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Movies of 1997 Bracket Game: As Good as It Gets vs Good Will Hunting

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In this top portion of our 1997 movies bracket game we’re focusing mostly on those films of the year which garnered a lot of critical and awards season attention. In some cases this also means that we’re reliving those moments when people we didn’t really know at the time took that next step and became actual movie stars. It’s a never ending process in the entertainment industry: the “next big thing.” Sometimes it’s a dream that actually pans out with an honest to God A-list career and sometimes we look back and realize that was their one big project. Sometimes it’s something in between.

But before we get to today’s contest, there’s a big bit of news right out of the gate. Number one seed Titanic has already been taken down. Perhaps I over-estimated its overall appeal based on its phenomenon status at the time of its release and its multiple Oscar wins. Or maybe I underestimated the movie that took it down, Boogie Nights. Either way, this bracket is now wide open. Anything can happen. Let’s get to it.

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When As Good As It Gets hit movie theaters in 1997, Jack Nicholson was of course already established as one of the most famous film actors in the world, but much of the rest of the movie’s cast was made up of up-and-comers of one degree or another. Let’s take a look at who’s on the list. Jack’s leading lady here was Helen Hunt, who had only recently started getting big film roles after spending most of two decades as a child and TV actor, with a few secondary roles in mildly successful movies along the way. Despite her Oscar win for As Good As It Gets, she never really succeeded in grabbing lead roles with any consistency long term. This ends up being her one real big screen success (yes, there was Twister, but nobody showed up there to see the actors). Greg Kinnear was another performer who appeared to have a promising future, with mercurial good looks and charm and a willingness to take on complicated parts. Unfortunately, he appears to have been typecast in smarmy roles which relegated him to supporting roles and a slow but sure decline in profile. Cuba Gooding Jr’s relatively small role in As Good As It Gets was a bit of a surprise to audiences when it was released because the high-energy supporting performer had just become a star the previous year with his Oscar-winning turn in Jerry Maguire. As it turns out, this would be one of the better choices of roles Gooding would make from here on out, as embarrassing clunkers like Chill Factor, Boat Trip, Snow Dogs, and Norbit made his name less appealing to have on your movie’s poster. Largely due to the career trajectories of its supporting cast, As Good As It Gets tends to look very much like a product of its time today.

The story is a little different when you consider Good Will Hunting. In Nicholson’s place as the established star was Robin Williams, who had been an A-lister for about a decade and already had won multiple Grammys, Emmys, and Golden Globes, including one for his voice over work on 1992’s Aladdin. It would have been unthinkable when he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 that his star would fade rather quickly over the following few years. On the other hand, some of the relatively unknown young actors who populated the rest of the film had their biggest years still ahead of them. Lead Matt Damon has succeeded in maintaining a strong career on the backs of the Jason Bourne and Ocean’s heist movies, even getting two more acting nominations from the Oscars in recent years for Invictus and The Martian. I know somebody who counts Damon as their very favorite actor. His fellow screenwriter and pal Ben Affleck has survived some notorious flops to retain star status, and has even become an accomplished director and producer, winning an Academy Award in 2013 for Argo and recently becoming the new Batman in what have thus far been terrible movies including the DC super hero. His kid brother Casey, who had a small role in Good Will Hunting has also managed to eke out a pretty steady string of film appearances over the years and is widely considered one of the leading candidates for winning Best Actor at this year’s Oscars ceremony for his work in Manchester By the Sea. A little less high profile has been the career of Will’s love interest Minnie Driver. 1997 appears to have been the peak of her career, with not only Good Will Hunting, but Grosse Pointe Blank released that year. Her most famous role after that seems to be voicing Jane Porter in Disney’s animated version of Tarzan in 1999. She has recently begun appearing in the ABC TV show “Speechless,” which has been picked up for another season.

Let us know what you think. Which of these award-winning films best represents 1997? Vote here and comment below if you like!

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Posted on January 19, 2017, in Awards, bracket game, Movies, Oscars, poll, trailers and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Regarding yesterday’s match: I fully expected Boogie Nights to win. In fact, when I cast my vote relatively later in the process, I was surprised by how close it was. Looking at the finals, Boogie Nights won by less than 3%. I would have guess it would lead by something closer to 20%.

    Back in 1997, the opposite would have been true. Titanic probably would have walked right to the finals and won the game without much of a challenge. The movie has always had its detractors, but over the years it’s become a lot less cool to admit to liking Titanic. Like Avatar, it was a movie that benefitted from the big screen experience. And then there’s the backlash factor any time a movie (or anything really) is a popular as Titanic was.

