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'Gladiator' wins best picture Oscar; Roberts, Crowe win top acting awards

LOS ANGELES — "Gladiator" won five Academy Awards on Sunday, including best picture and actor— Russell Crowe — and Julia Roberts won the best actress trophy for her portrayal of the law assistant who takes on a polluting power company in "Erin Brockovich."

"It takes a lot of people to make a Colosseum, but it only takes one or two to mess it up. To all the wizards who brought to life the sights, sounds and citizens of a faraway world, we should take a chisel to this statue and give you your fair share," said Douglas Wick, a producer of "Gladiator," which also won for sound, costume design and visual effects.

Steven Soderbergh did what observers deemed impossible: He won best director for "Traffic" even though people felt he would split the vote by being nominated for "Erin Brockovich."

Following "Gladiator" was "Traffic" with four awards, including Soderbergh's, supporting actor for Benicio Del Toro, adapted screenplay by Stephen Gaghan and film editing.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" also scored four Oscars — foreign language film, art direction, cinematography and original score.

When she won, a giddy Roberts ascended the auditorium stage and warned that she would be speaking for a long time "because I may never be here again."

She clutched her first Oscar and said, "This is quite pretty."

The audience was amused by her glee.

"I love the world. I'm so happy," Roberts squealed.

Crowe, who seemed distracted earlier in the program, responded exuberantly.

"Really folks, I owe this to one bloke, and his name is Ridley Scott," Crowe said of his director.

"If you grow up ... in the suburbs of anywhere, a dream like this seems kind of vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable," he went on. "This moment is directly connected to those childhood imaginings. And for anybody who's on the downside of advantage, and relying purely on courage, it's possible."

Marcia Gay Harden, who played the long-suffering wife of artist Jackson Pollock in "Pollock," won best supporting actress.

Del Toro, who portrayed an honest Tijuana detective, thanked Soderbergh and others connected with his movie, while Harden noted that few people had seen "Pollock," since it opened in theaters the same week as the Oscar nominations, and thanked the voters for taking the time to review the videotapes made available to them.

"Ed Harris, thank you for inviting me to share your passion," she said to her director, who also played the title role.

Because "Pollock" had little theater exposure, Harden was considered a longshot. Judi Dench of "Chocolat" and Kate Hudson of "Almost Famous" were thought to be more likely.

Cameron Crowe won original screenplay for "Almost Famous."

"The movie was a love letter to music and to my family so I dedicate this to all the musicians who inspire us and my family," he said.

The show began from orbit as astronaut Susan Helms, with fellow crew members of the International Space Station floating by her side, introduced first-time host Steve Martin.

"By the way that introduction cost the government $1 trillion," Martin quipped to the glittering Shrine Auditorium throng.

Martin showed off some of his old standup silliness from the '70s, and with a mock unctuousness offered a good-natured skewering of Hollywood.

He joked that movie trailers these days give away too much.

"I saw the trailer for 'Dude, Where's My Car?' and it ruined it for me," he said, drawing big laughs. "Maybe that's not fair because I had read the book."

He said that hosting the Oscars is "like making love to a beautiful woman. It's something I only get to do when Billy Crystal's out of town."

Among other winners, "U-571" won for sound editing and "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" for makeup.

In the documentary categories, "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport" won the feature Oscar and "Big Mama" received the short subject honor.

The animated short film Oscar went to "Father and Daughter," and the live-action short film honor to "Quiero Ser (I Want to Be)."

Bob Dylan won the best-song Oscar for the rollicking "Things Have Changed," the tune he wrote for the quirky campus drama "Wonder Boys."

"Oh good God, this is amazing," Dylan said.

Oscar ballots were mailed to the roughly 5,700 Academy members, who nominate in their own categories — such as actors voting for actors. All can nominate for best picture.

Most of the final awards are voted on by all members. The exceptions: members can vote for the short, documentary and foreign language films only if they can certify that they have seen all the nominees.

Sunday night marked a farewell to the venerable Shrine Auditorium. Next year, the Academy Awards will move to the 3,300-seat Kodak Theater in the heart of Hollywood.

The theater, part of a $650 million development to give tourists something grand to gawk at, is a stone's throw from the stars' footprints at the Chinese Theater and a block from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the Oscars began in 1929.

Oscar will be returning to Hollywood for the first time in 40 years.

After the Roosevelt, the banquet rotated between the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and the nearby Ambassador Hotel. In 1944, because festive banquets were not patriotic, the awards moved to the Chinese Theater.

Other venues have included the Pantages Theater in Hollywood and Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, where Bob Hope cracked: "The losers could walk into the Pacific."

Starting in 1969, the ceremonies were held at the Los Angeles Music Center, which has alternated with the Shrine since 1988.