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Million Dollar Baby knocks out the competition

Associated Press

Million Dollar Baby scored a knockout punch Sunday night, picking up Oscars for best picture, as well as best director honours for Clint Eastwood and acting statuettes for Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman.

Swank, who previously won the best-actress Oscar for Boys Don't Cry, once again beat out main rival Annette Bening, nominated for the theatre 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," Swank said.

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.

Freeman won a supporting actor award for his portrayal of a world-weary prizefighter.

As expected, Jamie Foxx won best actor for Ray.

"Wow, wow, wow," exclaimed Foxx.

Canadians were also in the winner's circle Sunday, as Toronto's Chris Landreth won an Oscar in the animated short category for Ryan.

The film makes innovative use of 3-D digital animation to tell the story of one of Landreth's predecessors at the National Film Board in the 1960s, animation innovator Ryan Larkin, who has since fallen on hard times and is a panhandler on the streets of Montreal.

Larkin himself was watching the Oscar ceremonies Sunday night from his favourite Montreal bar.

"I am here tonight because of the grace and humility of one guy watching in Montreal. Ryan Larkin, I dedicate this award to you," Landreth said in accepting his award. He also thanked the Canada Council and Seneca College, and called the NFB "visionaries in Canadian filmmaking."

The wins by Freeman and Foxx marked the second time blacks have won two of the four acting Oscars, following Denzel Washington and Halle Berry's triumph three years ago for Training Day and Monster's Ball.

"It means that Hollywood is continuing to make history," Freeman said backstage. "We're evolving with the rest of the world."

Supporting actress honours went to Cate Blanchett for The Aviator.

Besides Blanchett's acting win, Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes epic also dominated the technical awards, cinematography included.

Playing Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, Blanchett had the spirit of the Oscars' most-honoured actress on her side. Hepburn, the love of Hughes's 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 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.

Unlike last year, when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King dominated the awards as expected and flat-out front-runners took all four acting prizes, the 77th Oscars shaped up as a mixed bag.

"Boy, am I glad there wasn't a fourth episode of Lord of the Rings," said John Dykstra, who shared the visual-effects Oscar for Spider-Man 2.

With no huge hits among top 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 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 had mocked the Oscars a bit beforehand, calling awards shows "idiotic," but he was on his best behaviour in his opening monologue.

Rock chided some celebrities by name and included one mild three-letter word, but his routine was fairly clean for the comedian known for a foul mouth in his standup act.

"The only acting you ever see at the Oscars is when people act like they're not mad they lost," Rock said. He recalled the year when Berry won and fellow nominee "Nicole Kidman was smiling so wide, she should have won an Emmy at the Oscars for her great performance. I was like, if you'd done that in the movie, you'd have won an Oscar, girl."

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 film editing and costume design.

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.

Born Into Brothels, which examines the lives of children of prostitutes in Calcutta, India, received the Oscar for feature-length documentary.

The winners

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