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As Good As It Gets
An apt title for a Hollywood movie that is as wryly, distastefully amusing as you will see this year, featuring strong characters and great performances. Best of the lot is Jack Nicholson, being rude and objectionable as only he can, but learning a little humanity through his contact with a traumatized gay neighbour (Greg Kinnear) and a put-upon waitress (Helen Hunt) from his favourite restaurant.

Good Will Hunting
A remarkable achievement in being adapted and expanded from a university writing assignment by one of its young stars, this thoughtful and engaging film has touches of humour, humanity and humility about it. Matt Damon (who wrote the film with childhood friend Ben Affleck) plays a blue collar Bostonian with a defiant attitude and a genius for maths. Robin Williams is the equally troubled therapist asked to help him deal with his problems. The result is screen magic, an intelligent and insightful movie that deserves all the praise being heaped upon it.

A police thriller with a biblical twist, as Denzel Washington plays an over-zealous homicide detective who finds himself battling a demonic force of pure evil. As this force can transfer itself between human hosts almost at will, tracking it down proves tricky. And once he has it cornered, how will he deal with it? Implausibility crowds in towards the end of Gregory Hoblit's film, but it has some genuinely chilling moments along the way.

Wag The Dog
A political satire blessed with incredible timing, Barry Levinson's tale of sexual shenanigans in the White House may cause the President himself to blush, just as the producers have been rubbing their hands with glee. Robert De Niro is the ace spin doctor called in to sort the mess out, and he enlists the help of a Hollywood film producer to deflect attention from the Big Man's indiscretions. His answer? To wage a phoney war against a small and insignificant foe, Albania in this case, who do not take kindly to the accusations being hurled at them.

Sci-fi satire with some style, Andrew Niccol's film echoes classics of the genre as it imagines a homogenized future in which perfection can be bought at a price and anything less is marginalized and despised. Ethan Hawke breaks into this rarefied world by a combination of guile and determination, outwitting the fascistic forces who maintain this cruel world order in his bid to fulfil a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. Only when he finds himself falling for beautiful colleague Uma Thurman do his carefully laid plans risk ruin.

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