Monday, April 28, 2014

Top 37 Things I Love About As Good as It Gets (that no one talks about)

James L. Brooks’ As Good as it Gets is one of my go-to films. I can go to it anytime, for any reason. If I’m down, it brings me up. If I’m up, it makes me feel even better. I watch it at least once a year, marveling at its perfect acting, tight script, and fluid narrative. It’s just a damn entertaining film; certainly one of the best romantic comedies ever made. Here are only a few reasons why.

I love that this woman’s face says everything we need to know about Melvin Udall, before actually meeting him.­


Greg Kinnear’s look of pride after he tells Melvin off.


Simon’s wardrobe. Perfection.


I LOVE Cuba Gooding Jr.’s sudden transition from enraged to merry art dealer. “I HATE doing this. I’m an ART. DEALER!” He really is the unsung hero of the film.


Melvin’s look of satisfaction after people leave “his” table in the restaurant.


This is my favorite moment of the film: watch Melvin’s face after he realizes that he’s insulted Carol’s son. Jack Nicholson’s subtle transformation is a master class of acting. It just kills me.


The look of intrigue that comes across Carol’s face when Melvin asks what’s wrong with her son. She’s so pleasantly surprised that he’s actually interested.


The way Simon says, “Why are you doing this?” He knows what’s coming, and it’s haunting.


Look everyone, Maya Rudolph!


Look everyone, Yeardley Smith! (She’s the voice of Lisa Simpson).


Frank’s stance of confidence as Simon looks at himself in the mirror following his attack.


The way Melvin is overcome with sadness when he realizes he’s going to have to return Verdell. Look at the perspiration on his neck, he’s fucking mortified.


The makeup on Greg Kinnear’s face is extremely accurate. Very few movies include the odd, gangrene color that accompanies severe bruising a few weeks after a brutal attack.


Look everyone, Lawrence Kasdan! (Writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Writer/director of Body Heat and The Big Chill.)


The original title of the film was “Old Friends,” which no one, including writer/director James L. Brooks, ever really liked. While scoring the film, Hans Zimmer suggested “As Good as It Gets” as a new title, based on a line Melvin says in his therapist’s waiting room.


Look everyone, Shane Black! (Writer of Lethal Weapon and Last Action Hero. Writer/director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3.)


“I’m not a… prick. You are, I’m not judging.”


Look everyone, Wood Harris! (aka Avon Barksdale.)


The jump cut of Carol taking Spencer’s temperature by hand, to her taking it with an ear thermometer. You can just tell they do this all the time.


Look everyone, Harold Ramis! May he rest in peace.


The hair.


The composition of this shot. Centered alignment, vertical imagery, dual focus points – it’s so simple it’s brilliant.


I love that Melvin is simply back in the restaurant. Even though he was kicked out earlier (which was met with enthusiastic applause from everyone in the restaurant), here he is, back at his table, waiting for his meal. No explanation, no reasoning… he’s just back.


“Do you drive?”
“LIKE THE WIND! BUT I’M NOT DOIN’ IT!”
There’s something about the line, “Like the wind,” that I’ve always found reassuring. It let’s us know that there’s more to Melvin yet.


There’s an old movie maxim that a lot of my favorite filmmakers (namely Steven Soderbergh) follow: Ask a question with dialogue, answer it with an editing cut. That’s exactly what the jump cut from Carol saying “There’s no way to pack for this trip,” to Melvin perfectly packing for the trip accomplishes.


Look everyone, Todd Solondz!


Frank waving his finger at Melvin, as a way of saying, “You wiseass son of a bitch, you.”


The earnestness in which Melvin says, “Thank you for being on time.”


Simon unable to regain his train of thought after Melvin interrupts his story in the car. I’ve always wondered if that was written, or if Kinnear literally lost it for a moment. Either way, it works perfectly.


Tom McGowan. Pay attention to Tom McGowan. He plays the Maitre D’ at the fancy Baltimore restaurant. He only has a few lines, and is on screen for roughly 60 seconds, yet he expertly convinces us that he is indeed a Maitre D’. I can’t quite pinpoint it, but I’ve always been drawn to his work. This is character acting.


The five seconds Nicholson takes to deliver that perfect line. It’s like he knows it’s gonna kill.


“I’m comin’ in. It’s late.” I love the emphasis put on “late.”


The moment Melvin tells Simon that he’s homeless is a very interesting one. Melvin knows that all of Simon’s stuff has been moved into Melvin’s apartment. If Melvin shares this news, then he’s a hero, and could likely win back the affection of Carol. Yet he keeps with his dickish persona, implying that Simon has been put up somewhere random, thereby capitalizing on Simon’s fear for another six hours. Why? Because he can.


This pat on the shoulder. It says everything about the new Melvin that we need to know.


“Are you gonna talk to me or not!?” In one line, the enemies become buddies.


This reaction. Perfect.



“I’m gonna grab ya. I didn’t mean for that to be a question. I’m gonna grab ya.”



22 comments:

  1. Sorry but... I don't like this movie. Then again, I'm not a fan of James L. Brooks' work as a filmmaker though the only film of his I haven't seen and will check out is Broadcast News. I just think it's too sappy for my taste. I think Nicholson's performance is overrated. I didn't like Helen Hunt in this film though I'm not really a fan of hers to begin with. I might give it another chance if I decide to do an Auteurs piece on James L. Brooks but I don't think it's going to change my opinion. Yet, I would rather see this and Terms of Endearment than his last 2 features which were fucking crap.

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    1. I thought his last two films were shockingly awful. I'm obviously a fan of the man's work, but those films (particularly How Do You Know) are just... bad. But Broadcast News and As Good as It Gets really work for me. I think AGAIG has such a streamlined narrative that makes it compulsively watchable. But hey, that's just me. I do think you'd dig Broadcast News. It's by far his most culturally damning.

