I know this is going to seem like heresy, but bear with me.
So, I'm watching American Beauty again last night and I started to cogitate on how exactly I feel about it now that the movie has aged some.
What I decided is this:
In order for me to really know how I feel about the movie, it was necessary for me to disaggregate the movie from the message.
See, American Beauty was written by Alan Ball. Ball, who is also the creator of HBO's acclaimed drama Six Feet Under, is a middle-aged gay man. As such, it comes as no surprise that he subscribes to liberal orthodoxy. So the viewer shouldn't be surprised to find that in Ball's world, middle-class families are seething cauldrons of dysfunction. That military officers are repressed homosexuals cum homophobes. That corporate executives are depraved reprobates swindling their shareholders and putting honest, hard-working employees out of work for the pettiest of reasons. That middle-aged, married men can come that close to having sex with sixteen year-olds. And that the most normal "couple" in the neighborhood are the openly gay anesthesiologist and his partner, the tax attorney.
Now, despite all this, American Beauty is an enormously enjoyable movie. Superb acting from top to bottom. Kevin Spacey won the Best Actor award and heavily-favored Annette Benning only lost to surprise winner Hilary Swank, (Boys Don't Cry). Excellent supporting cast featuring Wes Bentley, Thora Birch, Chris Cooper and Peter Gallagher. Fantastic direction from first-time director Sam Mendes, who took home the Best Director trophy. And though I may not agree with his views, Ball can flat out write. The Academy thought so, too, as he took home the Original Screenplay statue.
But, let me get back to my original point:
American Beauty, while extremely good, is not great; Conrad L. Hall is.
Conrad L. Hall had the proverbial long and illustrious career in Hollywood. He was the cinematographer for nearly 40 movies. His credits include such hits as Cool Hand Luke and Marathon Man. Hall was nominated for Best Cinematography by the Academy 10 times. He won the award three times.
His first win came for 1970's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He then won back-to-back Oscars for American Beauty and Road to Perdition. The last two were both directed by Mendes. If you haven't seen Road to Perdition and want to see a top-notch cinematographer at the top of his game, check out Perdition. Watching it you can just feel that every shot is deliberate. And beautiful.
This year's Jarhead will be Mendes' first picture without Hall. However, don't expect much of a drop-off. Jarhead will be lensed by Roger Deakins
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