American Beauty, a dark comedy about dysfunctional family life in surburban America, won the Oscar for best picture Sunday night at the 72nd Academy Awards ceremony.

Sam Mendes won for best director for Beauty, while Kevin Spacey's role as a husband and father facing a mid-life crisis in the movie earned him the best actor award.

"This is the highlight of my day, I hope it's not all downhill from here," Spacey joked. It was his second Oscar, having won for his supporting role in 1995's The Usual Suspects.

Hilary Swank, who portrayed a woman passing as a man in Boys Don't Cry, won best actress.

Michael Caine, the kindly orphanage headmaster in The Cider House Rules, won his second best supporting actor Oscar. Angelina Jolie, the disruptive mental patient in Girl, Interrupted, won for supporting actress.

American Beauty also won for original screenplay, by Alan Ball, and for cinematography, while co-favourite The Cider House Rules earned the adapted screenplay Oscar for John Irving.

In the Animated Short Category, The Old Man and the Sea based on the Ernest Hemingway novel beat out both Canadian competitors My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts and When the Day Breaks.

You'll Be In My Heart, the Phil Collins song from Disney's animated Tarzan, won for best song, beating out the cheeky Blame Canada, from the South Park movie.

The Matrix won four technical Oscars, but the multi-nominated The Sixth Sense was shut out.