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'Million Dollar Baby,' Eastwood take top Oscars

LOS ANGELES -- Tough was enough in Clint Eastwood's
strong-and-silent early days as a scruffy Old West gunslinger or a
modern vigilante cop.

With 2003's "Mystic River" and now "Million Dollar Baby,"
Eastwood has shown that tough doesn't begin to scratch the surface
of his filmmaking talents.

The boxing tale "Million Dollar Baby," his raw mix of soaring
sentiment and harsh fate, was the heavyweight at Sunday's Oscars,
winning best picture and three other awards, among them the
directing prize for Eastwood and acting honors for Hilary Swank and
Morgan Freeman.

Swank became a double Oscar winner, previously winning best
actress for "Boys Don't Cry."

The other acting awards went to performers in real-life roles,
Jamie Foxx for lead actor for his uncanny emulation of Ray Charles
in "Ray" and Cate Blanchett for supporting actress as Katharine
Hepburn, the love of Howard Hughes' life, in "The Aviator."

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 Oscars.

"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 Martin Scorsese,
whose Hughes epic "The Aviator" won the most awards with
five but failed to bring him the directing Oscar that has eluded
him throughout his distinguished career. A five-time loser,
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.

Eastwood, whose first credited screen role came in the 1955
Francis the Talking Mule flick "Francis in the Navy," has climbed
in the ensuing half-century to the ranks of Billy Wilder, David
Lean, Robert Wise and Steven Spielberg, other filmmakers who have
won two or more directing Oscars.

Critics say Scorsese's best work is decades behind him, noting
that recent epics such as "The Aviator" and "Gangs of New York"
do not measure up to earlier masterpieces such as "Mean Streets"
and "Raging Bull."

On the other hand, Eastwood has entered a late-career zenith,
delivering complex character studies two years in a row that rank
toward the top of his long resume as actor and director, which
includes the "Dirty Harry" series and such Spaghetti Westerns as
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

"Tough ain't enough," says his character in "Million Dollar
Baby," a role that also earned Eastwood a best-actor nomination.

A last-minute addition to the Oscar race, "Million Dollar
Baby" did not even begin shooting until June and had been
scheduled for release in 2005 until distributor Warner Bros. took a
look at an early cut and scrambled to release it in December.

"To make a picture in 37 days takes a well-oiled machine. That
well-oiled machine is the crew -- the cast, you've met a lot of
them," Eastwood said.

He went on to mention several longtime collaborators, including
art director Henry Bumstead, 89, whom he called "the head of our
crack geriatric team."

It was the second straight year an Eastwood film won two of the
four acting Oscars, Swank named best-actress as a tenacious fighter
who rises to champion status before her life takes a cruel twist,
Freeman picked for supporting actor as an ex-boxer with wisdom.

Last year, Eastwood's dark morality play "Mystic River" earned
the lead-actor prize for Sean Penn and the supporting-actor award
for Tim Robbins.

Swank 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.

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."

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

Playing 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.

With no huge hits among best-picture nominees, Oscar organizers
worried that TV ratings could dwindle for the live ABC broadcast.
The Oscars tend to draw their biggest audiences when blockbusters
such as "Titanic" or "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the
King" are in the mix, stoking viewer interest.

Producers of the show hoped the presence of first-time host Rock
might boost ratings, particularly among younger viewers who may
view the Oscars as too staid an affair.

Rock chided some celebrities by name, but his routine was fairly
clean for the comedian known for a foul mouth in his standup act.

Organizers also tried to spice up the show with new presentation
tactics, including herding all nominees on stage at the same time,
beauty-pageant style, for some awards.

The first prize of the night, for art direction, was awarded
that way, with a total of nine nominees from five films spread
across stage behind presenter Berry. The Oscar went to "The
Aviator," whose awards also included cinematography, film editing
and costume design.

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" took the
original-screenplay award for Charlie Kaufman. "Sideways" won the
adapted-screenplay prize for director Alexander Payne and his
writing partner, Jim Taylor.

"My mother taught me to write, and she died before she could
see any of this, so this is for you, mom," Taylor said.

"The Sea Inside," the Spanish film based on the true story of
a bedridden euthanasia lobbyist, won as best foreign-language film,
while "Born Into Brothels," which examines the lives of children
of prostitutes in Calcutta, India, received the Oscar for
feature-length documentary.