Saturday, October 31, 2009

Looking Closer at American Beauty

This review contains spoilers!

American Beauty
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper, Mena Suvari, Thora Birch
Released: 10/01/99
Viewed in theaters: 3/24/00

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (won)
Best Director - Sam Mendes (won)
Best Actor - Kevin Spacey (won)
Best Actress - Annette Bening (lost to Hilary Swank for
Boys Don't Cry)
Best Cinematography (won)
Best Original Screenplay - Alan Ball (won)
Best Editing (lost to
The Matrix)
Best Original Score - Thomas Newman (lost to John Corigliano for
The Red Violin)

This was the second time seeing this film since I saw it in theaters.. With a movie like American Beauty there are some things that are hard to forget and I did remember a lot from the film, such as:
-all the damn rose petals in the Mena Suvari fantasies.
-the "dancing" plastic bag. In fact, whenever I see a plastic bag blowing in the wind, I always snicker and think of this movie!
-Kevin Spacey getting shot at the end of the movie by Chris Cooper.
-The house with the red door! If I ever passed by a house that looked like that, I would immediately think, "That looks like the house on American Beauty!"

Of course, it has been a few years since I've seen the movie and there are things I forgot or didn't realize:
-I forgot WHY Chris Cooper killed Kevin Spacey. When Cooper kissed Spacey in the garage, it all came back to me.
-I didn't realize Peter Gallager and Scott Bakula were in this movie. Gallager plays the real estate mogul who's having an affair with Spacey's wife and Bakula plays their gay neighbor, Jim, who lives with his partner, Jim. Hee!
-I knew Allison Janney was in this movie, but I kept wondering when she was going to show up. I had NO idea she played Cooper's wife. She looked really different (long gray hair and looked a lot older) and I didn't recognize her at first, then I started noticing that woman sounded a lot like Allison Janney...then I realized that it was her!

During the '00 Oscars, I was rooting for The Sixth Sense to win, but I knew that was a long shot and really, if any other movie had to win, then AB would've been my choice. I think that if Annette Bening hadn't been up against Hilary Swank that year, she would have won Best Actress, but Swank was pretty much unstoppable (and totally deserving of her win). Although if Bening had been up against Swank in Million Dollar Baby, then I believe she would have won in a heartbeat. (I mean for this movie; I know she was also up against Swank for Being Julia during the '04 Oscars).  I honestly don't know which (Oscar-winning) performance of Kevin Spacey's I like better: Lester Burnham or Verbal Kint.

I rule!

Spacey and Bening play Lester and Carolyn Burnham, a married couple who lives in suburbia America. Lester is in a bit of a slump. He has a loveless marriage, a meaningless job, his wife is always nagging at him, and his teenaged daughter (Thora Birch) hates him. That all turns around when he meets his daughter's blonde and bosomy cheerleader friend, Angela, (Mena Suvari) and starts to have fantasies about her. She motivates him to work out and he quits (more likely get fired from!) his job. Meanwhile, there are some really creepy new next door neighbors. Cooper plays an ex-U.S. marine who is extremely homophobic and Janney plays his meek wife who goes off into space from time to time. (No wonder I didn't recognize her, her character is a far cry from CJ Cregg!) Their son (Wes Bentley) has a fascination of video-taping everything he sees and pays for all his camera equipment by selling dope on the side.

Even though this is a drama, there's definitely a lot of comedy. One of my favorite scenes is the drive-thru scenes where Lester sees his wife in the car with her lover. "Smile, you're at Mr. Smiley's!" LOL. I also loved the dinner table scene where Lester is going on a long rant and ends with, "and I blackmailed my boss for nearly $60,000...pass the asparagus."

I think American Beauty is one of those movies that are better (or at least make more sense) the second time you watch it. There's just so much to absorb the first time you see it. Definitely a must-see.

      My first post!

      Welcome to my very first post of my movie blog! Let's get started, shall we?

      Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo hu cang long)
      Director: Ang Lee
      Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang
      Released: 12/22/00
      Viewed in theaters: 3/17/01

      Oscar nominations:
      Best Picture (lost to Gladiator)
      Best Director - Ang Lee (lost to Steven Soderbergh for Traffic)
      Best Adapted Screenplay - Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus, and Kuo Jang Tsai (lost to Stephen Graghan for Traffic)
      Best Art Direction (won)
      Best Cinematography (won)
      Best Costume Design (lost to Gladiator)
      Best Editing (lost to Traffic)
      Best Original Score (won - great soundtrack, you can't go wrong with Yo-Yo Ma!)
      Best Foreign Film (won - duh!)

      What do Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain have in common? I can name six things:

      1. They both feature horses.
      2. They both feature mountains.
      3. They both feature people who fall in love with each other after spending time together in the great outdoors.
      4. They both have star-gazing scenes.
      5. They both won Best Score at the Oscars.
      And what's the other one? Oh yeah...
      6. They were both directed by Ang Lee.

      I thought it would be interesting to compare Lee's two best-known and critically acclaimed movies. Obviously, they're nothing alike plot-wise, but they do share some similarities. (Though the first two may be a bit of a stretch since countless movies have horses and mountains in them - okay, maybe they were all a bit of a stretch!)

      Look, a mountain!

      When I first saw this movie, I knew Michelle Yeoh from one of the James Bond movies and I had heard of Chow Yun-Fat. It was actually the second foreign film I had ever seen. (The first was the other foreign film that has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar - Life is Beatiful). Nine years later and I've seen about thirty foreign films; not a whole lot, but better than two! I know there are people out there who are opposed to foreign-language films because they don't want to be bothered to read the subtitles or they're just too lazy to read them! It's a shame because those people are missing some good movies out there. I don't know, maybe subtitles don't bother me because 1)I'm a fast reader so I can quickly read what's on the screen and be able to see the action, and 2)I've gotten used to subtitles by now. The CTHD DVD does come with the option to watch the dubbed English version, but I prefer to watch it with its native language and read the subtitles. I did watch it in English once and it just didn't resonate the same. Supposedly the three main actors all have different accents since they're all from different parts of Asia, but I couldn't tell with my American ears!

      I love this movie because it's just so much fun to watch and visually stunning. Obviously invisible wires were used, but I have no idea how they were so graceful during the fight scenes and they must have taken months to choreograph. The film does a good job of giving the audience enough of the martial arts scenes to keep us entertain, but it doesn't drown in them.

      My favorite scene would have to be the one where the petite Jen (Zhang) is eating her meal and all those burly guys come in to "teach her a lesson" and she pretty much ends up kicking all their asses! It's hard to believe Zhang is going to be 31 this February; she's so youthful- looking and looks like a porcelain doll in this film.

      This movie has the honor of being the first foreign film to reach over $100 million in the U.S.