American Beauty was not considered an immediate favorite to dominate the American awards season. Several other contenders opened at the end of 1999, and US critics spread their honors among them when compiling their end-of-year lists. The Chicago Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association named the film the best of 1999, but while the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Society of Film Critics and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association recognized American Beauty, they gave their top awards to other films. By the end of the year, reports of a critical backlash suggested American Beauty was the underdog in the race for Best Picture; however, at the Golden Globe Awards in January 2000, American Beauty won Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
As the nominations for the 72nd Academy Awards approached, a frontrunner had not emerged. DreamWorks had launched a major campaign for American Beauty five weeks before ballots were due to be sent to the 5,600 Academy Award voters. Its campaign combined traditional advertising and publicity with more focused strategies. Although direct mail campaigning was prohibited, DreamWorks reached voters by promoting the film in "casual, comfortable settings" in voters' communities. The studio's candidate for Best Picture the previous year, Saving Private Ryan, lost to Shakespeare in Love, so the studio took a new approach by hiring outsiders to provide input for the campaign. It hired three veteran consultants, who told the studio to "think small". Nancy Willen encouraged DreamWorks to produce a special about the making of American Beauty, to set up displays of the film in the communities' bookstores, and to arrange a question-and-answer session with Mendes for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Dale Olson advised the studio to advertise in free publications that circulated in Beverly Hills—home to many voters—in addition to major newspapers. Olson arranged to screen American Beauty to about 1,000 members of the Actors Fund of America, as many participating actors were also voters. Bruce Feldman took Ball to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where Ball attended a private dinner in honor of Anthony Hopkins, meeting several voters who were in attendance.
In February 2000, American Beauty was nominated for eight Academy Awards; its closest rivals, The Cider House Rules and The Insider, received seven nominations each. In March 2000, the major industry labor organizations[nb 17] all awarded their top honors to American Beauty; perceptions had shifted—the film was now the favorite to dominate the Academy Awards. American Beauty 's closest rival for Best Picture was still The Cider House Rules, from Miramax. Both studios mounted aggressive campaigns; DreamWorks bought 38% more advertising space in Variety than Miramax. On March 26, 2000, American Beauty won five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Spacey), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography.[nb 18] At the 53rd British Academy Film Awards, American Beauty won six of the fourteen awards for which it was nominated: Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress (Bening), Best Cinematography, Best Film Music and Best Editing. In 2000, the Publicists Guild of America recognized DreamWorks for the best film publicity campaign. In September 2008, Empire named American Beauty the 96th "Greatest Movie of All Time" after a poll of 10,000 readers, 150 filmmakers and 50 film critics, the 4th highest ranked movie from 1999 (behind Fight Club, The Matrix, and Magnolia).[nb 19] In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked the screenplay #38 on its list of 101 Greatest Screenplays.
The film was nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) in 2007.