How Did Uncut Gems Get Absolutely No Oscar Nominations?
You can just see it, can't you: the Academy member filling in their form for this year's nominations, and coming to the Best Picture and Best Actor Oscars 2020 categories.
They dash down their answers—the answers they knew would be their answers as soon as they saw Uncut Gems—and then hover over 'send'. They look into the middle distance. The act of writing out 'Adam Sandler' has drilled deep into their bank of repressed memories and hit a sewage pipe, which is now spraying out long-forgotten wisecracks and interchangeable man-children all over the inside of their skull at high pressure.
Jack & Jill. That's My Boy. The Cobbler. The Ridiculous Six. No. No, no, no. Absolutely not. Delete.
That's the only explanation for Uncut Gems being totally blanked by the Oscars. There are other glaring, baffling omissions from this year's Oscar nominations—Us, Hustlers, Knives Out, Midsommar, Booksmart, Waves and more—but Uncut Gems being completely ignored is utterly incomprehensible. Is it better than Joker? Yes. Is it better than Ford Vs Ferrari? Yes. Is it better than Jojo Rabbit? Yes. I could go on.
So I will. Is it better than The Irishman? Yes. Is Sandler better in this than Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes? Sorry, Prycey buddy—he absolutely is. Is Sandler's Howard Ratner both funnier and more tragic than Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck? Definitely.
It's not just because the sour, pompous Joker somehow got 11—ELEVEN!—nominations. Well, it's partly because of that. But it's also because Uncut Gems is just a beautifully realized piece of cinema. If directors the Safdie brothers aren't at the peak of their powers now, then cinemas had better start stocking up on defibrillators before their next one comes out.
But back to Sandler for a second. I know. I hated him once, too. He has made many truly, epochally awful films. But Uncut Gems harnesses everything I thought I despised about him—the wise-guy schtick, the unshakeable self-confidence, the grating need to be at the front of everything all the time—and turns it into Howard Ratner, a propulsive force who carries the film with him at stomach-lurching speed.
Howard is, as his soon-to-be-ex-wife Dinah tells him, "the most annoying person I have ever met". He's awful. He makes terrible choices. He ruins his own life and frequently makes his loved ones miserable. He's also utterly compelling, driven by a gambling addiction that forces him to constantly reach for something he can never quite grasp. He's a dirtbag and he's also the living embodiment of the idea that there's always something bigger and better out there, and that it can be yours if you're brave enough. The film says that that's true up to a point, but that chasing those highs brings terrible consequences. Howard just can't stop.
"Come on!" he says to a client, NBA star Kevin Garnett, at a key moment. "KG, this is no different than that. This is me. All right? I'm not a fuckin' athlete, this is my fuckin' way. This is how I win. All right?"
And that's another thing—on top of conceiving of a constantly surprising story, conjuring a vibrant vision of New York's Diamond District and keeping both the momentum and the underplayed comedy rolling from start to finish, the Safdie brothers managed to coax utterly believable performances from a host of non-actors, chief among them an opal-struck Garnett.
Hanging the success of your film on people who've never acted before is a far bolder and more difficult gambit than calling up your best mates, who happen to be some of the greatest actors of all time, and letting them have a big chat for three and a half hours. You could probably stick Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in a room with the director of Homes Under The Hammer and get at least a Golden Globes nomination.
Julia Fox, who plays Howard's girlfriend, would have been well worth a Best Supporting Actress nod, too. Plus! The whole film's all tied together with a stunning Tangerine Dream-y soundtrack from Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin, which drapes everything in a dreamlike quality as well as vividly painting the mystical powers of the black opal around which it revolves.
Anyway, I'm not bitter. It's fine. It's helpful at times like this to remember the words of a certain Academy darling. My whole life, I thought the Oscars was a tragedy. But now I realize—it's a comedy.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.