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American Beauty: The Awards Edition

Review Written by: Will Penley
Film: A+
Video/Audio/Extras: A+/A/A-

Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Alan Ball
Produced by: Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper, Allison Janney
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it!

"1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I've always wanted and now I have it. I rule!"

I'm going to start out by saying this. Kevin Spacey is one of my favorite actors. Honestly, I love the guy. He's the man. While he usually plays losers, weirdoes or fruit-loving aliens, he never fails to impress me. And he definitely deserved the Best Actor Oscar he received for American Beauty. And, while a surprising number of people disagree with the Academy's choice for Best Picture in 1999, I think American Beauty was the prime candidate (regardless of the fact that I rank Fight Club one notch higher in my top ten list).

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is miserable. His job is meaningless, his marriage is falling apart and he hates his life. He doesn't get along well with his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) or his daughter Jane (Thora Birch). Things begin to turn upside down when Lester meets his daughter's friend Angela (Mena Suvari), whom he becomes sexually fixated with. Then there's the new family that just moved in across the street. Young Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) is an aspiring filmmaker and part-time drug dealer who becomes fascinated with Jane. His father, Frank (Chris Cooper), a lifelong Marine, runs a very tight ship around the house and is beginning to have suspicions that his son is a homosexual.

All of these characters make up the ensemble cast of this biting black comedy, which is one of the best films I've ever seen. Sam Mendes's direction is top-notch and Alan Ball's very original screenplay is exceptional. A big A+ for the film. Now, on to the DVD. DreamWorks has put together a nice package for the film's release, so let's dig right in. The anamorphic widescreen video is simply fantastic and is one of the best transfers I've seen in a while. The Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks are especially good as well and serve the film very well. The video gets an A+, and the audio gets an A.

This DVD is one of a series of "Awards Edition" DreamWorks DVDs (apparently, they're expecting to win lots of awards over the next few years) and has a substantial amount of extras included. The first and best extra is an audio commentary with Mendes and Ball. This is a fantastic commentar filled with numerous anecdotes and production stories about the film. A very good listen. Then, there's a brief documentary called "American Beauty: Look Closer..." that, as the great Todd Doogan said, redefines the term "fluff piece." Boy, is this a meaningless extra. Luckily, it's followed up with a very substantial extra, a storyboard presentation with audio commentary by Mendes and Oscar-winning cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, in which the two of them discuss hundreds upon hundreds of storyboards which are replicated in the film. This is a fantastic extra. Definitely a good one for the aspiring cinematographers out there.

Rounding out the disc are two theatrical trailers for the film, production notes and a series of cast and crew biographies. The extras get an A-. This is a fantastic film and well worth owning on DVD, even if some of the extras aren't quite what they should be. Highly recommended.

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