(In theaters, January 2005) Oscar season is once again with us, and that means a slew of painful movies about impossible odds, plucky heroes, heavy drama, famous old actors playing what may be the last great performances of their careers, and that type of stuff. It’s as if every year included its quota of such film made for the above-fifty contingent that makes up most of the Academy, and so Million Dollar Baby fits in this year’s slot. Oh, it’s not as bad as you’d expect. The boxing scenes (for it is a film about a woman boxer breaking into the scene though sheer self-determination… oh, you’ve heard this one before) are good, and I suspect that this film will teach more about the technical side of boxing than any other work of fiction. Efficiently directed by Clint Eastwood, this film plays it simply, slips up only occasionally (mostly in its depiction of a hillbilly family) and moves without any fuss. I suppose that it should be commended for an unpredictable third act, but the truth is that the said third act feels very long and pointless after that came before: The sports film veers abruptly into straight-up Oscar-bait drama and never recovers. The last ten minutes feel like a stretch of the inevitable. Bah. You know that the usual crowd will go nuts for the film; people like me barely have the luxury of complaining.