The Oscars fucked up by not recognising Uncut Gems' greatness.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
Certain things stay with you long after you leave them. Parasite after the credits roll; the overwhelming sense of closure at The Good Place finale. The warm feeling in your belly after a home-cooked meal. Uncut Gems is one of those rare few encounters that you'll talk about long after it ends.
The Safdie Brothers (Josh and Benny) wrote and directed this. Conceived back in 2009, the brothers approached Adam Sandler for the lead in Uncut Gems and he declined. When production for Uncut Gems resumed, Sandler finally came on board with the Safdie Brothers fresh off their last film, Good Time (2017) that was well-received.
You got your Safdie Brothers signatures in Uncut Gems: tight close-ups; long lingering takes that are punctuated with multiple cuts; a Moog-infused soundtrack; non-actors acting like real people; the frantic pacing. This is a sort of movie that fires on all cylinders and demands that you and your attention span keep pace with it.
This movie is a white-knuckled ride. It's tense. Here you have Ratner keeping all the balls in the air: trying to pay off debts; managing this business; being a father. Then, another complication, another ball is thrown into the juggle. Then, another. And another. This unwavering assail at this jeweller, who is moored by his own gambling addiction but is always keen with a wide-eyed optimism of that killer deal just around the corner. Just as long as he can keep the creditors off his back, he can still make the score.
Adam Sandler falls into the easy typecast of the man-child. And why shouldn't he? Most of his entire career is built on the tried-and-tested formula of playing an adult who dresses sloppy, speaks… well, shouts like an idiot and gets the girl, who is way, way, way out of his character's league. He started venturing out of his acting confines by playing the lead in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love as… an adult who dresses in a blue suit, speaks/shouts like an idiot and gets the girl who is waaaaaaaaay out of his character's league.
(We are being facetious, mmmkay. There are nuances to Sandler's Punch-Drunk Love performance and Punch remains one of my favourite films.)
Sandler's role in Uncut Gems is sublime. A lot went into this role, Sandler shadowed actual New York jewellers; he put on weight and had on a dental prosthetics to further flesh out this mensch fighting against the chaos. Ratner is one charismatic sonouvabitch. Always ready with the bouquet of words hiding the bullshit its rooted in. Sandler nails the charm and also the vulnerability of someone at the edge of his rope.
Howard Ratner (played by Adam Sandler) giving the sales pitch to Kevin Garnett (himself), while Demany (LaKeith Stanfield) looks on.
What we didn't like
That this film didn't get a single Oscar nomination. It's stupid. No actor noms, nothing for writing or directing. Hell, even the soundtrack didn't get any love. Parasite deserved its wins but Uncut Gems deserved to be recognised for its efforts.
Like the unpolished McGuffin from the movie, Uncut Gems is an unrealised piece of art. It is easily better than some of the films up for nominations. There's a sort of cosmic injustice about Uncut Gems being snubbed by the Oscars. It sucks; the only solace I got where we stick it to the Hollywood establishment is Harvey Weinstein being found guilty.
What to look out for
Take a gander at Adam Sandler's acceptance speech for winning the Film Independent Spirit Awards' Best Male Lead for Uncut Gems. Then follow that with the acceptance speech from the Safdie Brothers when they won for Best Director. And then, chase that with an acceptance speech for Best Editing. Once you're done. Go out and celebrate, knowing that everything will be all right in the filmmaking world.
Uncut Gems is out now on Netflix.