominations including best drama, best actor and actress (for Law and Kidman), best supporting actress (Zellweger) and best director (Anthony Minghella). Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” follows with five nominations, including best drama, alongside Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” — which scored nods for best comedy, actor Bill Murray and actress Scarlett Johansson (who also is nominated for best actress in a drama for “Girl with a Pearl Earring”).

Other front-runners coming into Sunday night: Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” and Tim Burton’s “Big Fish,” which each scored four nominations.

On the TV side, HBO’s miniseries “Angels in America” led the way with seven nominations, followed by “Sex and the City” and “Will & Grace” (with five nods apiece).

Best drama series nominees are “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “24,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Six Feet Under” and “The West Wing.” Meanwhile, Matt LeBlanc is the lone nominee from the “Friends” posse, while the show, in its final season, was not even nominated for best comedy. (The contenders there are “Arrested Development,” “Monk,” “The Office,” “Sex and the City” and “Will & Grace.”)