Gladiator (2000)

Gladiator (2000)

Dir. Ridley Scott

Oscars: Best Picture (Douglas Wick, David Franzoni, Branko Lustig); Best Actor (Russell Crowe); Best Costume Design (Janty Yates); Best Sound (Scott Millan, Bob Beemer, Ken Weston); Best Visual Effects (John Nelson, Neil Corbould, Tim Burke, Rob Harvey)

Other Nominees: Chocolat; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Erin Brockovich; Traffic

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Maximus (Russell Crowe), who wears a wolf’s skin as a cloak and keeps one for a pet – it’s beyond me – in the circus tent of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris).

If a film is relatively critically unpopular at the time of its release, how stand its chances to hold up when rewatched a good 15 years after its release? Obviously Gladiator had its fans when it was released; it grossed $457M and earned scores of 76% and 64% on review aggregators Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. These are fairly low scores for a Best Picture winner, and they speak more to the film’s success as a popular work of moviemaking than as a benchmark in film history. Gladiator was the first film in over 50 years to win the Academy’s top prize without a corresponding win for its writer(s) or director. To put it simply, it was a popular film that rode its chariot of bravura to the podium.

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Gandhi (1982)

Gandhi (1982)

Dir. Richard Attenborough

Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Ben Kingsley), Best Director (Richard Attenborough), Best Original Screenplay (John Briley), Best Cinematography (Billy Williams, Ronnie Taylor), Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig, Robert W. Laing, Michael Seirton), Best Costume Design (John Mollo, Bhanu Athaiya), Best Film Editing (John Bloom)

Other nominees: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict

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Kasturba Gandhi (Rohini Hattangadi, L) and Mirabehn (Geraldine James, R), support the fasting Mohandas Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) in Gandhi.

No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and to try to find one’s way to the heart of the man…

It is perhaps not surprising that Gandhi begins with the above title crawl, or that it begins with a title crawl at all. It is a thoroughly respectful, tiringly detailed, and handsomely mounted retelling of Gandhi’s adult life, beginning chronologically at one of his first experiences of racism and stretching until his funeral, attended by 300,000 extras, a number which one can presume only suggests the true number of mourners at his death in 1948.  The film is terribly respectful, and happily dull.

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Cimarron (1931)

Cimarron (1931)

Dir. Wesley Ruggles

Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (Howard Estabrook), Best Art Direction (Max Rée)

Other nominees: East Lynne, The Front Page, Skippy, Trader Horn

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Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) lays down the law, protects the unprotected, and shoots some bad guys in Cimarron.

Cimarron is one of our first Westerns, and was not only the first Western to win the Academy Award for Best Picture but the first to win an Academy Award, period. Released in 1931, it was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time of its release (with a $1.5 million budget) and despite critical acclaim and commercial success; it did not break even on its production budget during its original theatrical release. Much of the budget was spent on the film’s opening scene, a depiction of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, a sequence that is now famous, which depicts a number of poor whites rushing westward at the command of Pres. Benjamin Harrison to claim whatever lands they pleased in the as of yet unincorporated “Unassigned Lands” of what is now Oklahoma. The film is distinctly grand in scope, pictorially, nationally, and ideologically, and though unsuccessful in many of its efforts at greatness, the modern viewer can understand the strength of the foundations it laid for future Westerns and the cinematic view of the American landscape.

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