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Examining 'American Beauty' at 15: A masterpiece, or a farce?

Fifteen years ago this week, Sam Mendes’ film American Beauty arrived in U.S. theaters. In Florida, a film critic named Jay Boyar reviewed Mendes’ first full-length feature for the Orlando Sentinel—and he wrote that after seeing it, he “decided that the little satirical film would come and go without much fuss.”

However: “In the weeks since I saw the film, it has opened in a few places to ridiculously generous reviews,” Boyar mused. “Entertainment Weekly called it ‘bracing in its intensity’ and the New York Times praised its ‘eloquent flights of fancy.’ I’m sorry to say that even the usually reliable David Denby of The New Yorker seems to have popped his cork, proclaiming it ‘by far the strongest American film of the year.’

“So now I’m thinking,” Boyar concluded, “that American Beauty might be remembered for something else: The movie that caused a lot of movie critics to lose what was left of their minds.” (Sure enough, as Mariana McConnell wrote in CinemaBlend in 2008, “Though bestowed with the coveted Best Picture statuette, Sam Mendes’ 1999 debut is not the withering analysis of curdled society in suburban wasteland that the film was lauded as being. … Rather, American Beauty is an insipid spook story about a second adolescence, dressed up with ham-handed, unoriginal critiques.”) READ FULL STORY

Look closer: Jason Reitman reveals leads in Toronto live-read of 'American Beauty' -- EXCLUSIVE

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Artist: Matt Owen

Every movie lover has played the game “Who would you cast …?” by taking iconic movies and imagining who might play those roles in an alternate-universe version.

Last year, Jason Reitman transformed this casual cinephile talk into a series of live, one-night-only stage readings of classic scripts such as The Breakfast Club, Reservoir Dogs, and The Princess Bride. (Seth Rogen took over for Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, for example, while Steve Carell played the Jack Lemmon part in The Apartment.)

On Thursday, the Up in the Air and Thank You For Smoking filmmaker will take his cinematic experiment to the Toronto International Film Festival, hosting a live-read of a movie that debuted there in 1999 and went on to win five Oscars, including best picture and best original screenplay for Alan Ball — American Beauty.

So who would you cast …? Reitman saved his choices for the Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening roles exclusively for EW.

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