International Oscar Showdown 2005 — Million Dollar Baby vs The Sea Inside

International Oscar Showdown 2005 features Million Dollar Baby versus The Sea Inside
International Oscar Showdown 2005 features Million Dollar Baby versus The Sea Inside
The 77th Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were Million Dollar Baby and The Sea Inside

Feel like a million box

Evocatively written by Paul Haggis (who went on to write and direct the worst Best Picture winner of all time, Crash), Million Dollar Baby is the story of Maggie (Swank), a working-class woman from Missouri whose only passion is boxing. Moreover, it’s about her relationship with underrated trainer Frankie (Eastwood), a grizzled, sexist dinosaur too protective of his fighters to push them into championship bouts.

Poster for the film Million Dollar Baby
Poster for the film Million Dollar Baby
Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby

Technical knockout

Million Dollar Baby packs an emotional punch, but it is not without its faults. The boxing clichés are multitudinous, the film’s metaphors are pasted over everything like gaudy graffiti, and many of the characters are clumsily engineered to manipulate the audience. The clearest example of this emotional coercion is Maggie’s trailer trash family — each of them devoid of shame, remorse, pride, love or empathy. They are petty, ungrateful, self-obsessed losers, and comically two-dimensional.

Fraught with Danger

Transcending the limitations of the body is a heavy-handed through-line in the film, and informs the other weak character: Danger — or, “Dangerous Dillard Fighting Flippo Bam-Bam Barch” to give him his full (ridiculous) name. Danger is a simpleton who hangs around the gym boasting of his pugilistic might, but never steps into the ring to spar. He is the gender opposite of Maggie: a man too feminine and weedy to be taken seriously.

Oh I do like to be inside the sea

In the starkest example yet of synchronicity between Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, the international movie up against Million Dollar Baby is Spanish film The Sea Inside, a film about paraplegic Ramón Sampedro’s real-life thirty-year campaign to legalise euthanasia and end his life.

Alejandro Amenábar’s The Sea Inside

Love’s labours

Ramón explains his wish to die to a lawyer, Julia (Belén Rueda), who he has picked because she suffers from a degenerative brain disorder, Cadasil syndrome. He believes her condition will engender an affinity to his own, and their developing relationship appears to confirm that assumption. Meanwhile, Rosa (Lola Dueñas) — a woman who works in a fish-packing factory — sees Ramón making his case to die on television and befriends him in the hope of showing him that life is still worth living.

Father figure

Even the least relatable character in the film has a point; the reverend Padre Francisco (Josep Maria Pou), also a quadriplegic, appears to take offence at Ramón’s wishes to die. He reasons that if Ramón considers life as a quadriplegic not worth living, he must then believe Francisco’s life meaningless. Francisco clumsily claims Ramón must have no love in his life from his family, and visits Ramón to convince him — through his own example — that there is still much to live for from a wheelchair.

Retrospective result

Only once in this series have I not known which film should win until I had written the reviews; but this is the first time I have changed my mind in the writing of it. I was all for giving Million Dollar Baby the win, because it is emotionally raw, and you come away from it entertained by the moral malaise. But the more I wrote, the more cheap that evocation seemed. I couldn’t escape the clichés, the terrible sub-plot characters, the laughably obvious pairing of fatherless Maggie with daughterless Frankie.

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.

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