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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Oscar Review: Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Well, here it is, our final review in the Oscar Review series of Best Pictures leading up to tomorrow night's 78th Academy Awards ceremonies (8pm EST on ABC). There were a few moments in there when I didn't think I'd make it through the 37 reviews I had set for myself. I've tried to be fair with those I didn't particularly like but because you're dealing with stories that convey such emotional depth, it's hard to not be subjective. I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I have enjoyed taking this stroll through movie history.

And now, for last year's winner...

Winner of 4 of its 7 nominations - including Best Picture, Director (Clint Eastwood), Actress (Hilary Swank with her second award from as many nominations), and Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman, his first) - Million Dollar Baby is a moving tale of courage, hard work, and finding family.

Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) and his friend Scrap (Freeman) run a gym for up and coming boxers. One day, all-heart but few skills Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) walks in looking for a trainer. Frankie doesn't train girls but because of her persistence and drive, he gives Maggie a shot.

Quickly making her way up the rankings, Maggie and Frankie develop a strong bond that goes beyond the sweaty gym. When Maggie's family shows nothing but selfishness and greed, and Frankie runs out of hope for reclaiming ties with his own family, the pair reach out to each other for the support they need.

When tragedy strikes while in the ring, Frankie is faced with an overwhelming decision that strikes him to the core. If he chooses one option he'll be going against his faith and his own desire. If he chooses the other he will be leaving his "Mo Chuisle" to live a life she doesn't want.
Up against formidable opponents in the nominations for Best Picture - Ray, Finding Neverland, and Sideways (that I've seen) - Million Dollar Baby came out on top to snag the statuette. Each of its fellow nominees are excellent films, each one touching on a different part of the human experience in powerful ways making it a formidable challenge to select one that rises above the rest.

Though it has nothing to do with reviewing the film, I remember the first time I saw Million Dollar Baby. It was last spring after it had already won. I was on vacation in London and during my last day there, having seen everything I wanted to see, I ventured into one of the cinemas on Leicester Square where I bought my ticket, went up to my assigned seat - which I wasn't used to when seeing a movie - and waited for the lights in the small, cramped theater to dim. It was physically uncomfortable given the accommodations, but it left me with no reservations that this is a great film.

We will soon know which films will join this, and others, in the long list of Oscar winners. Not having yet seen all the nominees I couldn't venture a guess as to who will be awarded the little gold men. All I can say is, if these past 37 films - and the others that won other categories, if not the top honors - are any indication, the winners tomorrow night will represent excellence in filmmaking, will be examples of storytelling at its best, and will touch on the many facets of the human condition that are found in each one of us.