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As Good As It Gets

1997's AS GOOD AS IT GETS is a near perfect blend of a great actor & a despicable character, a strong supporting cast and smart writing. This rare combination generates heart and laughter in equal doses.

Jack Nicholson is excellent as Melvin Udall, a reclusive romance novel writer who hates everyone in equal measure. Saddled with suffocating OCD, he aligns every plastic fork, steps over every sidewalk crack and only wants to deal with one waitress at the restaurant near his NYC apartment.

Carol (Helen Hunt) is the only server that has the ability to put up with Melvin's endless peccadilloes, but she snaps back when he crosses a line.

The single mother of a young boy who seems to always be sick, Carol defines a 90's helicopter Mom.

Greg Kinnear (Sabrina) plays Melvyn's next door neighbor Simon, a struggling gay artist whose little dog seems to always be in Melvin's way.

Everyone in Udall's apartment building is terrified of him, except Simon's manager and friend Frank (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who gives it right back to Melvin, scaring the hell out him along the way.

After a vicious beating during a robbery, Frank asks (demands) that Melvin watch Simon's dog until he's out of the hospital. So begins the softening of Melvin.

Nicholson is hilarious, going from a modern day Archie Bunker to a puppy loving softie behind closed doors.

Carol begins to notice the change in Melvin too and the two begin a complicated dance toward a possible relationship. Writer/Director James L. Brooks (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment) is one of the all-time best at creating characters so far removed from cookie-cutter stereotypes that his films always have moments of revelation. Characters evolve, people can change.

Carol to Melvin: "When you first entered the restaurant, I thought you were handsome... and then, of course, you spoke."

Whether it's Adam Sandler in Brooks's under seen "Spanglish", Shirley MacLaine in "Terms of Endearment" or Nicholson here, their transformations never seem in service of the screenplay, coming across as true.

Watching the film nearly 30 years after its release, Hunt's portrayal of Carol can be grating. I've never been a giant Hunt fan and this reminds me why, but the trio of Nicholson, Hunt and Kinnear are just as enjoyable together as they were opening night back in 1997. Audiences and the Academy disagreed with me on Hunt, she won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Carol.

Shirley Knight is also a great supporting actress as Carol's Mom, who pushes her to soften up and let go, just not as loudly as I wanted to yell it as the screen.

Nicholson won Best Actor for his role, memorably stepping over the cracks in the walkway up to the podium to claim his Oscar.

Nicholson said afterward that he was terrified everyone would hate the film because Melvin was so despicable. We all love redemption, Jack, and when it comes to character arcs and playing them from the soul, you're as Good As It Gets.

His line "You make me want to be a better man" is now a Nicholson classic, but Kinnear's "Melvyn, you overwhelm me" and Nicholson's response are every bit it's equal.

This laugh out loud, get choked up and then laugh some more Brooks classic gets an A.

As soon as the strains of Art Garfunkel's haunting rendition of Monty Python's song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" began, Brooks owned me. Perfect.

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