Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Battle Of The Oscar Stars: Best Picture 1999

American Beauty is going to party like it's 19...hold up it is.

With five wins out of its eight nominations, this Best Picture had a ton to celebrate when it became the standout movie of 1999, and has left behind a legacy of flawless reviews by critics and fans.

Although, not everyone's a fan, because what has followed in the 14 years since then only seems typical for films with the highest acclaim--tremendous hatred.

Spending quite awhile absorbed in the bashing words that are found in various message boards or in articles could make anyone question their opinions. However, this American Beauty fan will remain true.

Leave that poor floating bag alone! 

I remember the year people were obsessed with Sam Mendes' film, but didn't actually see it (apparently I was too young) until several years later when I was in high school. More than likely it was rented when my friends and I were extra cool and had Kevin Spacey movie marathons. I know, you're dying of jealousy, especially that the marathons often included K-Pax.

The tale of the life (and death) of Lester Burnham (as played by Spacey), has stuck with me since that first viewing, and even though others think it has not aged well, just watching it last night, I will have to mightily disagree.

Just as Blue Velvet did 13 years before, American Beauty makes suburbia idyllic, but with a seedy underbelly.

The perfectly symbolic title comes from a rose of the same name (one that is gorgeous at the bud, but tends to rot away at the root). These flowers are found everywhere in the film: they line the manicured lawns and literal white picket fence of the main character's house, and it can’t be forgotten how they heavily play a part of Burnham’s active (and mostly creepy) imagination.

Thankfully cinematography, as the visual appeal of the movie is still a highlight, was one of the five wins that this film took away at the Oscars that year. Each scene visually blows other movies away. Everything in this world looks clean, luxurious, and filled with gorgeous pops of color. We are left to wonder; how can anyone living here have problems?

While these images, set to another winning score by Thomas Newman, give us all a snapshot of the beauty in life and the typical American dream, the performances by numerous outstanding actors is where the desperation of these characters perfectly comes out.

Kevin Spacey walked away with the only acting award from the cast. His fantastic Best Actor performance is riddled in dark comedy with endlessly awesome one-liners.

Burnham is a man who gets no respect from his family or job and begins to attempt to turn his life around. At the point of where we find him in the movie, this means quitting his life-sucking job, smoking a lot of pot, and working out. Also, that whole fantasizing about his daughters friend.

Maybe if we had more time with Burhnam we would see him going after that new exciting job and being responsible, but all we get to see is his jubilant awakening.

For all of these reasons Spacey steals most of the scenes, but with this fresh viewing it's clear that every single actor is actually quite tremendous.

As Lester's wife Carolyn, Annette Benning takes crazy to a whole new level, but in a good way. I'm obsessed with her take on a real estate agent/stressed out mom, especially when she is scrubbing and vacuuming the floor  in a slip and heels to prepare for an open house. Some think her performance is over the top, but I can’t help loving every moment of her slapping herself, once the mantra, "I will sell this house today", doesn't pay off. 

In comparison to the boldness of Benning and Spacey, the other actors definitely have the less showy roles, but Thora Birch, Wes Bentley and Mena Suvari are just as impressive playing a group of lost teenagers. Even Alison Janney is jarring in her small and heartbreaking role as the nearly mute mother to Bentley's character.

They each have their quirks and deep moments (call me a cheeseball-I do love how Bentley’s character is obsessed with plastic bags and staring into dead people's eyes), but for some reason Suvari’s performance especially stood out this time around.

Mostly remembered for being the object of Lester’s attraction, and all those rose petals, Suvari perfectly plays out both extremes of her character; the bold, full of herself teen girl, and the unexpected reveal of her actual meek disposition.

For those who automatically jump on the bandwagon of hating American Beauty, I have one thing to suggest--look closer. There aren't many movies out there that are able to run the spectrum from comical to tragedy, all while looking fantastic, telling a bold story, and remaining interesting to watch after endless viewings.

Next Up: Before Russell Crowe musically dueled with Jean Valjean, he played a Roman emperor battling Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator.

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