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Correction to This Article
In some editions of the Feb. 28 Style section, the first name of Jamie Foxx's grandmother was incorrect in an article about the Academy Awards. Her name was Esther, not Estelle. Also, Foxx was the ninth African American to win an Oscar for acting, not the eighth, because Morgan Freeman had won earlier in the evening.

Oscar's Golden Foxx

'Million Dollar Baby' Rules the Night, But 'Ray' Provides the Academy's King

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 28, 2005; Page C01


Sporting a shaved head and wide smile, Jamie Foxx accepted the Oscar for Best Actor on Sunday night for his portrayal of the beloved musician Ray Charles in the movie "Ray."

Like the "good southern gentleman" he said his grandmother raised him to be, Foxx thanked his longtime managers and said, "Let's live this African American dream."

"Ray's" Jamie Foxx, with daughter Corrine at his side, won for Best Actor. (Timothy A. Clary - AFP)

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Foxx became the ninth African American to win an Academy Award for acting in its 77-year history, and only the third to win Best Actor, following in the footsteps of Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier.

This year, a record four black actors were nominated for five acting roles, including Foxx twice, for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. The latter category went to another African American, Morgan Freeman for his work in "Million Dollar Baby." The boxing movie that came on strong late in the evening, winning Best Picture, Best Director, for Clint Eastwood, and Best Actress, for Hilary Swank.

Foxx portrayed Charles's journey through American music, and showed the singer and piano player's struggles with his blindness in the rural Jim Crow South, with heroin addiction, his mistresses and marriage, and with fame.

Foxx said that his grandmother Esther Marie Talley was dead and gone, but she was the one who had taught him to be a man. "When I act like a fool, she beat me. She whupped me. . . . ," Foxx said. "Now she talks to me in my dreams. I can't wait to go to sleep tonight because we got a lot to talk about. I love you."

It was one of the few emotional highlights in Sunday's 3-hour, 10 minute telecast, which lacked much in the way of fireworks. Foxx seemed to be the only one at the podium who shed some tears.

Of course, the producers of "The Aviator" were probably not overjoyed. Though "The Aviator" won five Oscars -- the most of any film this year -- they were mostly technical awards.

Instead, it was the feisty Eastwood project "Million Dollar Baby" that won Best Picture. Eastwood also bested Martin Scorsese for Best Director. Scorsese was favored by many Oscar handicappers because it was the veteran auteur's fifth nomination for directing, and he had not won for such modern classics as "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and "GoodFellas."

But the Oscar is not intended to make up for past mistakes, though some years it appears that way.

Eastwood thanked his "crack geriatric machine" of veteran filmmakers for helping him shoot his movie in 37 days. He tipped his hat to director Sidney Lumet, who earlier in the evening had received an honorary Oscar, and the 74-year-old Eastwood said, "I saw Sidney out there, and he's 80, and I'm still a kid."

After the ceremony, with an Oscar in each hand, Eastwood said: "I was disappointed when they started building a competition between myself and Marty," referring to Scorsese. "I'm just happy that a humble picture, budget-wise in today's world, won this acceptance." He added that he was glad his movie did not get "hobbitized" by the juggernaut of "The Lord of the Rings," as did his "Mystic River" last year.

Swank won for her portrayal of Maggie, a waitress from a trailer park family from hell, in "Million Dollar Baby." Maggie persuades Eastwood's character to train her to box professionally, which he does, until something bad happens.

At the podium, Swank, who won a previous Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry" in 1999, said, "I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream."

The 30-year-old Swank thanked cast and crew, plus her trainers ("up to that last pound, that last ounce") and her sparring partners.

When the music began to cut her off, she said, "Wait, wait. I haven't gotten to Clint. Clint Eastwood, thank you for allowing me to go on this journey with you."

Freeman won for his role as Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris, a beaten-down boxer sleeping on a cot in the Hit Pit gym run by the Eastwood character. Dupris is also the narrator, and the moral center of the film.

Freeman's acceptance speech was as understated as his character. "I want to thank everybody and anybody who had anything to do with this picture," he said. "It was a labor of love."

In his 30-year career, Freeman has played a pimp ("Street Smart"), a chauffeur ("Driving Miss Daisy") and a convict ("The Shawshank Redemption"), but he also has been cast as God and the president of the United States.

Backstage, he was asked what it meant for him, as a black actor, to win. "It means Hollywood is continuing to make history," the 67-year-old said. "We're evolving with the rest of the world." He described the Oscar as a symbol of "total acceptance."

Cate Blanchett, radiating a cool Hollywood glamour, won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal in "The Aviator" of Katharine Hepburn, who for a time was the lover of Howard Hughes -- aviation innovator, filmmaker, germ freak.

