As Good As It Gets (1997): Jack Nicholson’s Third Oscar

Both funny and sad, the 1997 Best Picture nominee, “As Good As It Gets,” followed in the footsteps of James L. Brooks’ previous film, “Terms of Endearment,” except it was more eccentric, nutty, and in moments genuinely moving.

Jack Nicholson won his third (and second Best Actor) Oscar, and Helen Hunt won her first Best Actress Oscar as the central romantic couple: He, a rich neurotic, who frequents the same restaurant every day; she, a working class single mom.

Some critics carped that the movie was too long and indulgent, claiming that writers Mark Andrus and Brooks constructed a good beginning and a good ending, but a weak middle. Others saw “AS Good As It Gets as an extension of Brooks’ TV work; all of his films contain scenes that betray his sitcom origins.

The segments devoted to a gay painter (Greg Kinnear), forced to go to his disapproving parents to ask for money, slowed down the picture and resorted to gay stereotyping. But it offered an opportunity for the mostly indoor tale to get outdoors, with a trip in which each of the three characters has some terrific moments of self-discovery.

But in 1997, James Cameron’s ominous “Titanic” gave all its competitors a run for their money. And yet in another disgraceful oversight, Brooks was snubbed by the Academy’s Directors Branch, which failed to nominate him.

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