Back in September, Joanna wrote about the premiere of Adam Sandler’s Oscar hopeful, Uncut Gems. Well, Uncut Gems is now in theaters, and Adam Sandler’s Oscar hopes still exist. Reviews remained strong even after the festival buzz faded, an Uncut Gems hive has materialized online—led by Vulture’s Hunter Harris, and I enjoy her exhortations to leave her gems uncut more than I actually enjoy this film—and it opened in five theaters this past weekend with $105,000 per screen, a record for distributor A24. The gems remain uncut!
The question is, can Uncut Gems, or Uncut Gems by way of Adam Sandler, make it all the way to Oscar night. My answer is: probably not. Uncut Gems is too f-cking weird for the Academy. As much as we want to believe it’s different now, after the big membership push, I will remind you that Green Book is the reigning Best Picture. The Academy hasn’t changed THAT much. And Uncut Gems is a deliberately unpleasant film, frenetic and hyper and full of unlikeable people doing unlikeable things; it’s not a film that will make anyone feel superior and/or woke for voting for it. Although it does give the sense of being trapped in an addiction, careening from high to low and back again and totally unable to stop yourself as you wreck your life. Uncut Gems is an ugly film, but it is also an empathetic one.
My appreciation for it, though, is more academic than personal. I am glad the Safdie Brothers are out here doing their thing, but I don’t really enjoy their movies. And not in the sense that I find their movies “fun” or “uplifting”, I can enjoy a downer movie (see also: A Hidden Life). I just don’t really connect with their work (yet…maybe someday). But I do appreciate the hell out of the craft of Uncut Gems. Everyone is talking about Sandler, and rightfully so, he gives a great performance. But Uncut Gems only works because of the structure and the perspective, the story mechanics are built into the cinematography and editing. If the Oscars were cooler, Darius Khondji’s cinematography and Ronald Bronstein’s and Benny Safdie’s editing would be contenders, too.
But Adam Sandler remains Uncut Gems’ best shot at Oscar night, and his odds are on the long side. After a couple of soft years, the Best Actor race this year is EXTREMELY competitive. The closest thing to a sure bet this year are Adam Driver and Joaquin Phoenix. Other actors with good odds are Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, and Antonio Banderas. And then you have the long odds with Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Jonathan Pryce, and Christian Bale. And that’s not even considering if the Academy goes for the cute kid in Jojo Rabbit.
The question for Sandler is which is bigger, his friend group in the Academy, or the people whose souls were destroyed by working on his movies. Remember the Sony hack? One of the things were learned through the leaked emails is that a lot of people resented working on his “mundane” movies, AKA, the terrible comedies that have come to define his career. Sandler is talented, there is no question, but he doesn’t always apply himself, and that has probably pissed some people off over the years. Do they outnumber his friends? His friend group is not small. It’s just a matter of who campaigns for him and will that outweigh whatever bitterness might linger over his terrible movies. And then there is the secondary consideration of whether or not the Academy is cool enough for a film like Uncut Gems, and the answer is no.