How to put this? In a normal year, your humble correspondents dive into the gushy crush of post-Oscar parties filled with self-loathing and childlike wonder. In our poorly cut rental tuxes and white pantsuits, we squeeze through fortified gates to enter the surreal Halls of Celebrity, so packed with sequined stars -- Whoops! Did we just slop Veuve Clicquot on Cameron Diaz's shoulder? Sorry! -- that, say, simply turning around in the back room at the Vanity Fair party at Morton's is like speed-flipping through the glossy pages of In Style magazine.

But lo, this year was different. There is a war on, and even Hollywood understands this.

The disc jockey spun the funk, but the crowd did not dance. Much.

Yes, the stars and starlets and Mister Big Agents and their age-appropriate wives drank deeply of apple martinis from the well-tended bars. Yes, there was air-kissing and butt-kissing, too, and chain-smoking and chain-canoodling at the banquettes. (If you are Ben Affleck, are you not genetically preprogrammed to spoon Miss Lopez and perpetuate the subspecies?)

But stop. Seriously.

Halfway around the world, brave correspondents are embedded with Marines in swirling desert sandstorms. And we are here, eating white pizza drizzled with truffle-infused olive oils. So let us not delude. But the Lord says there is a job for every willing hand, and so if you really want to know, here's the party poop from the glam-jam of Oscar Night 2003:

Midnight. The streets of L.A. are deserted but for the sirens, the cops and the crowd of fans outside Morton's, the Mecca -- can you still say that? -- of Hollywood star power.

This is Vanity Fair as it used to be, before the paparazzi and the TV crews began wandering about inside. Stripped to its essence, it's just a fancy do with Queen Latifah and $4 million worth of borrowed jewelry stalled at the door.

What's up, Latifah -- they wand-dogging you at the metal detector?

The Best Supporting Actress nominee is the essence of cool. And she is dripping diamonds, big time. Apparently her two armed security guards, care of Harry Winston, are not on the guest list.

Not toning it down for the war? "No way," the Queen shoots back. "I'm blinging for the troops, so they can feel good." She was blinging from the ears -- drippy diamonds with two rocklike pendants -- and she blinged around the neck, too, a lacelike weave of sparklers ending in one huge, blinging rock.

Inside the door, beyond chief Hollywood lobbyist Jack Valenti checking his cell phone, Farrah Fawcett is draped on the bar, wearing a gown that sports an American flag motif, chatting up a handsome younger man. Moving past these figures of yesteryear, we step into a makeshift vestibule that connects the restaurant and a tent outside it.

Go no farther: This is A-list heaven. You couldn't move if you wanted to, but why would you want to? You'd miss Bono getting a wee bit jiggy to the reggae beat, with J.Lo and Ben swiveling alongside him. In this inner press of flesh, you want to have a famous face or an Oscar, preferably both. Elliot Goldenthal, composer of the score for "Frida," has the latter.

He is inordinately proud of "Frida," which was directed by his partner, Julie Taymor. What's with this "partner" stuff, Elliot? Any plans to get married? He shakes a shaggy head. "We've been happily unmarried for 20 years." As for his next project, Goldenthal is grabbing that Oscar paycheck: "I'm writing an opera," he says, "about Grendel. It's 'Beowulf' from the monster's point of view."

Box office gold.

Here's a famous face: rising star Colin Farrell, who is in every other movie this year and on most magazine covers. He's about to open in "Phone Booth," a film about a sniper -- he plays the snipee -- that got delayed because of last year's shootings in the Washington area.

And yes, he's insanely good-looking in person. Lately the serial dater has been in the gossip columns for impregnating model Kim Bordenave. She is here with him, still thin as a rail, and gorgeous, but Farrell insists they're not an item.

"We're not dating," he says. But he wants to keep the baby. "It's really keeping me up at night," he confesses with refreshing candor. "That's my kid in her belly." Yet marriage, he says, is out of the question for now. He's off to shoot "A Home at the End of the World" in Toronto, the next adaptation by "Hours" writer Michael Cunningham.

Sigh. Hollywood.

Best Director nominee Rob Marshall ("Chicago") isn't looking too disappointed despite his loss, since the movie's producer, Martin Richards, promised to share his Oscar with him -- rotating the Golden Man between chalets every six months.

But still -- wasn't it a shock that Roman Polanski won? "I thought I had a chance, but it's okay," Marshall says gamely. Next he wants to direct drama. And then: Stephen Sondheim for the screen!

There's introverted "Adaptation" director Spike Jonze, with short black hair, chatting intimately with double nominee Julianne Moore. She didn't win but seemed cheered by her pals and said she was off to shoot three movies back to back, including a romantic comedy with Pierce Brosnan.

