Gladiator (2000) won the Best Picture at the Oscars, but seems to have struggled to retain that level of respect ever since, and I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because the swords-and-sandals revival (or historical epic) that it inspired did not lead to results critics were proud to have more or less chamioned, or maybe critics are just fickle. I know that star Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott also had a somewhat rough time of it in the years that followed. Crowe starred in another est Picture winner the following year (A Beautiful Mind), and then couldn't seem to do anything right, even though he continued to do brilliant work. Scott hasn't really caught a break with anyone until this year's hotly-anticipated Prometheus, even though he's done exceptional work in the meantime on such films as Kingdom of Heaven, American Gangster, Body of Lies, and Robin Hood (working with Crowe on nearly all subsequent projects, actually). Gladiator is a work of subtle beauty, and is filled with strong performances, including the perennially underrated Joaquin Phoenix (best known recently for the identity crisis I'm Not Here, which should be no wonder), a study of motivations of the limits of the human spirit, both in triumph and ego. I suspect some people soured on it because it challenged their appreciation of Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, almost as if admitting love for Gladiator meant that they couldn't love Kirk Douglas as a more individually iconic figure. But Gladiator, no matter the accomplishments of Kubrick elsewhere, represents better work from Scott. Great work does not need immediately identifiable material; great work creates its own attention. Gladiator did it once. It can do it again.
Star Trek bonus!
G is for Garak
(from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Was he a spy, a former spy, a manipulator, an opportunist? Or was he "plain, simple" Garak, a tailor operating a shop on the sprawling Promenade on Deep Space Nine? Probably a mix of everything. That was the strength of this character, a Cardassian who gave a good name to Cardassians, a multidimensional individual who may have done things he was not proud of in the past, who lived the life of an exile, but knew well enough when he met a new friend (Julian Bashir) who would encourage his better instincts. There were plenty of bumps in the road ahead of him, but Garak proved to be one of the more fascinating characters of Deep Space Nine because you wanted to be sitting there right beside him at Quark's, enjoying a fine drink, good book, and some of the best conversation you'll ever experience. As embodied by Andrew Robinson, Garak is a quintessential Star Trek character, an outsized personality not often represented on film, who can bring life to a scene simply for being there and enjoying being there. Usually actors of this variety are confined to the stage. When there's a Star Trek on, you can be sure to find them on the screen, too.