2000 was peculiar year for the Academy Awards with the tug-of-war between the sensational Gladiator and the critically acclaimed Traffic. Gladiator was the favorite to win, yet its chances weren’t guaranteed when Traffic, a film chronicling the numerous factions of the illegal drug industry, was the critics’ favorite to win. Due to the heavy competition and with the Oscar financing that occurs, producers put more of their Oscar campaigning behind Russell Crowe and not nearly as much emphasis upon the film’s other lead star, Joaquin Phoenix. Subsequently, with Traffic being a multiple-character film, its producers put their efforts behind Benicio Del Toro, who was the most acknowledged actor when it came to reviews. As a result, Del Toro, with the blatantly inferior performance, beat out Phoenix when it came down to Oscar night.
Gladiator is the story of Maximus (Crowe), a respected general who is betrayed and ultimately finds himself as a gladiator in Rome’s coliseum. When his skills as a general allow him to continually elude death, Maximus gains popularity and the possibility of freedom. The only hindrance of this is Commodus (Phoenix), the emperor and man who betrayed Maximus and murdered his family. While Maximus desires his freedom, his ultimate goal is enact revenge against the emperor and restore Rome to its former glory.
Gladiator is a visually stunning film that rests mostly upon the shoulders of Russell Crowe. Yet Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is integral to the film since Commodus is the foil character to Maximus. Phoenix needed to provide the concept of what it is to be without honor and respect, yet feared. The evil Phoenix is able to convey in his acting is tremendous since his performance needed to create the notion of a power-hungry individual who ruled with fear instead of strength. What Phoenix further does to make his performance as Commodus intriguing is his inclusion of desperation within the character and showing how that his emotional insecurities fuels his fear mongering rule as emperor. What audiences see, as a result, is a loathsome ruler that they learn to despise to the point that they can associate themselves with the hatred Maximus feels towards Commodus. For that, Phoenix clearly gave the better performance for supporting actor in 2000 and should have been given his deserved Oscar.
Lost to: Benicio Del Toro for Traffic (2000)