And across the room, the equally ectomorphic writer-director Wes Anderson cuddled in a huddle with VF's own e{acute}minence grise, Graydon Carter. Anderson ("The Royal Tenenbaums") was wearing his usual prep school get-up, this time with a gray wool pullover. He held on tight to a young blonde he introduced as Tara, who cooed: "He's a genius!"

No argument here.

It is a room filled with Hollywood's particular genius: Mira Sorvino, sashaying in a black sheath gown; Angela Bassett, too stunning for words, gabbing with Best Actress nominee Diane Lane, her hair folded into Pre-Raphaelite waves.

And also: Paul Rudd. Why not? And Vince Vaughn, and those adorable Mexican boys from "Y Tu Mama Tambien." They're on the upward move.

Can't pass by the adorable Derek Luke without a word. The newly discovered star of "Antwone Fisher" had half the audience at Saturday's Independent Spirit awards in tears when he suddenly gave his Best Actor statue to his wife, Sophia Adela Hernandez. She looked as shocked as everyone else in the room.

Derek, why did you do that sweet thing? "It's true, I couldn't have done it without her," he says. "We were living in our car for seven days." That was after the couple met at a business training seminar in New Jersey. "I instantly knew he was the one," Hernandez, also an actor, says. "That second day I looked at him, I saw a star."

Donald Trump, with Amazonian beauty Melania Knauss at his side, pronounces on the war and the stock market: "If they keep fighting it the way they did today, they're going to have a real problem."

Looking as pensive as a "Nightline" talking head, the Donald concludes, "The war's a mess," before sweeping off into the crowd.

Anjelica Huston is holding acting classes, surrounded by admiring young ones, some of whom appear to genuflect. Kirsten Dunst sports a longer-than-usual blond mane, and is eating what appears to be pigs-in-a-blanket.

Nicole Kidman towers above everyone. A studiously unsmiling Keanu Reeves circulates, bumming matches.

And an hour later there is Bono (again), holding court in a small niche, blue glasses tight up against the intense dark eyes, the black tuxedo shirt unbuttoned to the navel, never losing sight of the important issues that ought to hold the world's attention.

He is not so interested in talking about the war in Iraq; he grabs the shoulder of your humble interlocutor and holds forth on the AIDS crisis in Africa for, say, 15 minutes. A lifetime by Vanity Fair party standards.

"I'm not pooh-poohing what's going on over there," he says, referring to Iraq. "But 7,000 people a day die in Africa. You have 2 1/2 million people dying over there in a year. It dwarfs what goes on in the Middle East."

You know what? We can't really argue with the guy.

And earlier in the evening, the folks at Miramax threw a bash in high style, taking over an entire floor of the St. Regis Hotel, where oversize poufs and tightly cut roses waited for -- where were the stars?

Miramax won tons of the little gold statues -- from Best Picture for "Chicago" to Best Actress for Kidman in "The Hours" to Best Score for "Frida."

But the stars were elsewhere.

And indeed, at midnight, the little booth labeled "Harvey Weinstein" -- with the chilled bottled water on the table -- was empty, too, and rather sad-looking.

Back at Morton's, the mop-topped VF editor and party host Carter is taking it all in stride. "I thought they pulled it off," Carter says of the Oscar ceremonies. Not too hot, not too cold. "Yes, warm," he smiles in agreement.

At his elbow is close friend Anna Scott from New York. Date? Sources would not dish. Then we're yakking with Scott about unilateral interventionist geopolitics, when Carter interrupts and tells her, "Okay, you can stop talking to him now."

And that made us all gooey-nostalgic for the good old days when we were treated like ants at a picnic. So, buh-bye.

Every night must come to an end, even prom night for the glitterati, and the curtain came slamming down at the VF party when, to the shock of the last straphangers, the bartenders stopped popping the champagne corks and instead began offering . . . mineral water.

At 2 in the morning. School night, children.

So we stepped into the courtyard and watched the limo departures. Adrien Brody, Martin Scorsese and Nicole Kidman did a sweet thing. They walked across the street and shook hands and posed for disposable-camera pix from the fans lining the fences.

Then the valets called out: "Colin Farrell," and the rumpled bad boy gathered his posse into the stretch, promising to party on, later, somewhere in the night.

"Frida" winners Beatrice De Alba, left, and Elliot Goldenthal with director Julie Taymor and star Salma Hayek at the St. Regis.Miramax bigwig Harvey Weinstein and Martin Richards, producer of Best Picture winner "Chicago," were all smiles.