Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 8: As Good as It Gets

8. As Good as It Gets (1997)
Comedy, Drama, Romance, 139 minutes
Directed by James L. Brooks
Starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear

As Good as It Gets blends drama, comedy and romance so well that it's hard to decide which category the movie falls into. Nominated for seven Oscars, Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt took home the leading actor honors. It was a competitive year with Titanic, L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting also in the running.

It's hard to pinpoint Nicholson's top performance with so many candidates to choose from, but this has to rank among his best and he thoroughly deserved his third Oscar win. Nicholson plays author Melvin Udall. He lives alone and seems to hate most of the world around him. One of his least favorite people is his homosexual neighbor, Simon (Kinnear). In contrast, one of his favorite people is Carol (Hunt). From Melvin's point of view she's the only competent waitress at his local diner.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about these three people. Melvin has OCD and we see him avoiding cracks in the pavement. He's severely messed up in a number of other ways too. Carol puts on a brave face at work, but she has to deal with her sick son on a daily basis and it's a heavy burden. Simon is an artist and seems to be intimidated by Melvin's attitude toward him.

Nicholson is such a good actor and has incredible range. Think back to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for an example of how he can inject comedy into serious drama. I think his ability to make people laugh is often overlooked. As Melvin, he highlights that ability. Melvin isn't a very nice human being, but Nicholson actually makes us root for him. Carol is a positive influence and is the main reason he tries to change. Melvin does care about people, but it's buried beneath the surface.

Nicholson makes us believe that a 60-year-old man with psychological problems is capable of attracting a woman in her early 30s. Kinnear plays Simon just about perfectly and was nominated for the performance. He also shows plenty of comedic ability and times everything well. The interplay between the three characters is fascinating and comes to a head when they take a trip together.

The film contains some of the best dialogue I have heard. Some scenes will bring you close to tears while others will make you laugh. It's a shame that Nicholson and Hunt weren't given more opportunities to make films such as this.

If you like As Good as It Gets:

I mentioned that it's hard to categorize the film and that also makes it difficult to identify similar movies. Perhaps the closest in feel is Pay It Forward, starring Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey, although it is more inspirational than funny. About Schmidt and The Bucket List are good examples of Nicholson playing cynical characters and making us laugh.

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