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  2. This is probably one of Nicholson's last great performances (granted, it still isn't up to what he did in the 70s but very few things are) along with what he did in About Schmit and The Departed. I didn't catch all the cameos in this film (though I did catch Solondz and Harold Ramis), I'm a little shocked to see that there are so many in here that don't pop out as glaring "HERE IS A CAMEO" spot.

    There is one thing I take issue with on here and it is this: HOW IN THE HELL DID YOU CATCH THAT GANGRENE COLOR?! That's some serious observational skill you have there my friend. I don't think I would have caught that if my life depended on it lol.

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    1. Ha, well, my face has looked liked that a few times in my life, so I'm very familiar with the bruising process. In fact, movie bruises is one of those pet peeves I had to give up on, because roughly 95% of the films I've seen get it so very wrong. And good films, too. If you've seen Spike Lee's 25th Hour, you know that Barry Pepper does some serious damage to someone's face very late in the film. The final time we see Pepper in the movie (when he's sitting on the bench looking out over the river) his right hand is perfectly fine. In real life, his hand would be completely fucked. If he didn't break any fingers and/or other bones (which he probably would've), then at the very least it would be swollen over horribly. So, yeah, bruises... tough to get right.

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  3. I'm one of those rare people who actually considers Hunt to be the best of 97. She was just wonderful here. I really like this movie. It's far from perfect (imho) but there is something truly endearing about it. I could, like you, watch it any time.

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    1. Yeah, I wouldn't say it's a perfect film, but it is insanely rewatchable. I too really like Hunt in this film, which is interesting, because I'm hard pressed to think of another performance of hers that I really value. I'm the same way with Hilary Swank - she's given two great performances (for which she was awarded handsomely) and not many more. Very odd.

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  4. I have a deep affection for this movie. I remember watching it when I was way younger than the intended audience.. like 10 or so, and I liked it then which is kind of weird. I haven't seen it in awhile though so this post has given me a major hankering for a rewatch.

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    1. So glad to hear you like it! I was rather young when I first saw it too, but I remember, while everyone was obsessing over Titanic, I was appreciating the small scale of As Good as It Gets and Good Will Hunting. For me, there's never a bad time to revisit this one.

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  5. I liked some parts of the movie but not the entire thing - the acting was so great though, I feel Kinnear is so underrated, even with that Oscar nom. People usually don't mention him when talking about this movie and he was so memorable.

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    1. Kinnear definitely gets overlooked, which is such a shame. It's such a delicate but vital role for the film. I really think he and Cuba Gooding are the unsung heroes of this movie. Love them here.

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  6. "How do you write women so well?"
    "I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability."

    I love this line. I wish I had more opportunities to use it in life.

    Great list as always Alex, interesting film choice but it worked very well.

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    1. Ha, thanks man. What's interesting about that line is that most people don't know that it is actually first credited to John Updike. Melvin Udall would definitely know that, but I don't think the majority of audiences do. Easily one of the best cases of a stolen line ever.

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  7. I'm with you on this, I loved this film! I was quite young the first time I saw it with the family and I remember I really enjoyed it, and then I've rewatched several times with them too, 'cause as you've said it's the kind of film that makes you feel better and it's nice to have some laughs watching it with my grandmother, who loves Nicholson and this story.

    I think it's been a couple of years since I rewatched it and I definitely have to do it again 'cause I missed some of those great cameos! I remembered Ramis - RIP - but I didn't realize Kasdan was in here. And Body Heat and The Big Chill are two films I like a lot. I loved all the films he did with William Hurt.

    One of the things I like the most from the ones you've highlighted is Melvin's expression when he has to return Verdell. The dog was so cute and how Melvin gets attached to him it's great for the character’s development. Also I remember I was shocked by how terrible Simon looked after the attack, it looked so real to me, 'cause as you've pointed out the makeup was great. Also loved Nicholson's expressions during the perfect dinner scene, and the packing moment. Now that I see it, OMG at Melvin's bed with everything in its place haha it has reminded me of the Spring Breakers' poster with all the stuff. And Cuba Gooding was really fun.

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    1. So glad you like this film! I LOVE (like... love) The Big Chill. One of my Top 10 scripts of all time.

      Melvin's expression when he has to give Verdell back is just devastating. So, so sad.

      You're so right, that bed really does look like the Spring Breakers poster. I love that poster to death, and actually recreated it as a poster for my blog last year. Great stuff.

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  8. I personally love this movie. It's also a go-to film for me, have watched so many times. I also liked your picks, especially the first one. That woman definitely delivers it.

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    1. Awesome, love finding other fans of this movie. That opening face is priceless, isn't it?

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  9. I haven't seen this since it was in a cinema, and I was very young. Never really thought about it since, but this has inspired me to dust it off!

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    1. Nice! I adore this movie. It's so light and special. And Nicholson... forget about it. Dude is the man.

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  10. I like this film as well. I wouldn't nominate it for any awards, but the cast make this rom-com quite special.

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    1. No noms, huh? Tough, tough year for sure. But man, I love this one so much.

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  11. This is a great piece on a marvelous film. My only critism of your piece is that there are only 37. There must be over 100 great moments from this film. Specifically the last compliment about her being people not realising they just met "The Greatest Woman Alive" and the fact that he gets that, makes him feel good about him. Helen Hunts face and how it changes floors me every single time. Great great great film.

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    1. Oh man, I think my first draft of this was Top 78 Things I Love... I really could go on and on - thanks how much I adore this film. Love hearing that you're such a fan of it as well!

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