Acad rave for B.O. fave

Three's the charm for Roberts

A decade of box office hits has finally paid off for Julia Roberts.

The world’s best-paid female star finally added an Oscar to her impressive resume with a win Sunday for “Erin Brockovich.”

Roberts had been nominated twice before, but her rambling, giddy acceptance speech suggested she intended to savor every instant of her triumph.

“You’re so quick with that stick,” she cautioned orchestra conductor Bill Conti. “But why don’t you sit, because I may never be here again.”

In the next few minutes, Roberts’ breath fluttered as she rattled off a list of thank-yous, including the “sisterhood” of fellow nominees and “everyone I’ve ever met in my life.”

Pausing to survey the crowd, she beamed: “I love it up here! I love the world!”

When “Brockovich” stormed the megaplexes a year ago on the way to nearly $260 million worldwide, Roberts established herself as an early Oscar front-runner. During the run-up to the awards ceremony, she was the only nominee’s name people dared breathe among a field that lacked favorites.

“Julia,” Mike Myers whispered jokingly, eyes closed and fingers crossed, while presenting awards for sound and sound editing.

Clad in vintage Valentino, Roberts seemed to cope well with the scrutiny, laughing gamely at several of host Steve Martin’s jibes and handing out the cinematography Oscar to Peter Pau for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Along with the growing sense that she was bound for victory, the industry in recent months has marveled at her consistent commercial touch.

That some have criticized “The Mexican,” currently in theaters with about $58 million to date, only highlights the effect of her eight $100 million-plus domestic grossers.

Like many nominees, Roberts maintained a fairly high profile this kudos season. While making the party rounds, she frequently heaped praise on “Brockovich” helmer Steven Soderbergh, and thanked him again Sunday.

“He made me want to be the best actor I never knew I could be,” she said.

Roberts’ rise to the top of the A-list occurred not long after her widely praised turn in “Mystic Pizza.” She scored both B.O. and Oscar noms in 1990 and ’91, respectively, for supporting actress for “Steel Magnolias” and actress for “Pretty Woman.”

She segued into leading roles in smashes such as “The Pelican Brief,” “Sleeping With the Enemy” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” In 1996, her streak hit a snag with the critically assailed “Mary Reilly” and “Michael Collins,” which reaped a combined $17 million in the U.S.

By the summer of 1999, though, Roberts had reclaimed her title as the industry’s most bankable female star with two romantic comedies, “Notting Hill” and “Runaway Bride.” Both cleared $100 million in the U.S.

Upcoming for Roberts is the summer comedy “America’s Sweethearts,” directed by Revolution Studios chief Joe Roth. The two worked together a decade ago when Roth was running Disney’s production arm and she was tapped to play the lead in “Pretty Woman.”

Roberts currently is shooting Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven” remake, a holiday release that reteams her with “Brockovich” director Soderbergh. She then will topline “Project 3” for Revolution, reteaming with “Mexican” director Gore Verbinski.

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