The film also earned acting honors for its French stars, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.
"'The Artist' may or may not be the best film of the year, but it is by far the favorite film of the year," said Hollywood journalist, Jeanne Wolf. "It's the film everybody falls in love with, everyone tells you, 'you have to see', everyone smiles about and everyone is worried is nipping at their heels for awards."
The 1960s racial tale "The Help" and George Clooney's family story "The Descendants" tied for second place in Thursday's nominations. The two movies are up for Best Motion Picture - Drama, with Clooney nominated for best actor. "The Help" earned acting slots for Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain.
Martin Scorsese's Paris adventure "Hugo," Clooney's political thriller "The Ides of March," Brad Pitt's baseball chronicle "Moneyball" and Steven Spielberg's World War I epic "War Horse" are also competing for best drama.
Joining "The Artist" in the best musical or comedy category are: the cancer story "50/50"; Kristen Wiig's wedding romp "Bridesmaids"; Woody Allen's romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris"; and Michelle Williams' Marilyn Monroe tale "My Week with Marilyn."
In addition to best dramatic actor for "The Descendants," Clooney is up for directing and screenplay for "The Ides of March." For the acting prize, Clooney is up against "Ides" star Ryan Gosling, who is also nominated for best musical or comedy actor for his role in the romance "Crazy, Stupid, Love."
Glenn Close also is a dual contender, as best dramatic actress for the Irish drama "Albert Nobbs" and for best song for writing the lyrics to "Lay Your Head Down," the film's theme tune.
In television, "American Horror Story," "Boardwalk Empire," "Boss," "Game of Thrones" and "Homeland" are up for best drama series. "Enlightened," "Episodes," "Glee," "Modern Family" and "New Girl" are up for best comedy or musical series.
Along with the Screen Actors Guild Award nominations a day earlier, the Globes field helps narrow down prospects for the Academy Awards, whose nominations come out Jan. 24.
The Golden Globes will be presented Jan. 15 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, televised live by NBC and hosted by Ricky Gervais, who will be hosting the show for the third-straight year.
The Globes are a laid-back affair for Hollywood's elite compared to the Oscars. The show turned a bit touchy last year as Gervais repeatedly made sharp wisecracks about stars and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of about 85 entertainment reporters for overseas outlets that presents the Globes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.