Story by: Jack Foley
CLINT Eastwood's boxing drama, Million
Dollar Baby, has been named the best film of 2004 by The National
Society of Film Critics - a group of leading US critics.
The film's co-star, Hilary Swank, also won best actress, although
she had to share the accolade with Vera
Drake's Imelda Staunton.
The awards strengthen the film's Oscar chances, particularly
as Million Dollar Baby attracted some of the best reviews of any
American film in 2004.
Eastwood has been hailed as a master film-maker as a result of
its success, especially in light of his last work, Mystic
River, which was also Oscar-nominated.
The film finds Eastwood as a boxing trainer and estranged father
who reluctantly agrees to take on Swank's raw fighter.
Their ensuing relationship helps them to heal old wounds and
find out things about each other.
The film co-stars Morgan Freeman.
The National Society of Film Critics is comprised of America's
leading film journalists from both papers and magazines. They
meet annually at New York's Sardi's Restaurant to discuss movies
and performances, before then voting.
Another award favourite, Sideways,
was also honoured by society members.
The comedy, directed by Alexander Payne, won three top honours,
including best supporting actor and actress for Thomas Haden Church
and Virginia Madsen, and best screenplay.
The best actor accolade, however, went to another Oscar favourite,
Jamie Foxx, who was named best actor for playing two roles - that
of singing legend, Ray Charles, in
biopic Ray, and a taxi driver who is
held hostage by a contract killer in Collateral,
opposite Tom Cruise.
Chinese director, Zhang Yimou, was named best director for his
martial arts epic, House
of Flying Daggers (which also won best cinematography), while
best foreign film was named as Senegal's Moolaade, from director,
The society also names runners-up in each category, the most
notable of which were Julie Delpy as best actress for her performance
in Before Sunset, which was
also named the third best film of the year, behind Baby and Sideways.