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Eastwood's Baby proves the knockout film of 2004

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, Ousmane Sembene.

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.


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