Although The Aviator lifted off early in the evening, by the time the 77th Annual Academy Awards reached its final round, Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby was declared the champ. Eastwood's modest drama, in which the boxing ring serves as the stage on which a father figure/daughter drama plays out, earned four Oscars: for best picture, best directing, lead actress Hilary Swank, and supporting actor Morgan Freeman.
The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's sweeping epic about the dashing path Howard Hughes cut through Hollywood, took home the most trophies of the night—five—but once again Scorsese, despite five directing nominations during the course of his career, was not called to the podium.
The 74-year-old Eastwood, in his laconic way, observed that it was "a wonderful adventure to make a picture in 37 days." And taking encouragement from the example of 80-year-old director Sidney Lumet, who was presented with an honorary Oscar, he noted, "I figure I'm just a kid; I have a lot of stuff to do yet."
It fell to Swank to pay tribute to Eastwood. Having won her first Oscar in 2000 for playing a girl who desires to be a boy in Boys Don't Cry, she became the first actress to win an Oscar for playing a boxer. "I don't know what I did in this life to deserve all this. I'm just a girl from a trailer park," Swank exclaimed. After she had thanked her husband, producers Albert S. Ruddy and Tom Rosenberg, and Rosenberg's Lakeshore partner Gary Lucchesi, screenwriter Paul Haggis, and assorted others, the orchestra tried to play her off, but Swank stood her ground, saying: "You can't do that because I haven't gotten to Clint yet. I saved him for the end. Clint, Clint Eastwood, thank you for allowing me to go on this journey with you."
Jamie Foxx's win as best actor for playing the late Ray Charles in Ray may have seemed something of a fait accompli. Certainly the evening's slightly edgy emcee, Chris Rock, had made it clear he was a Foxx fan. But Foxx was no less jubilant when his name was announced by Charlize Theron.
"Wow ... wow ... wow ... wow ... wow," Foxx muttered as he took the stage. "Give it up for Ray Charles and his beautiful legacy," the actor urged the crowd, which was only too happy to accommodate him. During the course of his remarks, Foxx paid tribute to Sidney Poitier, recalling a meeting in which Poitier said, "I give to you responsibility." Said Foxx, "So I'm taking that responsibility tonight." And he offered up touching appreciation of his late grandmother. "She still talks to me now, only she talks to me in my dreams," Foxx said. "And I can't wait until I go to sleep tonight because we've got a lot to talk about."
Earlier in the evening, the audience rose to its feet with warm applause when Freeman became the first of the Million Dollar Baby winners, picking up the trophy as best supporting actor for playing the ex-fighter and loyal gym manager Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris. Earning his first Oscar after four nominations, Freeman underplayed the moment, saying: "I especially want to thank Clint Eastwood for giving me the opportunity to work with him again and to work with Hilary Swank. This was a labor of love. And I thank the Academy, I thank you so very much."
Cate Blanchett was also awarded her first Oscar—as best supporting actress for her turn as Katharine Hepburn, who enjoys an idiosyncratic romance with Hughes in The Aviator. In expressing her thanks, Blanchett kept returning to the iconic Hepburn. "Thank you to the Academy, who know Katharine Hepburn so well and is so intimately acquainted with her work. This is an indescribable surprise and honor," she said. And then as if addressing Hepburn directly, she added, "And thank you, of course, to Ms. Hepburn. The longevity of her career, I think, is inspiring to everyone."
The genially boozy comedy Sideways, which picked up six awards at Feb. 26's Independent Spirit Awards, had to settle for just one Oscar out of its five nominations. Alexander Payne, who also directed the film, and Jim Taylor were awarded the honors for best screenplay adaptation for bringing Rex Pickett's novel to the screen. Hailing the film's producer-distributor, Payne said, "We love Fox Searchlight for letting us make a film with complete creative freedom."
Charlie Kaufman picked up his first Oscar for the screenplay for the mind-bending romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which began with a story by Kaufman, Michel Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth. "It's really intimidating," Kaufman said of his moment in the limelight. "So many people worked so creatively on this movie; I feel like this award is for all of them." As the play-off music began, offscreen voices urged him to keep talking, but Kaufman said, "No, I don't want to take my time. I want to get off the stage."
