15. American Beauty

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Movie: American Beauty

Release Date: September 15, 1999

Director: Sam Mendes

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Allison Janney, Peter Gallagher, Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper.

Tag Lines: “…look closer.”

Relevance: DISCLAIMER – similar to ‘The Usual Suspects’ (see 44. ‘The Usual Suspects): Sometimes “alleged” (that word was used so I don’t get sued) pedophiles, rapists and sex offenders create excellent art. However, I do not in any way, shape or form approve of the past, present or future behavior of Kevin Spacey. He is a heinous individual (allegedly). All of the compliments he will be getting below are written as if he is not a heinous individual. Trust me, it pains me, but a good movie is still a good movie.

Like yesterday’s film (see 16. Pulp Fiction), ‘American Beauty’ was the movie everyone was talking about the year it was released. It made its theatrical debut at a few festivals before opening wide on September 15, 1999 and was instantly lauded by critics. It was nominated for many awards and honors including eight Academy Awards, winning five. One of those wins was for the coveted Best Picture award. Audiences ate the film up as well. It was a huge commercial success eventually becoming the ninth highest grossing film of that year. Unfortunately it was a movie I had to hear all about without actually seeing until it was released to home media.

I really have zero excuses for why I did not see ‘American Beauty’ in the theaters. In the fall of 1999, I was of course working full time as well as balancing a social life and co-raising my toddler son. I know that I wanted to see the film, I just didn’t. After receiving its Oscar nominations, you would have thought that I would have clamored to see it as I always try to see the Best Picture nominees before the telecast. The Oscars in 2000 were held on my birthday, March 26th. Unfortunately the film was not released for rental until May that same year. So I did not see that year’s winner until two months after it won. But you know I was the first in line at my local Hollywood video store the day it became available.

I fell in love with the movie from its opening words. “My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood; this is my street; this is my life. I am 42 years old; in less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don’t know that yet, and in a way, I am dead already.” From those few sentences until the end credits started to roll, I don’t think I took one breath. I was completely riveted to the story and its characters. It was such a departure from contemporary dramas of that time and I especially fell in love with that gorgeous script. It also happened to be stunning to look at, those rose petals alone were spectacularly shot. The direction and acting were top notch and I finally knew the reason everyone was talking about the film as well as why it won Best Picture.

In 2001, HBO started promoting a new show called ‘Six Feet Under.’ Part of their promotion was listing it as “from the Academy Award winning writer of ‘American Beauty.'” I was sold with that one simple sentence. The screenplay to that film was so deliciously well done, I knew that I wanted to at least “try out” the new series. I did, and ‘Six Feet Under’ became one of my favorite shows of all time. I eventually owned the entire series on DVD and it hands down has the best finale of any series ever. One of the main reasons why I loved the show so much was the story and how different yet similar it was to ‘American Beauty.’ Both the TV show and the movie remained my favorites thanks to the mind of their writer, Alan Ball.

Like ‘Six Feet Under,’ I also purchased the DVD to ‘American Beauty’ as soon as I possibly could. I collect all of the Best Picture winners anyway, but I knew that this was a movie to own even if it hadn’t won. I shared my love for this movie, like I always do when I love a film that much, with every friend and family member. Most people enjoyed it, but there were a few of those tough critics that “hated it.” There’s always a few in the bunch. For me, the film was fresh, original and beautifully done. Its messages of repression, sexuality, freedom and beauty spoke volumes to me and it’s why it sits at number fifteen on my list of most influential movies of all time.

Today’s Thoughts: “Look at me, jerking off in the shower… This will be the high point of my day; it’s all downhill from here.”

After shoveling out my son’s car from the thirty-two inches of snow that fell last night, I crawled back into bed with a cup of tea and two holiday cupcakes (that I baked yesterday) to watch ‘American Beauty.’ Both my husband and son were home thanks to the snow, but I needed some nice quiet alone time with the Burnham’s. It’s exactly what I needed.

I have not watched ‘American Beauty’ in almost three years. I was on a boycott of all things Kevin Spacey (see DISCLAIMER above) for quite awhile after his “coming out” and I couldn’t stomach to listen or watch the man. I did the same thing with ‘House of Cards,’ but I eventually finished that series off late last year. I knew the movie would be on my list so I knew this day was eventually coming. And I was okay with it. I have learned to separate the actor with the movie. And I am thankful I came to that conclusion, because I absolutely adore this movie and it was so nice to revisit it again.

‘American Beauty’ is simply a gorgeous film. Beautifully directed by Sam Mendes, the story and characters are so wonderfully weird and yet so tragically real. I was easily sucked into the movie when I first watched it in 2000 and was easily sucked back into it today. I love the screenplay so much. The dialogue and words chosen in this movie are almost poetic and I find myself in awe, waiting for the next syllables to be spoken. This movie is pure cinematic art on every single level. It is truly a modern day classic.

‘American Beauty’ is a grand drama, although I do know many “haters” out there when it comes to the film. And I simply don’t get it. I never will. The movie comes very highly recommended. I get it if you now have an aversion to Mr. Spacey, trust me, I’ve been there. Despite him being pure evil (allegedly), give it a try. I promise you will fall in love with this unforgettable tale just like I did.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Picture (winner), Academy Award for Best Director, Sam Mendes (winner), Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Kevin Spacey (winner), Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Alan Ball (winner), Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Conrad L. Hall (winner), Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Annette Bening (nomination), Academy Award for Best Film Editing, Tariq Anwar, Christopher Greenbury (nomination), Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score, Thomas Newman (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama (winner), Golden Globe for Best Director – Motion Picture, Sam Mendes (winner), Golden Globe for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture, Alan Ball (winner), Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, Annette Bening (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Kevin Spacey (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Original Score – Motion Picture, Thomas Newman (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Film (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, Annette Bening (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Kevin Spacey (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography, Conrad L. Hall (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Editing, Tariq Anwar, Christopher Greenbury (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Music, Thomas Newman (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Direction, Sam Mendes (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay – Original, Alan Ball (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Thora Birch (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Mena Suvari (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Wes Bentley (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Production Design, Naomi Shohan (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Sound, Scott Martin Gershin, Scott Millan, Bob Beemer, Richard Van Duke (nomination), BAFTA Award for Best Make Up/Hair, Tania McComas, Carol A. O’Connell (nomination), Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture (winner), Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, Kevin Spacey (winner), Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, Annette Bening (winner), Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, Chris Cooper (nomination), Directors Guild of America, Sam Mendes (winner), Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Director, Sam Mendes (winner), Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Picture (nomination), Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography, Conrad L. Hall (nomination), Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Screenplay, Alan Ball (nomination), National Board of Review Award for Best Film (winner), National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films (winner), National Board of Review for Breakthrough Performance – Male, Wes Bentley (winner), New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film (nomination), New York Film Critics Association Award for Best First Film, Sam Mendes (nomination), PGA Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures, Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks (winner), Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Alan Ball (winner).

Ways to Watch: Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, DVD Availability.

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