"From you, from the academy who know Katharine Hepburn so well, this is an indescribable surprise," she said, poised and collected. Blanchett was singled out for re-creating Hepburn's singular tight-jawed Connecticut Yankee accent, her erect, jaunty athleticism and her vulnerability.

"Thank you, of course, to Miss Hepburn," Blanchett said, in a slight Australian accent, "the longevity of her career is inspiring." Then she acknowledged her director, Scorsese, and said she hoped that her young son would marry his young daughter, Francesca.

What did she think when her name was announced? "Nothing," Blanchett said. "I went really blank. I think I'm still in shock." She said she was thinking "Just don't trip" as she climbed to the stage in her yellow Valentino gown dressed with red belt.

In tux and white tie, host Chris Rock began the show by telling the audience to "sit your asses down," but that was as bawdy as his language got.

Rock did a bit about how there are "only four real stars. The rest are popular people. Clint Eastwood is a star," he said. "Tobey Maguire is just a boy in tights." Then: "Who is Jude Law, and why is he in every movie I've seen over the last four years?"

Rock made a joke about "The Passion of the Christ." "I saw it," he said. "It's not that funny, really."

He also took a poke at Michael Moore, wondering why Moore, whose "Fahrenheit 9/11" won no nominations, did not instead make the nominated documentary "Super Size Me" about the ravages of a McDonald's diet. "He'd done the research," Rock said.

There was also a fast diss of Bush. Rock wondered if an average employee of the Gap would get fired if he had somehow lost several trillion dollars out of the till and started a war with Banana Republic over allegations that they dealt in toxic tank tops, only to find that the rival outlet didn't sell tank tops at all.

"Your average person would get in trouble for that," Rock said.

Maybe you had to be there.

The Oscar telecast producer, Gil Cates, picked Rock to boost the show's appeal to a younger MTV-ish audience, and to bring more male viewers back to the show -- demographics that had steadily eroded over the years. (Rock had earlier said the show was watched mostly by women and gay men.)

Rock would bring, or so the academy hoped, more of that elusive edge and attitude to the host's role, following the older, more showbiz types like former hosts Billy Crystal and Steve Martin, both Hollywood insiders.

Before the Sunday night show, Cates called ABC's five-second delay "a danger to society," but in the post-Janet Jackson world of flopping tops, ABC insisted on having control of the pause button.

The thinking was that Rock might incorporate a couple of dirty words in his bits, just to get bleeped. That didn't happen. Nor did any gowns malfunction. And nobody had to be yanked off the stage.

There was a warm and fuzzy tribute to past host Johnny Carson, who died earlier this year. Carson's jokes, from decades-old Oscar telecasts, were still funny.

"The Incredibles" picked up Oscars for Best Animated Feature Film, beating out "Shark Tale" and "Shrek 2," and Sound Editing. The movie was praised by critics for its smart script, with a plot and (inside) jokes that appealed to both adults and children. One of the film's points was that society should not take the extraordinary and beat them into the ordinary -- in this case, a family of superheroes. "The heart of the film is story and character," said director Brad Bird.

Best Adapted Screenplay went to Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor (they've worked together for 15 years) for "Sideways," the off-center road trip movie of Miles and Jack, two middle-aged losers who go on a wine bender in the vineyards of Southern California.

Payne, who also directed the movie, thanked Rex Pickett, whose novel they based the film upon (the book wasn't published until after the movie was made).

Asked backstage why the little film, with no big stars, generated so much buzz among critics, Payne replied, "It's honest. It's truthful. "It's a throwback to a type of American film that used to be made in the '70s, very human films, within our comic stylings." Or at least that's what the critics say, Payne joked. What was he gonna drink to celebrate his victory? "Tequila," agreed Taylor and Payne. "It's more efficient."

Many Oscar handicappers had predicted that the Best Documentary Feature would go to Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me," but the award went instead to "Born Into Brothels," by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski, which followed the chaotic but sometimes joyful lives of street kids in India.

"We thank the kids," Briski said. "They're watching in Calcutta."

Backstage, Kauffman mentioned that "we haven't made a dime yet. But I hope we will." The two filmmakers said they were planning on building a school for the children of Calcutta prostitutes later this year.

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which had three nominations, was shut out -- though the film made more than $370 million at the domestic box office.

Best Foreign Language Film went to "The Sea Inside," directed by Alejandro Amenabar. For the first time, the Best Song went to one sung in Spanish, "Al Otro Lado del Rio" from "The Motorcycle Diaries," the film about the young revolutionary Che Guevara.

Charlie Kaufman won his first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Taking the stage, he looked at the 30-second clock timing speeches and started saying, "29, 28. Wow, that's really intimidating." He paused. Then after thanking some people, he said, "No, I don't want to take my time. I want to get offstage."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company