January 14, 2016 6:37 AM EST

For people who care about movies, the Golden Globes are one of the most pleasurable awards ceremonies of the year. The low-pressure party setting makes it relatively painless for the celebrities attending. And the occasional curveball awards thrown out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association shake up–for a time, at least–the carefully calibrated grids and spreadsheets of the Oscar prognosticators. The HFPA is sometimes the gremlin in the system, and thank goodness for that.

The Golden Globes push certain performances and pictures into the spotlight–even if those pictures don’t happen to be Spotlight. The surprises this time included a trophy for Kate Winslet, for her supporting role in Danny Boyle’s biopic Steve Jobs. Winslet’s name hasn’t simmered to the surface in any of the major year-end critics’ awards–which means little, though you could read it as a mild indicator that in the crowded field of fine performances given by women in 2015, she was possibly overlooked because few seem to care much for the movie. So what? The HFPA voters let their freak flag fly in choosing her, so good for them.

Almost as surprising was Brie Larson’s Best Actress in a Drama award for her performance in Room, as a young mother who strives to raise her son normally under extremely abnormal circumstances. The buzz around Larson has been quieter than that around some of the other nominees, chiefly perennial Oscar contender Cate Blanchett (for Carol) and Saoirse Ronan for her performance in Brooklyn, which just about everybody seems to like. Larson is a charming, quietly persuasive performer–not always the sort who gets recognized–and this prize puts a nice, shiny glow around her.

Perhaps most surprising is that Tom McCarthy’s potent newspaper drama Spotlight, seen by many Oscar watchers as a Best Picture front runner, took not a single Golden Globe. But The Revenant, in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays a trappers’ guide left for dead in the bitter-cold wilderness of the 1820s Western frontier, won three prizes: Best Motion Picture Drama, Best Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu) and, for DiCaprio, Best Actor in a Drama. Now, it seems, anything could happen on Feb. 28: DiCaprio may end up winning his first Oscar, thanks to that persuasively bushy beard and convincing consumption of bison liver. And the Old West may prove more resonant with Oscar voters than old-school newspaper journalism.

–S.Z.

This appears in the January 25, 2016 issue of TIME.

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