American Beauty (1999)
未知 | 2013-11-29 19:15

American Beauty is a 1999 American drama film directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball. Kevin Spacey stars as office worker Lester Burnham, who has a midlife crisis when he becomes infatuated with his teenage daughter's best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). Annette Bening co-stars as Lester's materialistic wife, Carolyn, and Thora Birch plays their insecure daughter, Jane; Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper, and Allison Janney also feature. The film has been described by academics as a satire of American middle class notions of beauty and personal satisfaction; analysis has focused on the film's explorations of romantic and paternal love, sexuality, beauty, materialism, self-liberation, and redemption.

Ball began writing American Beauty as a play in the early 1990s, partly inspired by the media circus around the Amy Fisher trial in 1992. He shelved the play after realizing the story would not work on stage. After several years as a television screenwriter, Ball revived the idea in 1997 when attempting to break into the film industry. The modified script had a cynical outlook that was influenced by Ball's frustrating tenures writing for several sitcoms. Producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen took American Beauty to DreamWorks; the fledgling film studio bought Ball's script for $250,000, outbidding several other production bodies. DreamWorks financed the $15 million production and served as the North American distributor. American Beauty marked acclaimed theater director Mendes' film debut; courted after his successful productions of the musicals Oliver! and Cabaret, Mendes was nevertheless only given the job after twenty others were considered and several "A-list" directors turned down the opportunity.

Spacey was Mendes' first choice for the role of Lester, even though DreamWorks had urged the director to consider better-known actors; similarly, the studio suggested several actors for the role of Carolyn until Mendes offered the part to Bening without DreamWorks' knowledge. Principal photography took place between December 1998 and February 1999 on soundstages at the Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, California and on location in Los Angeles. Mendes' dominant style was deliberate and composed; he made extensive use of static shots and slow pans and zooms to generate tension. Cinematographer Conrad Hall complemented Mendes' style with peaceful shot compositions to contrast with the turbulent on-screen events. During editing, Mendes made several changes that gave the film a less cynical tone.

Released in North America on September 15, 1999, American Beauty was positively received by critics and audiences alike; it was the best-reviewed American film of the year and grossed over $350 million worldwide. Reviewers praised most aspects of the production, with particular emphasis on Mendes, Spacey and Ball; criticism tended to focus on the familiarity of the characters and setting. DreamWorks launched a major campaign to increase American Beauty's chances of Academy Award success; at the 72nd Academy Awards the following year, the film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is a middle-aged magazine writer who despises his job. His wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), is an ambitious real-estate broker; their sixteen-year-old daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), abhors her parents and has low self-esteem. The Burnhams' new neighbors are retired United States Marine Corps Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) and his introverted wife, Barbara (Allison Janney); their teenage son, Ricky (Wes Bentley), is a secret marijuana smoker and drug dealer whom the colonel subjects to a strict disciplinarian lifestyle. Ricky, who had been forced into a military academy and mental hospital, spends time recording his surroundings with a camcorder; he keeps dozens of taped videos in his bedroom.

Lester becomes infatuated with Jane's cheerleader friend, Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), after seeing her perform a half-time dance routine at a high school basketball game. He begins to have sexual fantasies about Angela, during which red rose petals are a recurring motif. Carolyn begins an affair with a business rival, Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher). When Lester is about to be laid off his job, he blackmails his boss for $60,000 and quits, taking employment serving fast food. He buys his dream car (a 1970 Pontiac Firebird) and starts working out after he overhears Angela tell Jane that she would find him sexually attractive if he improved his physique. He begins smoking marijuana bought from Ricky and flirts with Angela whenever she visits Jane. Jane becomes involved with Ricky and they bond over what Ricky considers the most beautiful imagery he has filmed: a plastic bag dancing in the wind.

