Academy makes it Eastwood's year as 'Million Dollar Baby' sees off Scorsese

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The Independent Culture

When the Oscars are losing confidence in themselves, who better to turn to than Clint Eastwood to make their day?

When the Oscars are losing confidence in themselves, who better to turn to than Clint Eastwood to make their day?

In a year when the stars seemed to be shining a little less brightly and the dirge-like ritual of dishing out statuettes actually put the escort of one lower-order nominee to sleep, Eastwood's downbeat boxing movie Million Dollar Baby was chosen to do the face-saving honours, picking up four of the top awards including best picture, best director, best actress (Hilary Swank) and best supporting actor (Morgan Freeman).

The night was a disappointment for Martin Scorsese, a bundle of nerves as he waited to find out if the Academy would recognise him at last for The Aviator (it didn't), and for some exceptionally fine performers (Don Cheadle, Kate Winslet, Imelda Staunton, among others) who had the bad luck to be nominated in a year when the buzz was elsewhere. Cheadle, who acted his heart out in Hotel Rwanda, lost out for best actor to Jamie Foxx doing his uncannily accurate turn as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray.

It was a night of few surprises and even less spontaneity, as the lords of the Oscar telecast - terrified by tumbling ratings and a crescendo of anti-Hollywood jibes from grassroots Republicans - moved proceedings at a military clip and forced award winners to stare at a giant clock counting down from 30 seconds as they delivered their acceptance speeches.

A few rebelled against the strictures, with some success. Robin Williams, whose original plan for a musical number making fun of the right-wing attacks on Hollywood was censored, appeared on stage at the Kodak Theatre with a large plaster taped across his mouth. Andrea Arnold, the Oscar-winning British director of the short film Wasp, responded magnificently to being confined to the auditorium (as were all the second-tier winners) by calling her win "the dog's bollocks".

The self-appointed guardians of America's public decency might have taken offence, or even bleeped her out - the broadcast was on a time-delay to stomp on any unexpected unpleasantness - but bollocks is not a term commonly found in American English, and she got away with it. No other acceptance was half as much fun - not least because most of them had already been delivered at the Golden Globes.

The MC holding the whole show together, the comedian Chris Rock, did his best to put a little edge into the proceedings, making fun of the fact that none of the five films nominated for best picture had been seen by a mass audience (he polled cinema-goers in an African American neighbourhood of Los Angeles, and discovered they were all rooting for a film called White Chicks instead), and even lampooning the new, caste-conscious idea of keeping the lesser winners off stage. "Next year they're going to hand out Oscars in the parking lot," he quipped.

Rock also got dangerously personal, making such relentless fun of the ubiquitous Jude Law that Sean Penn later felt obliged to stand up for him in an impromptu riff from the stage calling him "one of our finest working actors".

The event made for the usual vignettes of Oscar excess and absurdity: Clint Eastwood getting kissed on the mouth by Julia Roberts and Barbra Streisand, an unbelievably hammy Antonio Banderas singing the Oscar-winning song from The Motorcycle Diaries like he was auditioning for an after-shave commercial directed by Julio Iglesias, someone associated with the short film Two Cars, One Night caught on camera snoozing, and Robert De Niro, once Scorsese's favourite leading man, underscoring the diminished times by appearing during one of the breaks in a commercial for American Express charge cards.

The complete list of winners at the 77th annual Academy Awards:

Picture: Million Dollar Baby.

Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray.

Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby.

Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby.

Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator.

Director: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby.

Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Sideways.

Original Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Art Direction: The Aviator.

Cinematography: The Aviator.

Film Editing: The Aviator.

Visual Effects: Spider-Man 2.

Sound Mixing: Ray.

Sound Editing: The Incredibles.

Original Score: Finding Neverland.

Original Song: Al Otro Lado Del Rio from The Motorcycle Diaries.

Costume: The Aviator.

Makeup: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Foreign Film: The Sea Inside (Spain).

Animated Feature: The Incredibles.

Animated Short: Ryan.

Documentary Feature: Born Into Brothels.

Documentary Short: Mighty Times: The Children's March.

Live Action Short: Wasp.

Oscar winners previously announced this year:

Honorary Academy Award: Sidney Lumet.

Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: Roger Mayer.

Gordon E. Sawyer Award (technical achievement): Takuo Miyagishima.

Scientific and Technical Oscars: Horst Burbulla, Jean-Marie Lavalou, Alain Masseron and David Samuelson.