Fri, Mar 04, 2005 - Page 16 News List

The Academy did it again - it went for the middle road

By Peter Bradshaw  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Pierre Bismuth, winner of the Best Original Screenplay award for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, lights a cigarette with his trophy balanced on his shoulder Sunday.


Does Clint feel lucky? His extraordinary apotheosis as the grizzled, crinkly-eyed sage of the Hollywood establishment, which began in 1993 with an Oscar for his revisionist western Unforgiven, and was almost sealed with his 2003 drama Mystic River -- has surely now arrived.

With those Best Picture and Best Director awards in both fists for his emotionally charged boxing movie Million Dollar Baby, the 74-year-old Eastwood now has living-legend status, a John Huston for the 21st century.

Conservative commentators in the US will be growling with scorn. They are reportedly annoyed that Clint has jettisoned his gung-ho Dirty Harry persona for this brow-furrowing quasi-liberal mode, a journey to the center-left that now sees him swinging a punch at the Roman Catholic Church and even appearing to endorse euthanasia.

Meanwhile, Eastwood's appetite for work is undimmed: he is already drumming up interest for his new World War II project about Iwo Jima.

Million Dollar Baby also gave Hollywood the sugar rush of wildly popular acting prizes. There was a supporting-role award for Morgan Freeman, whose elder-statesman status is hardly less than Eastwood's own. Hilary Swank won her second Best Actress award for a fervent performance as the trailer-park woman coached by Eastwood to fleeting glory in the boxing ring. She beat out a funky and offbeat nominee list with no obvious supercharged glam contenders.

It's interesting how, until this year, her name was routinely mentioned in cheeky articles as an example of "The Curse of Oscar," whereby someone gets an award (for Boys Don't Cry in 2000) only to disappear. Now Swank gets the last laugh.

But, oh woe, what about Martin Scorsese? Once again, the Academy has scorned him, and cemented its reputation for rewarding the middlebrow. The Aviator wasn't his best film by a long way, but Million Dollar Baby isn't all that great either, and plenty of people thought Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters would tacitly reconfigure the Best Director award as Scorsese's career gong.

Well, they didn't.

There were awards for cinematography, art direction, costume, editing, and a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn. But nothing remotely commensurate with Scorsese's all-American auteur status.

The great man might have been forgiven for knitting those panda eyebrows in vexation, and thinking: what can you do when nothing works? I gave them an all-American hero, a tribute to Hollywood's pioneering days, a solid performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, even a disability issue with a sympathetic treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It's a mystery.

The rest of the night belonged to Jamie Foxx with an Oscar for his performance as Ray Charles, a terrific acting turn in Taylor Hackford's watchable biopic, which generated a veritable furnace of human warmth and underlined the Academy's weakness for big-hearted performances of people with disabilities. Also nominated as a supporting turn in Michael Mann's Collateral, Foxx is a former TV star who could emerge as the most powerful character actor of his generation.

The British flag was lowered rather sadly at the end of the evening. Twenty-four British nominees in total, but only two winners (including best short film for Andrea Arnold's Wasp) and no major British success stories.

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