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It was just two years ago that Adam Sandler was getting early Oscar buzz for his role in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). Before that, Sandler generated Oscar buzz (as well as a Golden Globe nomination) for his role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 Punch-Drunk-Love. In both cases, Sandler was snubbed by the Academy.
With his latest role as Howard Ratner, a smarmy New York City diamond dealer/gambling addict in Josh and Ben Safdie’s Uncut Gems, Sandler once again seems to have a shot at Oscar gold (or at least a nomination). Could the third time be the charm for the comedian?
In the trailer for the film (above), Sandler’s character zips around New York, placing dangerous bets, cheating on his wife, fighting with his wife, and risking his life. He seems on the verge of either a big coup or a major breakdown. With his goatee and tinted glasses, Sandler’s Ratner is a far cry from the hapless goofballs that he’s portrayed in comedies such as The Water Boy and Billy Madison. By all accounts, his performance is riveting.
The film, which earned Sandler raves out of the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, will have its New York Film Festival premiere Thursday.
“Many will agree that this is Sandler’s best performance,” The Hollywood Reporter‘s chief film critic Todd McCarthy wrote in his review out of Telluride. He called the film “a real gem itself, a sparkling comedy-drama about a compulsive gambler and risk-taker who never knows when to quit.”
Scott Feinberg, The Hollywood Reporter‘s awards columnist, recently shared his early Oscar nominations forecast and Sandler made the list (though as a “possibility,” not a “frontrunner”), as did Uncut Gems.
The gritty thriller, which also stars Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett (playing himself) and Idina Menzel, will roll out in select cities on Dec. 13 before hitting nationwide on Christmas Day.
Studios generally release their biggest Oscar hopefuls late in the year so that Academy voters will have them top of mind when it comes time to nominate. To be eligible for the 2020 Academy Awards, a film must be released theatrically by Dec. 31, 2019.
Uncut Gems will be distributed by A24, the well-regarded independent film company that recently partnered with Apple TV+. A24 will surely be pushing the film, along with Sandler’s performance, come awards time. The company has a strong Oscar track record, having been nominated for 25 Academy Awards in its seven years of existence.
In recent years, films distributed by A24 have won Academy Awards for Best Actress (Brie Larson in Room), Best Documentary Feature (Amy), and Best Visual Effects (Ex Machina). In 2017, Moonlight, distributed by A24, won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali).
Popular, but not critically acclaimed
Though Sandler’s movies have grossed close to $3 billion worldwide (and that doesn’t include the ones he’s made for Netflix), the actor has long been the punching bag of film critics—often with good reason.
People don’t necessarily go to see an Adam Sandler movie—or stream one on Netflix—because of the good reviews.
He has solidified a moronic comic persona over a career of playing overgrown babies who somehow manage to be both vulgar and oddly naive. Some of his films have also been accused of being sexist, racist, and downright offensive. In her review of 2015’s Pixels, critic Inkoo Kang wrote “Sandler’s nasty, punch-down insult comedy is aimed at anyone who isn’t a ‘good guy.’ Fat guys get fat jokes, female divorcees are generalized as ugly, and one older, supposedly not-hot-enough woman is compared to Gandalf.”
Sandler also has the dubious honor of being nominated for 35 Razzies, the anti-Oscars and “winning” nine, including two for Worst Actor (for Big Daddy and Jack and Jill).
As part of his deal with Netflix, Sandler produced Murder Mystery, in which he starred opposite Jennifer Aniston. Netflix boasted that the clunky comedy was streamed by more than 13.3 million accounts in its first three days of availability.
Though it was a commercial success, Murder Mystery only received a 45% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, based on Sandler’s other movies’ ratings, that’s not too bad. His first movie for Netflix, 2015’s The Ridiculous 6, got a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. More than a dozen Adam Sandler films received 10% or below ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.
Uncut Gems is now the highest rated film in Sandler’s career per Rotten Tomatoes at 95% “fresh.” But his track record of stinkers certainly won’t help his case with the Academy.
Will this finally be Sandler’s time to thank the Academy?
Still, Sandler’s got a shot at a nomination. But he’ll have a fair share of competition. Likely contenders per Gold Derby experts include Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), Robert De Niro (The Irishman), Christian Bale (Ford v. Ferrari), Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory).
If Sandler is nominated, he’ll follow in the tradition of the Academy rewarding comedians for their serious work, as they did last year with Melissa McCarthy, who was nominated for her role in Marielle Heller’s drama Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Having been snubbed by the Academy before, Sandler isn’t getting his hopes up that he’ll be finally be nominated. When asked at the Toronto International Film Festival what he thought about Oscar buzz for his role in Uncut Gems, Sandler told ET Canada, “I thought I was getting one for Happy Gilmore, so I won’t hold my breath.”
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