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Million Dollar Baby (2004)

The 77th Academy Awards (2005)
Nominations: 7
Wins: 4

The 2000s was when I became an Oscar fan. Yeah, I know, the Oscars suck. Most of the time it’s just a bunch of Hollywood Elites patting themselves on the back and awarding the best run campaigns (not movies). But it’s also a celebration of movies. Those are like my favorite thing. So much so that in 2006 I watched every Best Picture Nominee. This is a tradition I have carried on every year since then. I still haven’t seen every nominee between 2000 and 2004 but I’m getting there. What’s odd is that it took me this long to watch Million Dollar Baby. The last Best Picture Winner of the 2000s I hadn’t seen.

Why did I avoid Million Dollar Baby for so long? Because I knew how it ended. It sounded like a total downer. Watch a boxer get close to greatness only to succumb to a tragically debilitating injury? Ouch. Then again, it’s not always about how a story ends, it’s about the journey to that ending. There are a lot of great stories within Million Dollar Baby. This is because the film itself was adapted from a collection of colorful boxing short stories “Rope Burns” by F.X. Toole, a former boxing trainer himself.

On a surface level, Million Dollar Baby sounds like a typical boxing premise. A scrappy young fighter named Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) wants to be a great boxer. She wants the well revered gym owner and trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) to train her. He’s like “I don’t train girls.” So she has to wear him down. There’s also Frankie’s best friend and former fighter, Eddie (Morgan Freeman—in an Oscar winning performance). What makes the story special are the details. Like Jay Baruchel as a simpleton named Dangerous Dillar who works out at the gym with hopes to fight someday (Despite no talent). Or that we see Frankie train his former protege Big Willy (Mike Colter), only for Big Willy to ditch him and win a title without him.

Then there’s Maggie’s harsh fate. Which although hard to watch is a pretty bold move for a conservative filmmaker like Clint Eastwood. Even Clint himself said of the film’s script “It’s a downer… But god, it’s gorgeous.” He gets the appeal. It’s easy to forget that despite the workmanlike approach Clint has to his films he does have an eye for good stories. The boxing stuff is fun but it’s the relationship between Maggie and Frankie that make the film special.

I’m impressed that Million Dollar Baby has remained relevant in pop culture. So many times Best Picture Winners have faded into obscurity after awards night. When is the last time anyone talked about The Artist? Million Dollar Baby on the other hand has been referenced in every thing from The Office to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It made a mark. A big bloody one.

I don’t have much to add. I liked the movie. It made me excited, it made me sad. It’s just nice to engage with a good story every now and then, especially in these troubling times. Also, it gets me excited for the Oscars. At the time of this post the ceremony is only a few days away. I still gotta watch The Father. I have to keep the streak alive. The fight must go on!