Beauty is so synonymous with the movies that we describe a woman as being beautiful enough to be a movie star, and men as “movie star handsome.” But which of the films that have the words “beauty” or “beautiful” in their titles are actually beautiful films?
“American Beauty” (1999) is a modern classic that blends drama, black comedy and sharp satire as it skewers suburban life and the American Dream. In a career-defining, Oscar-winning performance, Kevin Spacey play Lester Burnham, who has the mother of all mid-life crises. Annette Bening crackles as his career-obsessed wife, and Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Chris Cooper and Mena Suvari are all outstanding.
The film swept the Oscars for Best Picture, Sam Mendes’ direction, Alan Ball’s screenplay and Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography, and the film’s iconic score by Thomas Newman continues to be echoed in film and television to this day. If you’ve never seen it, rent it now.
With “Life is Beautiful” (1997), writer, director and star Roberto Benigni achieved the impossible, creating a Chaplin-esque comedy, part of which takes place during the Holocaust. The romantic, irreverent, free-spirited Guido wins the love of his life, then protects his young son from concentration camp horrors by convincing him that it’s a game. The film won Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor Oscars for Benigni, and the English version is flawlessly dubbed by the original cast.
“Beauty and the Beast” (1991) is a true jewel in Disney animation’s crown, and it was the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. With the smart, courageous, independent Belle, Disney made up for years of passive fairy tale heroines. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs set a spritely Gallic tone — even if one might argue that the title song would have more impact if it weren’t performed by a teapot.
“A Beautiful Mind” (2001) is the highly Hollywood-ized film biography of brilliant but mentally troubled mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe). The film won four Oscars (in a slow year) for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Ron Howard’s direction, and Jennifer Connelly for Supporting Actress. The film also white-washed Nash’s homosexuality for the sake of mass appeal. This beauty is only skin deep.