Big baubles, odd couples, top secret weddings: It's love, Hollywood style. Here are the year's affairs to remember.

By Clarissa Cruz
Updated December 20, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

It’s official: Hollywood is just a grown-up version of high school, which explains why so many notes get passed around detailing who’s hooking up with whom. (And as even a student journalist knows, the private lives of public people are always newsworthy.)

This semester, er, year, no couple stirred up more watercooler fascination than Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. The hot-to-trot costars created more sparks on the sets of Gigli and Jersey Girl than a klutzy gaffer. Their public displays of affection, captured by paparazzi, touched off bidding wars between magazines desperate to be the first to run the images. And the lavish gifts! A Bentley Azure for him, a six-carat pink diamond engagement ring/hood ornament for her. Even Mama Lopez reportedly got a Mercedes from her future son-in-law. On an ultrahyped Diane Sawyer interview, Lopez further fed our insatiable interest by detailing Affleck’s marriage proposal (picture lots of candles and the groom-to-be on bended knee) with the aw-shucks enthusiasm of a giddy (you guessed it) schoolgirl.

During those rare slow Jen-and-Ben-news days, plenty of other star matches were kind enough to pick up the slack. Who, for example, could forget the media circus/train wreck that was the Liza Minnelli and David Gest wedding? Complete with a guest list that included Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and Elizabeth Taylor, the so-over-the-top-it-came-back-down event was a lavishly orchestrated carnival act that eventually spawned two VH1 oddities: a wedding special (featuring a chilling array of openmouthed Gest-Minnelli smooches) and an aborted Osbournes-style reality series.

The year produced more conventional pairings as well. In a town where male Decembers regularly hook up with hot female Mays, the romance between 38-year-old Calista Flockhart and 60-year-old Harrison Ford raised nary an eyebrow. Among the younger set, Scooby-Doo stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. tied the knot in September, and 98[degrees]’s Nick Lachey finally made an honest woman out of professed virgin-till-marriage songbird Jessica Simpson in October.

Then there were the top secret weddings: Julia Roberts and Danny Moder coupled covertly on July 4 at Roberts’ Taos, N.M., ranch. Paul McCartney and Heather Mills said ”I do” on a remote Irish estate, and Richard Gere and long-time love Carey Lowell up and got hitched in November without so much as calling one caterer.

There is a downside to all the frenzy, though. In Tinseltown the media often take sides in a celebrity split — a la Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. And, in the case of such dual-wattage marriages, who gets custody of the career? But we doubt anything will keep Hollywood royalty from falling helplessly and hopelessly in love with one another. And when they do, we’ll be there. As MSNBC gossip columnist Jeannette Walls notes, ”As soon as two celebrities hook up, something magical happens.” — Clarissa Cruz

January 2