Lester discovers Carolyn's infidelity, but reacts indifferently. Buddy ends the affair, saying he is facing an expensive divorce. Frank becomes suspicious of Lester and Ricky's friendship and finds his son's footage of Lester lifting weights while nude, which Ricky captured by chance and leads Frank to believe Ricky is gay. Carolyn becomes distraught, loads a gun, and drives home. That night, after watching Ricky and Lester through Lester's garage window, Frank mistakenly concludes the pair are sexually involved. He later beats Ricky and after Ricky falsely admits the charge, he goads his father into kicking him out of the family home. Ricky convinces Jane to flee with him to New York City and tells the vain Angela she is ordinary.

Frank confronts Lester and attempts to kiss him; Lester rebuffs the colonel, who leaves. Lester finds a distraught Angela, who begins to seduce him. After learning that Angela is a virgin, Lester stops and comforts her; the pair instead bond over their shared frustrations. Angela goes to the bathroom and Lester smiles at a family photograph of himself, his wife, and Jane in happier times in his kitchen. A gunshot sounds and blood splatters on the wall. Ricky and Jane find Lester's body. Carolyn is seen crying in the bedroom, and Frank returns home, bloodied, a gun missing from his collection. Lester's closing narration describes meaningful experiences during his life; he says that despite his death he is happy, as there's so much beauty in the world.

American Beauty was not considered an immediate favorite to dominate the American awards season. Several other contenders opened at the end of 1999, and US critics spread their honors among them when compiling their end-of-year lists. The Chicago Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association named the film the best of 1999, but although the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Society of Film Critics and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association recognized American Beauty, they gave their top awards to other films. By the end of the year, reports of a critical backlash suggested American Beauty was the underdog in the race for Best Picture; however, at the Golden Globe Awards in January 2000, American Beauty won Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

As the nominations for the 72nd Academy Awards approached, a frontrunner had not emerged. DreamWorks had launched a major campaign for American Beauty five weeks before ballots were due to be sent to the 5,600 Academy Award voters. Its campaign combined traditional advertising and publicity with more focused strategies. Although direct mail campaigning was prohibited, DreamWorks reached voters by promoting the film in "casual, comfortable settings" in voters' communities. The studio's candidate for Best Picture the previous year, Saving Private Ryan, lost to Shakespeare in Love, so the studio took a new approach by hiring outsiders to provide input for the campaign. It hired three veteran consultants, who told the studio to "think small". Nancy Willen encouraged DreamWorks to produce a special about the making of American Beauty, to set up displays of the film in the communities' bookstores, and to arrange a question-and-answer session with Mendes for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Dale Olson advised the studio to advertise in free publications that circulated in Beverly Hills—home to many voters—in addition to major newspapers. Olson arranged to screen American Beauty to about 1,000 members of the Actors Fund of America, as many participating actors were also voters. Bruce Feldman took Ball to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where Ball attended a private dinner in honor of Anthony Hopkins, meeting several voters who were in attendance.

In February 2000, American Beauty was nominated for eight Academy Awards; its closest rivals, The Cider House Rules and The Insider, received seven nominations each. In March 2000, the major industry labor organizations[nb 17] all awarded their top honors to American Beauty; perceptions had shifted—the film was now favorite to dominate the Academy Awards. American Beauty's closest rival for Best Picture was still The Cider House Rules, from Miramax. Both studios mounted aggressive campaigns; DreamWorks bought 38% more advertising space in Variety than Miramax. On March 26, 2000, American Beauty won five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Spacey), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. At the 53rd British Academy Film Awards, American Beauty won six of the fourteen awards for which it was nominated: Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress (Bening), Best Cinematography, Best Film Music and Best Editing. In 2000, the Publicists Guild of America recognized DreamWorks for the best film publicity campaign. In September 2008, Empire named American Beauty the 96th "Greatest Movie of All Time" after a poll of 10,000 readers, 150 filmmakers and 50 film critics, the 4th highest ranked movie from 1999 (behind Fight Club, The Matrix, and Magnolia). In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked the screenplay #38 on its list of 101 Greatest Screenplays.


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