LOS ANGELES – With Vanity Fair sitting out this year's celebrations, the belle of the Oscars parties was a piano playing Elton John.
The 60-year-old singer's 16th annual viewing dinner and after-party benefiting the Elton John AIDS Foundation topped other bashes Sunday, with 750 guests and a bevy of A-list stars who sipped cocktails and feasted on a four-course meal under the Pacific Design Center's red-draped tent.
Vanity Fair's lavish, celebrity-drenched annual affair, typically the top Oscar-night party, was canceled weeks earlier, before the end of the writers strike.
After greeting each table, John pounded out the first of 11 songs, the first time in several years that he has played a full set with an entire band at his own party.
John, who wore an ornate Yohji Yamamoto black suit, silver tie and black-framed eyeglasses, pointed at the crowd and banged on his piano. The crowd howled and clapped when he broke out hits such as "Rocket Man" and "Tiny Dancer."
Patricia Clarkson waved her arms in the air. Calista Flockhart swayed next to beau Harrison Ford. Petra Nemcova jumped on a few chairs and shimmied. Faye Dunaway bopped her head.
Mary J. Blige sang a duet with John, as did Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears, clad in a neon yellow-green suit, who jumped on John's piano and did the twist.
The party's second biggest belle of the evening was Marion Cotillard. Clutching her best actress trophy for "La Vie en Rose," she swept into the bash, rushing past reporters and bear-hugging her family and friends inside the party.
"I am a big fan of hers. I was very moved by her win," a teary-eyed Sharon Stone, wearing a white, tailored tuxedo, told The Associated Press earlier, when the room's dozens of enormous TV screens showed Cotillard tearfully receiving the honor.
Actors gushing over other actors continued throughout the festivities.
Penn, who snagged a best-actor win for 2003's "Mystic River," called this year's winner, Daniel Day-Lewis, "the greatest actor ever recorded on film." Lewis won for his performance in "There Will Be Blood."
Ellen DeGeneres, seated next to Portia de Rossi and Josh Groban, said Oscar host Jon Stewart was "doing a great job."
DeGeneres, who hosted last year's Oscars, joked: "It's better to host. It goes faster."
John and David Furnish shared DeGeneres' table during dinner, along with Blige and her husband. Nemcova, who arrived with Penn, sat with him and Kate Beckinsale, Chris O'Donnell and Larry King. Guests, who also included Billy Joel, Christian Slater and Russell Simmons, ate pear salad, risotto, beef tenderloin, cheese with walnuts and chocolate mousse.
Pink and orange orchids dotted the tables, with palm fronds lending a California dash of glamour on a patio outside. The party, co-sponsored by Chopard and VH1, raised $5.1 million.
However, the first post-Oscars destination for the night's winners and honorees was the Governors Ball, held in the Hollywood & Highland complex just upstairs from the Kodak Theatre.
The room was all red and gold, reflecting Oscars' red carpet and golden statuettes. Glass bubbles hung from the ceiling and red roses dotted each table.
The most blinged-out table was No. 303, where Joel and Ethan Coen and Javier Bardem proudly displayed their Oscar statuettes for "No Country for Old Men."
"Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody kept her Oscar close, hesitantly giving it up when a friend asked to touch it.
Other stars mingled about the ballroom. Cate Blanchett talked with Julian Schnabel, while Viggo Mortensen draped himself with the flag of his favorite soccer team.
John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, nibbled on food prepared by Wolfgang Puck, who chatted with guests while wearing his white chef's coat.
Back at a viewing party in West Hollywood, the Envelope Please bash at The Abbey — hosted by Jennifer Love Hewitt, who wore a dazzling white Elsie Katz Couture gown — housed more than 500 guests underneath a tent strung with hundreds of tiny yellow lights.
The event raised $500,000 to benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles. Attendees, who included Ricki Lake, dined on sirloin steak or pasta, and drank cocktails named after best-picture nominees.
Across town, guests at the annual Night of 100 Stars viewing gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel ate chicken, risotto and sorbet and guzzled energy drinks.
Mr. Blackwell, known for his annual worst-dressed list that skewers celebrities, wasn't impressed by the revealing outfits.
"Most are out to show their bosoms," he said, his throat hoarse because of laryngitis. "I've seen a few beautiful dresses, but there's nothing really original here."