As Good as it Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting (winner)
There are some gaping holes in the Best Original Screenplay lineup for 1997 even if the five actual nominees are pretty good. The biggest shock, honestly, is the absence of Titanic, which won a bunch of other awards. I didn’t go all the way back, but I can tell you that based on my own research, this is literally the only time since 1965 that a movie won Best Picture without being nominated for one of the two main screenplay awards. Much less likely to receive a nomination are films like the original Funny Games, which does some very interesting things with narrative and Princess Mononoke, one of Miyazaki’s more violent films. Additionally, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery isn’t the kind of film to turn the heads of Academy members, but this first film was very clever in many ways, and a great, legitimate spoof of the James Bond series. Science fiction is often overlooked, but Gattaca’s screenplay deserved some love. The big miss as far as I’m concerned aside from Titanic is The Apostle.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Of the five nominations, the one that I’m the most honestly surprised by is As Good as It Gets. I know that a lot of people really liked this movie, but I don’t actually know why this is the case. I agree that it’s well made and even well-acted, but the story isn’t that good and the characters are generally hateful. I wonder about movies like this one. I wonder why someone would want to make a movie where the main characters are nothing more than a bundle of quirks and unpleasant character traits. Titanic is a better choice here, and The Apostle is a far better choice.
4. Deconstructing Harry is a film that I liked, but it’s also a film that has suffered greatly in retrospect. I like this movie less the more that I think about it and the further away from my viewing of it I get. I think there are things in it that are good, and Allen is too good of a screenwriter to make a lot of duds. There’s just something unpleasant about the film. I may be allowing a particular bias of mine to creep in here. I think this film would be a lot better with Allen only behind the camera and not in front of it, and that might drop it a bit in my estimation.
3. On the flipside of the first two movies I’ve written up here, I really like The Fully Monty. The biggest problem with it is that it’s going to get us exactly to the place we want it to take us to with the problems that we expect to happen and the resolutions that we expect to happen as well. It hits too hard on the tropes to get to the story it wants to tell. It is, more or less, an underdog sports story, but with out of work men who become strippers instead. All of the emotional moments are the same, though. It’s a good example of the style, but it’s clearly of the style.
2. I’m not surprised that Good Will Hunting won for Best Original Screenplay. It gave us two fresh new faces in Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. It contains one of Robin Williams’s better and more heartfelt performances. But it suffers from the exact same problems that The Full Monty does. There’s a very specific place we want to get to with Good Will Hunting, and the screenplay is going to very specifically take us through those moments as we hope they will. I’m not entirely sure it gets its ending honestly.
1. My choice is Boogie Nights, which is a screenplay that does just about everything right. Boogie Nights has moments of genuine humor, cringe moments, shock, fear, and disgust. The characters are fully fleshed out with bizarre foibles and petty little dreams. There’s a sense of wanting to like these characters as we laugh at them, fear for them, and are shocked by them. It’s a smart film in so many ways, and while it generally ends on an up note, it gets the honestly, and it doesn’t get us all the way there to the full Hollywood feel-good. A lot of screenwriters could take a lesson.