The Best Picture Winners: Gladiator (2000)

| January 31, 2018

Oscar’s 90th birthday arrives in just 30 days and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – some good and others that are . . . well, like Gladiator.

The new millennium did not open with a great year for movies.  Despite some gems like Almost Famous, Traffic, Best in Show and Memento, the Academy voters overlooked all of them in order to reward one of the dumbest and most ill-conceived movies ever to be bestowed the Oscar for Best Picture.

Was I entertained?  Hardly.

What’s wrong with Gladiator?  Let me count the ways: The story is inane.  The dialogue is laughable.  The production design looks like cut-scenes from a bad video game.  The sky looks like a mid-day apocalypse.  The Oscar winning visual effects look muddy and unfinished.  The narrative structure feels as focused as a rock fight – there are Bible comics that are more coherent.

The movie has an unhappy tone that makes Schindler’s List seem jolly by comparison.  Every character  seems to wallow in misery and/or vengeful hatred which wouldn’t be a problem if they weren’t as dull as a bag of hammers (and only half as charming).  And on the level of Roman history this movie falls on its face; if a high school student turned this screenplay into an essay for history class they’d end up in detention.

Needless to say, I hated this movie with a steaming pile of passion.  Its defenders claim  that it was a throwback to the sword and sandal epics of the 1950s like Ben-Hur and Spartacus, but I believe that had it been made at that time it would have been forgotten today and laughed into the dustbins of history.  Today it might have all but faded from public knowledge were it not for the Best Picture honor that it so wildly didn’t deserve.

Gladiator lacks any real passion or joy for an audience that is, yes, looking to be entertained.  The film’s bucket of honors, and its $187 million box office mean nothing to me.  Out of the inaugural year for the millennium, I’d prefer to spend my evening watching Almost Famous, a nostalgic drama with heart, pathos and a lot of a great music.  That movie has its heart in the right place; Gladiator has its head up its butt – helmet and all.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.