In the animation contest, in which a number of the year's biggest commercial hits were duking it out, Brad Bird claimed his first Oscar for charting the adventures of the superhero family with The Incredibles, from Pixar Animation Studios.
The Aviator took flight early in the ceremony, picking up the first Oscar presented: The award for art direction went to Dante Ferretti, with set decoration by his wife, Francesca Lo Schiavo. The team had been nominated for Scorsese's Gangs of New York and Kundun. In accepting, Ferretti hailed Scorsese as a "great, great, great director."
Winning her second Oscar, designer Sandy Powell took the costume trophy for The Aviator, and she added to the Scorsese lovefest, saying, "a big, big thank-you to Marty for being the inspiration for us all." Thelma Schoonmaker—a longtime Scorsese collaborator, who won her first Oscar for Raging Bull—picked up her second for editing The Aviator. "This is really as much yours as it is mine, Marty," she said, "not only because you helped me edit the movie but because you think like an editor when you shoot."
In contrast to most of the evening's thank-yous, though, Robert Richardson, whose cinematography in The Aviator earned him an Oscar, used the moment not to hail his co-workers but to send out a very personal message. "This evening for me is dedicated to my mother who has spent the last 45 days in the hospital," he said. "And I'd like to say thank you to all the nurses and the doctors who have taken care of her, as well as her friends. I love you, Mom. Thank you."
The face-off between Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator is sure to result in a face-off between Miramax Films and Warner Bros. Pictures when it comes to bragging rights. Miramax, which released Aviator domestically, picked up six wins—five for Aviator and one for Finding Neverland. But because Warners is sharing domestic distribution on Aviator, it could lay claim to those five wins, plus Baby's four, for a total of nine.
Other films besides The Aviator managed to rise to the top, however.
Spain's The Sea Inside, the true story of a man fighting for the right to die, took the award for best foreign-language feature. Its director, Alejandro Amenabar, said, "This film is based on a man who, despite his desire for death, spread so much life around him."
Polish-born composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek picked up the award for best original score for his work on Finding Neverland. A Spanish-language tune, the first ever nominated, copped the prize for best song, as Jorge Drexler was honored for the music and lyrics he wrote for "Al Otro Lado Del Rio" for The Motorcycle Diaries.
Spider-Man 2 was named winner for achievement in visual effects, with Oscars going to John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara, and John Frazier.
The sound awards split between the musical Ray—which earned a sound-mixing Oscar for Scott Millan, Greg Orloff, Bob Beemer, and Steve Cantamessa—and The Incredibles, which took the sound-editing award for the team of Michael Silvers and Randy Thom.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Films, earned an Academy Award for makeup for its makeup creators Valli O'Reilly and Bill Corso.
With Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 not entered in the category, the competition for best documentary was both wide open and formidable, given the well-reviewed docus in the race. The winner was Born Into Brothels from social activists-filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. In the film, financed in part by HBO and distributed by ThinkFilm, Briski captures her efforts to improve the lives of children living in Calcutta's brothels by teaching them photography.
While Briski said, "We thank the kids; they are watching in Calcutta," Ross expressed appreciation to HBO, "the best place on the planet for documentaries," and ThinkFilm.
Producer Robert Hudson, who won the award for short documentary, along with his partner, director Bobby Houston, for Mighty Times: The Children's March, also gave a shout-out to HBO, which along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, underwrote the civil rights-themed documentary.
The award for live-action short went to the British film Wasp, a harrowing little film about a single mom juggling her responsibilities to her children with a yearning for romance. Its director, Andrea Arnold, reverted to her local lingo, saying, "In English, we'd say—I'd say that this is the dog's bollocks. Thank you very much."
In the category of animated short film, Chris Landreth claimed the prize for Ryan.
In accepting his honorary Oscar, Lumet acknowledged all the filmmakers who had influenced him, saying: "I guess what it comes down to, I'd like to thank the movies. I know that sounds general, but it's very real to me."
Scorsese spoke in behalf of Roger Mayer, who was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
The broadcast, which ran three hours and 15 minutes, was broadcast live by ABC. It was directed by Louis J. Horvitz, handling Oscar-helming duties for the seventh time, and produced by Gil Cates in his 12th stint as Oscar producer.