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'Million Dollar Baby,' Eastwood take top Oscars

February 28, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The boxing saga "Million Dollar Baby" was the Academy Awards heavyweight Sunday, claiming best picture and three other trophies, including honors for director Clint Eastwood, lead-actress Hilary Swank and supporting-actor Morgan Freeman.

Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" came away with the most Oscars, its five awards including the supporting-actress prize for Cate Blanchett.

Eastwood, who at 74 became the oldest directing winner ever, noted his mother was with him when his Western "Unforgiven" won the 1992 best-picture and directing Oscar.

"She's here with me again tonight, so at 96, I'm thanking her for her genes," Eastwood said. "I figure I'm just a kid. I've got a lot of stuff to do yet."

The 77th Oscars were another heartbreak for Scorsese, the man behind "The Aviator," who lost the directing race for the fifth time. Scorsese matched the record of Oscar futility held by a handful of legendary filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Altman, who also went 0-for-5 in the directing category.

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Swank became a double Academy Award winner Sunday for "Million Dollar Baby," while Jamie Foxx took lead actor for "Ray." The wins for Freeman and Foxx made it only the second time blacks won two of the four acting prizes.

Swank, who previously won the best-actress Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry," once again beat out main rival Annette Bening, nominated for the theater farce "Being Julia." Bening had been the front-runner for "American Beauty" five years ago but lost to underdog Swank.

"I don't know what I did in this life to deserve all this. I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream," said Swank, who played an indomitable boxer.

Swank joined Vivien Leigh, Helen Hayes, Sally Field and Luise Rainer as the only actresses with a perfect track record at the Oscars: Two nominations and two wins.

Foxx won for his uncanny emulation of Ray Charles in "Ray." As he had at earlier awards triumphs, Foxx led the Oscar audience in a rendition of the call-and-response chant from Charles' 1959 hit "What'd I Say," whose funky electric-piano grooves play over the opening credits of "Ray."

"Give it up for Ray Charles and his beautiful legacy. And thank you Ray Charles for living," said Foxx, who climbed to Oscar glory after an early career built mainly on comedy, including his TV series "The Jamie Foxx Show" and the raunchy sex flick "Booty Call."

Foxx had been a double Oscar nominee, also picked in the supporting category for the hit man thriller "Collateral."

Playing Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator," Blanchett had the spirit of the Oscars' most-honored actress on her side. Hepburn, the love of Hughes' life in the 1930s before she began her long romance with Spencer Tracy, earned 12 nominations and won a record four Oscars.

"Thank you, of course, to Miss Hepburn. The longevity of her career I think is inspiring to everyone," said Blanchett. She added thanks to "Aviator" director Scorsese, saying, "I hope my son will marry your daughter."

Oscar host Chris Rock said Blanchett was so convincing that Sidney Poitier, Hepburn's co-star in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," showed up at Blanchett's house for supper.

The wins by Freeman and Foxx followed Denzel Washington and Halle Berry's triumph three years ago for "Training Day" and "Monster's Ball," the only other time blacks claimed two acting Oscars.

"It means that Hollywood is continuing to make history," Freeman said backstage. "We're evolving with the rest of the world."

The superhero action comedy "The Incredibles" won the animated-feature prize, beating 2004's biggest box-office hit, the fairy-tale sequel "Shrek 2." It was the second-straight animated Oscar for Pixar Animation, which won a year ago for "Finding Nemo."

"I don't know what's more frightening, being watched by millions of people, or the hundreds of people that are going to be annoyed with me tomorrow for not mentioning them," said Brad Bird, writer-director of the "The Incredibles."

The latest win dabs salt on the Walt Disney Co.'s wounds over the looming expiration of its distribution deal for Pixar films, which ends after next year's "Cars." The back-to-back Oscars underscore Pixar's growing ascendance and the weakening position of animation pioneer Disney, which has yet to win the animated-feature Oscar with any of its homegrown films and whose biggest recent cartoon hits have all been made by Pixar.

Unlike last year, when "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" dominated the awards as expected and flat-out front-runners took all four acting prizes, the 77th Oscars shaped up as a mixed bag, with only Foxx a virtual lock to win.

"Boy, am I glad there wasn't a fourth episode of 'Lord of the Rings,"' said John Dykstra, who shared the visual-effects Oscar for "Spider-Man 2."

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