2000 (Oscar Winner-Best Picture)
How do you get the Roman Coliseum? Kill. Kill. Kill. No birthdays or memorials to celebrate this evening, just a very high-end popcorn film. Although this may have not been the absolute best film of 2000, I do not mind the selection given the message it sends: Action-packed blockbusters released in the Summer are worthy of critical merit (There is an interesting parallel between the film's narrative and its ascention to Oscar glory: win the people and you will win Rome; win the people and you win the Academy Award). Plus, I believe Ridley Scott does not get proper love. When you helm two of the most important science fiction films (Alien and Blade Runner), an exceptional post-feminist film (Thelma and Louise), and the woefully underrated Black Hawk Down, you deserve all the accolades that accompany cinematic achievements. If Gladiator is your third or fourth best film, you boast a noteworthy career.
The basic narrative of Gladiator is rather trite; a Rockyesque rise to the top that is more about honor than personal glory plays well for American audiences. But the added texture of political struggle set within an empire's moral decline enhances a simple story into insightful ruminations on honor and commitement to causes beyond the individual. Russell Crowe's (Academy Award winning) performance as the humble and honorable General Maximus is rivaled only by Jaoquin Phoenix's insecure and vengeful portrayal of Commidus, the disenfranchised son of Marcus Aurelius. Crowe is indeed one of our better living actors, but Phoenix is no slouch (I believe he is odds on favorite to win for Walk the Line).
Scott is known as being an actor's director, encouraging improvisation and creative freedom for actors to explore their characters. As a result, Scott gets luminous, three dimensional performances that often go unnoticed amidst enthralling special effects and engaging action sequences. I love Soctt's camera; he captures action in intimate ways that are not too disorienting and actually advance either the narrative or character development.
This is only my sencond time seeing the film in its entirety, and admittedly I enjoyed it more this time (and I liked it when we saw it in the theater). This version is the original cut, so I am curious as to what Scott did in the Director's Cut (apparently, according to IMDB, Scott is the first to have a "director's cut"-I assume with Blade Runner. The Harrison Ford voiceover and the happier ending in Blade Runner were studio demands).
Ok, so I have spoken little about Gladiator. But, it is a film worth revisting. And Rome is worth fighting for.