‘Million Dollar Baby’ takes Academy’s best film prize

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The 77th Annual Academy Awards were handed out Sunday with some shocks, and some not-so-surprising winners.

Many people expected “The Aviator” to get the coveted best film prize, as it was the movie that received the most nominations. “The Aviator” did win more awards than any other movie (five awards), but “Million Dollar Baby” took away the gold, winning four awards in some of the top categories including best film, best director, best actress and best supporting actor.

“Million Dollar Baby” was a better film than “The Aviator.” The strong performances of Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman captured the dream of an ambitious female boxer. “The Aviator,” on the other hand, while still good, was long winded. Much could have been edited out to make for a more concise and stronger film. And it was often hard to buy Leonardo DiCaprio, who appears the perpetual teenager, as the mogul Howard Hughes.

The female boxing picture deserved the award over the biopic about the plane freak. But “Finding Neverland” which depicts J.M. Barrie’s inspiration for the classic “Peter Pan perfectly blended comedy and drama, reality and fantasy. “Finding Neverland” captured imagination, inspiration and love beautifully to make not only the best film of the year, but one of my personal favorites of all time. It’s too bad it was overlooked, but it did win for its gorgeous musical score.

Surprisingly, “Million Dollar Baby” Director Clint Eastwood won over Martin Scorcese. I believed Scorcese was the sure winner in this category, despite lackluster “The Aviator.” But Scorcese has long been overlooked by Oscar, having never won. It seemed like it would finally be his turn, even if it was more for such great films as “Raging Bull” or “The Last Temptation of Christ” than “The Aviator.” But bypassed again, Scorcese must continue to wait for the prestigious award.

Eastwood’s win marked an interesting pattern for this year’s awards. Winners seemed to be honored for the films they were up for, rather than as an attempt to make up for previous years. Johnny Depp still has no award, but relative newcomer Jamie Foxx now does. And Hilary Swank won best actress again for her role in “Million Dollar Baby,” rather than awarding it to someone like Annette Bening or Kate Winslet, who have yet to win.

Apparently, Swank’s training paid off, as she beat Bening in what was often called the rematch for the best actress prize (Swank had previously beat out Bening for her role in “Boys Don’t Cry.”) And Swank scored again.

Personally, my vote was for Winslet. She always pulls out strong performances, and her role in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was unlike any of her usual period piece characters. Her spunk and spontaneity brought liveliness to the role.

However, Swank’s performance was truly memorable as well. She showed the ceaseless drive of the inspired boxer and delivered extraordinary, chilling hospital scenes.

Jamie Foxx’s win for “Ray” was easily the most expected of the night. And he certainly deserved it, as he became Ray Charles. Often, it seemed like it wasn’t Foxx on the screen at all, but the musician himself. And while there were some other strong performances in this category — Johnny Depp brought tenderness to J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland,” and Don Cheadle had a flawless accent and delivered a powerful role to “Hotel Rwanda” — Foxx was simply unbeatable. The Academy could have voted for another actor with a longer presence in Hollywood, but they probably feared the public outcry.

Both supporting actor awards brought some surprise. Morgan Freeman won for his role as a former boxer and janitor in “Million Dollar Baby,” and Cate Blanchett won for playing Katherine Hepburn in “The Aviator.”

Freeman deserved the award. His subtle expressions and quiet composure always gave him a great screen presence even without his having to say much. He showed a grandfatherly and mentor-like love to all those boxer trainees. He often stood in the background, watching, but you could feel exactly what he felt in those moments.

Thomas Haden Church would have been another great choice. He managed to play a somewhat repugnant character and make the audience still sympathize with him in “Sideways.”

Blanchett annoyed me as Hepburn. But maybe that is how Hepburn was, in which case, perhaps Blanchett did great. Still, Laura Linney’s magnificent performance as the sexologist’s wife in “Kinsey” was remarkable in a subtle way. Her character was torn between her love for the renowned researcher and her own desire not to be cast aside for his studies.