    One observation from the 1987 bracket game was that the movies that fared the best were the ones that found audiences on home video. That’s definitely true of Boogie Nights. Readers have had 20 years to discover and obsess over that movie while slowly falling out of love with Titanic.

    Another consideration is our readership. Like it or not (and I’d like to change it if I could) our readership tends to skew male. Boogie Nights is a movie for dudes. Titanic is a chick flick. Is that reductive? Maybe. But I think there’s some truth to it. I know as a dude myself, I cast my vote for Boogie Nights while defending Titanic in the comments.

    On to today’s match. I like both of these movies. It’s been years since I have watched either one of them. I wouldn’t mind sitting down and revisiting either one right now. I suspect As Good As It Gets probably hasn’t aged as well for the reasons you outlined, but my memory of it is still from the 90’s. If I were given a choice of which movie to watch right this minute, I think it would be As Good As It Gets. On that basis, that’s where my vote is going to go. But I’m expecting a Good Will Hunting win. (Dude factor?)

    I do want to pick a nit before I sign off. Twister was the biggest box office hit of Hunt’s career with $240 million dollars. As Good As It Gets was a solid hit, but grossed just under $150 million. The second-biggest hit of Hunt’s movie career was What Women Want with a $180 million dollar gross. She was also in Castaway that year which grossed over $200 million dollars, but that was just a cameo. After that, she did Curse of the Jade Scorpion (probably to check off the Woody Allen box) and then went into semi-retirement for five years. I don’t think she was unable to secure leading roles so much as she just decided she had earned a break from the rat race.

    But your larger point that the cast of AGAIG (aside from Nicholson) seemed to have a brighter future than what actually materialized is right on the money.

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    • I might have given short shrift to Hunt’s overall success, but when I look at that list of movies I really don’t think of any of them as a Helen Hunt movie, even at the level of As Good As It Gets. Despite her second lead billing in What Women Want, my memory of her role there is that it was more of a supporting role. That Woody Allen movie was both a critical and box office disappointment, losing over $10 million. Either way, her time as a major presence on the big screen was pretty darn short.

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  2. NOOOOOOOOO!! 😭😭😭😭😭
    This game is totally rigged! The Russians hacked it!! 😋
    Titanic out in the first round?? What the….!
    Yeah that’s right, this is me throwing a total hissy fit over a $150M chick flick. And I ain’t apologizing for it!
    It’s just as well that there are plenty of other great movies in this game, otherwise I’d be OUT, for real yo!

    Ok, steam vented.
    I voted for Mr. Hunting.
    Mood: still sad.

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    • Obviously I’m pretty surprised too. Titanic’s spot in the top slot reflects that I thought it was the number one seed in this tournament. I didn’t expect it to get seriously challenged until the final four round. I guess I didn’t expect support for Boogie Nights to be quite as populous as it turned out. Lay the blame here for faulty seeding.

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      • I think Titanic would have struggled to get past the first round against a lot of these movies. I really don’t think it would have made it to the finals no matter how you arranged things.

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        • I agree; I came around to “Titanic” some time back, but I’d still choose the majority of the films on the bracket over it.

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        • For what it’s worth, I’m a dude and I voted for Titanic even though I love Boogie Nights. From here on out I think Boogie Nights might be the film to beat. But we shall see.

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        • I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Boogie Nights/Men in Black final round. LA Confidential is a potential spoiler in the mix.

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        • Actually if I were a betting man – and I sometimes am – I would throw a couple bucks down on a Boogie Nights / Austin Powers final round. Any takers?

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        • Austin Powers? Yuck! I will be voting against it in the first round, and each subsequent round if it makes it that far.

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        • I loved Austin Powers 20 years ago. Loved it. I saw it before it hit video and everyone else caught up, so it had that “discovery factor” to it. But I don’t think the years have been kind to the International Man of Mystery. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it dropped in round one.

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        • I knew i wasn’t imaging it. Here it is in only the 2nd round on day 2, me predicting a Boogie Nights vs. Austin Powers final round. Yes, I am related to Nostradamus, why do you ask? lol. I proposed a monetary bet but there were no takers. Bummer, that.

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        • That was a pretty impressive prediction. You were in touch with forgotten 5th Element voters.

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        • Yeah, there it is, you said it, and nailed it. I’m the opposite of getting it right, as I stated on this page here that I wouldn’t be voting for Austin Powers in the bracket, but I ended up voting for it in the semi-final.

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        • Sadly, predicting a Boogie Nights vs. Austin Powers final round will probably remain my greatest accomplishment of 2017 for the rest of the year. And yes, I know that is a low bar for the next 11 months.

