“My comedy is different every time I do it. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.” – Adam Sandler
When Adam Sandler starred in the Safdie Brothers’ 2019 thriller Uncut Gems, it looked like he was finally going to get his first Academy Award nomination. Sandler was brilliant as Howard Ratner, a hustler/jeweller in New York City’s Diamond District who keeps taking on more than he can handle. The film is an intense ride, a dizzying account of Howard’s life as he navigates personal and professional disasters. Although it felt like all of his money problems were finally going to be solved when Howard got his hands on an Ethiopian opal, everything gets progressively worse. Uncut Gems is cinematic anxiety at its finest and it’s a travesty that neither Sandler nor the Safdie brothers got any recognition from the Academy for their work.
This raises the question: if Sandler’s performance in Uncut Gems didn’t make the cut, what would it take for Adam Sandler to get his first Oscar nomination? Even though Sandler has delivered critically acclaimed performances in the past, like in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, his goofy schtick in passable Netflix originals worked against him when he was being considered for a nomination. According to one anonymous voter, Sandler’s “cheesy Netflix comedies” were the reason why he was snubbed by the Academy. No matter how poor some of his previous performances were, it does not justify judging his portrayal of Howard Ratner on the basis of them.
However, it is also important to note that the other nominations for the Best Actor category were also extremely impressive. Joaquin Phoenix was almost destined to win the coveted prize for his fantastic performance in Joker. Among the nominees, there were Adam Driver for Marriage Story, Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory, Leonardo DiCaprio for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Jonathan Pryce for The Two Popes. Other actors being considered for the nominations included Taron Egerton for Rocketman and Christian Bale for Ford v Ferrari. When the context for Sandler’s snub is clear, it becomes partially understandable why he didn’t receive a nomination for his effort in Uncut Gems but it is still unfair that Sandler’s legacy had a part to play in the process.
In December of 2019, Sandler appeared on the Howard Stern radio show where he had this to say about his pursuit of an Oscar nomination, “If I don’t get it, I’m going to fucking come back and do one again that is so bad on purpose just to make you all pay. That’s how I get them.” He didn’t get the nomination but he did end up winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead. The Safdie Brothers also won in the Best Director(s) category. As for Sandler’s next film, it does seem like he’s going to make good on his promise of doing “so bad on purpose.” He is going to star in the upcoming Netflix comedy Hubie Halloween.
Sandler also lashed out at his Oscar snub during his acceptance speech at the Independent Spirit Awards, “You know, a few weeks back when I was, quote unquote, snubbed by the Academy, it reminded me of when I briefly attended high school and was overlooked for the coveted yearbook superlative category ‘best looking.’ That accolade was given to a jean jacket wearing, feather-haired douchebag by the name of Skipper Jenkins.”
Despite the fact that he didn’t get the ever-elusive nomination, it cannot be denied that Sandler’s performance in Uncut Gems is his best one yet and, as the reaction displayed, the actor will forever be fighting his past with unenviable difficulty.