Will ‘Uncut Gems’ earn Adam Sandler an Oscar nomination?

Will ‘Uncut Gems’ earn Adam Sandler an Oscar nomination?
His unexpectedly searing performance as a gambling addict in the dramatic thriller “Uncut Gems,” which is set to open on Christmas Day in Toronto at the Bell Lightbox, could put Sandler in the running when the Academy Awards are handed out in February. Granted, this year is shaping up as a highly competitive one for the best actor race, making Sandler far from a shoo-in. But for an actor known mostly for lowbrow comedies (”Happy Gilmore,” “Jack and Jill”) and a multimillion-dollar, eight-film deal with Netflix that has produced more of the same (“The Ridiculous 6”), the fact that he’s being mentioned in the same breath as Oscar is a remarkable development. And this isn’t just media hype: On Tuesday, the National Board of Review named Sandler the best actor of the year.

“He’s really great in this movie, playing a role against type of what we’ve come to expect,” says Pete Hammond, awards columnist and chief film critic for Deadline. “I would say he’s very deserving.”

Sandler has a history of making dramatic films with well-established directors: Paul Thomas Anderson for “Punch Drunk Love” in 2002, James L. Brooks for “Spanglish” in 2004, Noah Baumbach for “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” in 2017. Josh and Bennie Safdie, the writing-directing brothers behind “Uncut Gems,” are known mostly on the art-house circuit, where they’ve earned critical acclaim for the drug-addiction drama “Heaven Knows What” and the heist film “Good Time,” starring Robert Pattinson. The Safdies sent an early script of “Uncut Gems” to Sandler’s team in 2012 but were turned down; it was “Good Time,” released in 2017, that convinced Sandler to work with them.

Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a shady jewelry dealer in Manhattan’s Diamond District who seems to thrive on chaos, stress and the adrenalin rush of the long-shot bet. Ratner is in some ways a Sandler-esque role — a combination of boyish charm and masculine rage — but he can also be vulnerable, even helpless. The Safdies have said Ratner was inspired by their father’s stories of working in the Diamond District. (The siblings’ tangential connection to Long Island — their mother was raised there — also informs the movie. They constructed the set of Ratner’s shop at Gold Coast Studios in Bethpage; Ratner’s wife is played by Long Islander Idina Menzel; and one of the film’s odder characters, an unnamed bagman with a deep tan and a toothy smile, is played by Oceanside-raised fashion designer Wayne Diamond).

“It’s such a frenetic, tireless, tense performance — it mirrors the energy of the movie,” Kevin Polowy, a Yahoo Entertainment correspondent and longtime contributor to the awards-race website GoldDerby, says of Sandler. Polowy is one of a handful of experts at GoldDerby who recently predicted Sandler would become a best actor nominee. “His character shouldn’t be likeable, he doesn’t have any redeeming qualities to speak of — but you can’t help but root for the guy,” Polowy says. “And I think that stems from Sandler’s utterly desperate performance.”

“Uncut Gems” has drawn Sandler out of his comfort zone not only as a performer but as a public figure. Sandler recently gave a rare interview to The New York Times Magazine and has been supporting his movie with in-person appearances at such festivals as Telluride, Toronto and — perhaps most surprising — the highbrow New York Film Festival. In short, Sandler appears to be on the campaign trail.

It’s a long way from the publicity circuit to the gold statuette, however, and there are major obstacles in between. Hammond at Deadline points out that “Uncut Gems” arrives in theatres late in the year, giving Oscar voters little time to see it before submitting their nomination ballots Jan. 7. And Sandler was passed over by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for the Golden Globes. (After first classifying “Uncut Gems” as a comedy, the Hollywood foreign press reversed its decision and placed the film in the dramatic category competition.)

One place Sandler might find some awards-season traction is from critics’ groups, though they’re not normally his biggest supporters.

All of which doesn’t even factor in Sandler’s potential Oscar competition, a roster of such heavyweights as Robert De Niro in “The Irishman,” Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker,” and both Christian Bale and Matt Damon in “Ford v Ferrari.” Adam Driver, in “Marriage Story,” also seems a likely nominee. And if there is a wild-card spot in the best actor race, it could go to Eddie Murphy, who earned rave reviews in his Netflix biopic “Dolemite Is My Name.”

Ultimately, Sandler’s Oscar chances will be in the hands of his fellow actors who vote in the acting categories, according to Hammond.
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