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        • I don’t know. I found it pretty impressive.

          Especially when you consider the guy who organized the game was expecting a Titanic/Men in Black finale. Can you believe it?! 😉

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  3. It was short. And I didn’t mean to suggest Jade Scorpion was a part of that success. Quite the opposite. I think she did it hjust because when Woody Allen calls, most actors agree without reading the script.

    As for WWW, I think you might be selling Hunt’s role short. I think she was as much the female lead in that movie as she was in As Good As it Gets.

    But I don’t want to have rewatch WWW to confirm that point. 😉

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  4. I saw “As Good as it Gets” in the theater and really liked it, but I feel “Good Will hunting” is a better and more meaningful film.
    Ham bon voyage to “Titanic”, although it’s heart will go on.
    I don’t know the deal with Cuba Gooding Jr.; it seems after he has career success, he kinda loses his mind. From what I hear of him since that Juice miniseries, he’s doing it again, albeit on a smaller scale.

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    • I have done some updates to the WTHH to Cuba Gooding Jr article recently and I think he was kind of crazy before Jerry Maguire. He stripped naked during his audition… without anyone suggesting he do so.

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      • I never heard about the naked audition, but that sounds about right. I guess Cuba Gooding Jr. has always been a bit of a card then, and success just amplifies him.

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  5. Yet again, I have not seen or even heard of one of the movies in the bracket. So my vote goes to “Good Will Hunting”.

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    • Hmmmm….I’m wondering if that’s a generational thing. Good Will Hunting is doing well so far and i was anticipating a pretty close battle. As Good As It Gets actually made more money at the box office at the time and won both the Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars compared to GWH’s Best Supporting Actor win for Rob Williams and Best Screenplay. It seems like a good match, but perhaps younger fans have lost touch with AGAIG because of its less current cast.

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      • Anecdotally, I think that’s true. Robin Williams has been sainted. Affleck and Damon remain in the spotlight. Meanwhile, the principles from AGAIG are in semi-retirement and the supporting players are doing TV. Also, it probably helps that GWH is about young people whereas AGAIG is about a crazy old man and a middle-aged single mom. One of these movies is more accessible than the other.

        I’d also argue, despite having cast a vote for AGAIG, that GWG is less flawed. The way in which Nicholson’s mental state is portrayed (he gets better because a pretty waitress gives him attention) is problematic. Accepting that Hunt would tolerate his character much less fall for him is a pretty big hurdle to overcome. For me, the movie works but I know a lot of people who could never get past those things.

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        • That, plus the slightly too-much age gap between Nicholson and Hunt do throw off what is otherwise a really well written and acted story. Make Jack about 15 years younger and the whole thing works a lot better. That said, there’s just so much to like in its dialogue and individual scenes that I can’t help really enjoying As Good As It Gets.

          SPOILERS FOR THIS PART OF THIS COMMENT
          I’ve got a different issue with Good Will Hunting that is entirely just my thing, but if you’re me it’s a pretty big deal. I never got convinced by the movie that Will was actually in love with the Minnie Driver character, so when he went after her at the end of the movie it seemed to me like a pretty big mistake in the long run. She was certainly in love with him, but I don’t think that’s enough. In my mind that relationship will not end well and the movie seems to think it will.

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        • What I think overcomes the age gap in AGAIG is the fact that Nicholson’s character, as in his real life, is rich and famous. As we know, rich and famous men very often end up with much younger woman, as Nicholson has very often done.

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        • That’s a factor. But his character is just so obnoxious that there’s a lot to overcome even with his relative fame and fortune.

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        • And what is happening in Washington, D.C. today?

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        • I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m spending my day thinking about movies 🙂

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        • Washington, DC
          Friday 11:00 AM
          Mostly Cloudy
          44°F | °C
          Precipitation: 85%
          Humidity: 81%
          Wind: 3 mph

          You were asking about the weather I assume.

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        • Ha! I wish it were that simple.

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        • “As Good As It Gets” had me with the line, “Carol the waitress, Simon the fag”. I mean, I think Nicholson’s character would be insufferable, but from the outside looking in I just found his demeanor, mannerisms, and statement quite funny.

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        • “The way in which Nicholson’s mental state is portrayed (he gets better because a pretty waitress gives him attention) is problematic.”

          That was the primary flaw with the movie. I liked it. But that part didn’t totally work. A similar problem popped up with the ending of “Silver Linings Playbook”

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  6. No, I won’t be voting for Austin Powers in this bracket. I’ve seen it a few times and I still like it (it reintroduced me to The Divinyls), but I prefer its opponent.

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