American Beauty (1999)
At First: The Academy finally gets hipper and darker by honoring this scathingly hilarious yet heartfelt satire and exploration of suburban ennui.
But Then: The Academy finally acknowledges a facile, smug, cartoonish attempt at modern profundity.
Notable Competition: In the actual group of five nominees, not that much. 1999 was a great year for film, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it with a Best Picture category inclusive of The Green Mile and The Cider House Rules. The Sixth Sense and The Insider were also in there, but movies as great and varied as Three Kings, Fight Club, Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut, Boys Don’t Cry, Toy Story 2, Election, Bringing Out the Dead, The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, and The Talented Mr. Ripley weren’t.
Strength of Backlash (1-10): 8. Movie people pretty much hate American Beauty now, right?
Strength of Deserving (1-10): 5. No, it wasn’t the best movie of 1999. But it’s also a relatively small-scale dark comedy that won Best Picture after years of elaborately costumed epics, and it’s a true marker of TV-favoring perversity that Alan Ball’s soapy Six Feet Under seems better-regarded now than his script for a tighter, more concise statement about How We Live.