Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

The lions have no chance against this Gladiator

Okay, so maybe the Golden Globes are more of an Academy Award nominee indicator than I thought.

When Gladiator took the Globe for best motion picture drama, I thought to myself, well, sure, a bunch of reporters from around the world who are starved for real entertainment might think that this was the best Hollywood turned out in 2000, but certainly the well-informed industry professionals who vote for the Academy Awards will take a more discerning view. Right?

So much for that thought. In a frightening case of déjà vu, the Ridley Scott epic about ancient Rome has topped the Oscar nominations. What are we to make of this?

Some people might say, well, maybe it means that Gladiator was the best movie of 2000. Yeah, that might be the popular and easy thing to say. But while I enjoyed the movie okay, it just didn’t strike me as a particularly great film. I mean, it was knocked out of my personal top ten list fairly early in the year. I’m not particularly adverse to Ridley Scott getting a directing Oscar as a nod to his lifetime body of work (a rationale the Academy sometimes employs), which includes such classics as Alien and Blade Runner and certainly deserves some sort of recognition. It just seems so strange that he should be recognized for this particular movie, which is needlessly derivative, does everything to appear high-minded but isn’t, and which has some of the strangest and distracting action scenes of any film I have ever seen. On the other hand, at least one of my friends who is a true connoisseur of movie action thought that the Coliseum scenes in Gladiator were “cool,” so I may be simply out of sync here. And there could be other pleasures in the film that I were lost on me. One female friend summed up her no-brainer decision to see the film this way: “Russell Crowe in underwear. What else do you need to know?”

The main reason, I thought, to see the movie at all was really to view a couple of legendary veteran actors from the British Isles in small but showy roles. One (Oliver Reed) was dead before the filming completed. The other (Richard Harris) looked almost as if he were already dead. One major newspaper review described Harris, unkindly, as “looking as if he had had too many Bombay martinis.” Well, yes, to a great extent that’s the essence of his charm.

But enough harping on this one movie. I suppose it was to be expected that I’d have to quibble with this year’s nominations since last year everything seemed to go more or less the way it should have. And this year’s nominations have some justice in them as well. Ang Lee deserves the various nominations he received for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, although getting nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Film seems to have become a tip-off that you definitely won’t get Best Picture. And getting nominated for Best Director but not Best Picture seems to be an indicator that you won’t get either, which is too bad for Stephen Daldry, who directed the very deserving Billy Elliot.

Beyond that, the astute reader will note that precious few of my own favorite movies of the year are being honored. (For more detail, check out my annual page of Academy Award nomination predictions and potshots.) But I won’t let that dampen my enthusiasm for the evening on March 25. I plan to have a grand time watching the ceremony. But that’s because I plan to watch it while imbibing many Bombay martinis.

-S.L., 15 February 2001

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