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Posted 3/1/2004 1:46 AM
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After 2 subdued years, the fun is back
LOS ANGELES — The Oscars are back, baby!

After two years of subdued ceremonies in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq, the Academy Awards returned Sunday with the traditional glitter, glamour, frivolity and cleavage.

"I'm back, baby," yelled eight-time host Billy Crystal, who returned after a four-year absence.

Crystal, who appeared semi-nude during his trademark video monologue that poked fun at nominated movies, joked about how life has changed since he first hosted the Oscars 13 years ago: "Bush was president, the economy was tanking and we'd just finished a war with Iraq."

Even the weather cooperated. After a week of rain, the sun was out Sunday.

"This is a horse of a different color ... not a bad way to spend the afternoon," best-actor nominee Johnny Depp said. On his right pinky, Depp wore a Band-Aid given to him by his daughter Lily-Rose for good luck.

Fellow best-actor nominee Jude Law described the mood as "celebratory but incredibly calm, as it should be, and I'm having a wonderful time."

"We saved the world on the way here," said Jack Black after carpooling to the Oscars with Will Ferrell in a hybrid Toyota Prius. "But I do feel bad since I littered the whole way," Ferrell joked.

The Academy Awards became a family affair this year: Mystic River nominee Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon walked the red carpet with their son Miles.

Lost in Translation director Sofia Coppola came with her dad, Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, her brothers and cousins.

Supporting actress nominee Marcia Gay Harden's entourage included her mother, her sister, her husband, Thaddaeus D. Scheel — and her twins, whose birth is expected this spring. "Every time the fans start screaming 'Marcia,' the babies start kicking," she said. Asked whether she brought any lucky charms, she patted her belly and said, "Just these two."

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson had a penny in his pocket that the limo driver gave him for good luck. And he had butterflies "the size of jumbo jets."

21 Grams' Naomi Watts described her morning as "madness, chaos, eating, drinking and family." The "family" included boyfriend Heath Ledger, who advised her to "be yourself, be natural and be relaxed if that's possible."

Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes declared the night amazing, but the 13-year-old said she's looking to the future: "I want to go back to school." But before the night was over, she said, the person she wanted to meet most was Depp. She got her wish on ABC's pre-ceremony special.

The liveliest celeb scenes took place off-camera in the understaffed bar, where thirsty stars waited to be served.

Nicole Kidman made small talk but declined to say who she hoped would take home the best actress Oscar (Charlize Theron took the prize). "I have too many ties to these women. I don't want to burn any," Kidman said.

Julia Roberts and In America director Jim Sheridan traded phone numbers after chatting for several minutes at the bar. Roberts' next film is also her first sequel, Ocean's Twelve. "I jumped through hoops to work with Steven (Soderbergh) and George (Clooney) again." Roberts said she is most excited about seeing Clooney's house in Lake Como, Italy, where parts of Ocean's Twelve will be filmed. "He's shown me lots of pictures. I love his furniture."

Michael Douglas, sitting alone watching the show on a monitor, reflected on his wife and Oscar presenter, Catherine Zeta-Jones. "I married the most beautiful woman in the world. She looked like, so, wow."

In the smoking lounge, Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and Law puffed cigarettes. Law chatted about his acceptance speech (which he didn't get to give), while Wood kept one eye on Sandra Bullock as she exited the Kodak Theatre.

Even in this festive atmosphere, there were still signs of how much has changed since 2001.

Los Angeles SWAT teams kept watch over the neighborhood. Jersey barriers lined the streets around the Kodak Theatre, with police and hired security patrolling keeping the uncredentialed off the red carpet.

A few celebrities used the evening to make political statements. Chris Cooper, Jim Sheridan, Michael McKean and Annette O'Toole were wearing dove-shaped Global Vision for Peace pins to show their support for the United Nations.

Accepting his Oscar for best documentary, Fog of War director Errol Morris compared the war on terrorism to the Vietnam War themes explored in his film. "Forty years ago this country went down a rabbit hole in Vietnam and millions died," Morris said. "I fear we're going down a rabbit hole once again — and if people can stop and think and reflect on some of the ideas and issues in this movie, perhaps I've done some damn good here!"

Best actor winner Sean Penn, who visited Iraq before the war, made reference to the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found there.

Longtime activist Tim Robbins said he was surprised his anti-war rhetoric last year didn't preclude him from winning.

"A lot of people voted for me who don't agree with my politics," Robbins said backstage after winning the trophy for best supporting actor.

"I'm humbled by it, I'm moved by it and I'm honored by it," Robbins said, hoisting his Oscar.

Backstage, Theron joked about presenter Adrien Brody, who last year famously kissed Halle Berry when he won best actor. Before he announced this year's best actress winner, he pretended to freshen his breath.

"I love Adrien for cracking the joke right before with the Binaca," Theron said.

Contributing: Scott Bowles, Donna Freydkin, William Keck and Bill Keveney