Gladiator marched into the Shrine Auditorium as the conquering hero at this year's Academy Awards, winning Best Picture and four other Oscars.
Russell Crowe took the Best Actor prize for his role as a Roman general-turned-slave-turned Coliseum hero. The film also won Oscars for sound, costumes and visual effects.
"A dream like this seems kind of vaguely, and completely unattainable," Crowe said.
The other big winners were Traffic, Steven Soderbergh's depiction of the war on drugs, and the high-flying martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which picked up four awards each.
As virtually everyone expected, Julia Roberts took Best Actress honors for her role in Erin Brockovich.
In the biggest surprise in the evening, Marcia Gay Harden was named Best Supporting Actress for her role as the tortured artist's wife in Pollock. The win denied Kate Hudson, who played a groupie with a heart of gold in Almost Famous, the opportunity to match her mom, Oscar winner Goldie Hawn.
Greetings From Space
As Hollywood's biggest night began, the stars made their classic red-carpet entrances. Roberts dressed in a black and white vintage Valentino floor-length gown. Her date, Benjamin Bratt, matched her color scheme in a black suit with a white shirt and tie. Russell Crowe and Samuel L. Jackson went for Armani tuxedos. Also in a tux was Angelina Jolie, who chose pants over the long gowns favored by most of the female nominees.
The show began with a welcoming from the astronauts from the international space station Alpha. Host Steve Martin remarked, "That introduction cost the government $1 trillion."
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In his first stab as host, Martin compared emceeing the Oscars to making love to a beautiful woman. "It's something I only get to do when Billy Crystal is out of town."
The evening offered musical performances from Oscar nominees Sting, Björk and Bob Dylan. Dylan won for "Things Have Changed" from Wonder Boys.
Dylan performed via satellite live from Australia, where he is touring. Informed of his win, the folk singer said, "Oh good God, this is amazing."
Show organizers promised a shorter, punchier production. Winners were told they had just 45 seconds for their acceptance speeches — with the added incentive of a $2,500 high-definition TV for the winner who managed the shortest thank-you.
Roberts: 'I Love It Up Here'
Tim Yip, the first winner announced, accepted the award for Best Art Direction for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 29 seconds. But many of the big stars took their time. Roberts was at the podium for roughly three minutes, 45 seconds.
"I love it up here," she said, after thanking, friends, family, and colleagues who worked on Erin Brockovich, the story of a cleavage-baring legal assistant who takes on a utility that had polluted a community's water supply.
"I love the world," she said. "I am so happy."
Roberts had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Steel Magnolias and in 1990 for Best Actress in Pretty Woman.
"This movie was sinfully fun to make," she said of Erin Brockovich, giving nods to Best Supporting Actor nominee Albert Finney and director Soderbergh, who was nominated for both that film and Traffic.