Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems is unlike any Sandler you’ve seen before. He plays Howard “Howie” Ratner, a dealer in New York City’s diamond district trying to parlay the sale of a massive raw opal into a get-out-of-gambling-debt-free card.
Even before the movie premiered, Sandler’s performance earned rave reviews. “That’s shocking, right?” the comedian joked on The Howard Stern Show earlier this month. There’s talk that Sandler could earn his first Oscar nomination for Uncut Gems — and maybe even win, which he admits would be a “funny, big thing.”
Will Uncut Gems mark the beginning of a Sandler renaissance? That’s up to the Academy, evidently. “If I don’t get [the Oscar], I’m going to f—ing come back and do [a movie] again that is so bad on purpose just to make you all pay,” Sandler told Stern. “That’s how I get them.”
There are more than a few stinkers in the Sandler back-catalogue, like Grown Ups (2011), Grown Ups 2 (2013) and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007). “Even unrepentant homophobes deserve funnier,” Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips wrote in his review of that last one.
The man has made a million fart jokes, probably, but Sandler’s lowbrow reputation isn’t entirely fair. There are some real, ahem, gems buried in the actor’s back-catalogue. Once you’ve seen Uncut Gems, check out these other excellent Sandler projects.
ADAM SANDLER: 100% FRESH (2018)
Like many people, I was caught off-guard by how good Sandler’s standup special on Netflix was. He still told fart jokes and talked in the tiny baby voice, but suddenly his comedy had depth and pathos. One brilliant bit in the New York City subway sets the tone for the whole special. Disguised in sunglasses and a hoodie, Sandler tries his hand at busking, stepping up to a microphone and singing a song about his dead grandmother. He works his way up to the punchline: “I guess I’ll go to a bingo game and steal somebody else’s grandma, and hope that my dumb kids can’t tell the difference.” The camera pans to a few commuters nearby, who are visibly unimpressed. Sandler stifles a laugh. The whole special is charming and self-deprecating in this way, and it felt like the start of a new phase in Sandler’s stardom.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (2019)
Similarly, the episode of SNL that Sandler hosted last spring, nearly 25 years after he was unceremoniously fired from the show in 1995, is required viewing. The comedian addressed his tenure on the show in his opening monologue, singing: “I was fired, I was fired / I was fired, so sad to tell / Well I never saw it coming / I got fired from SNL.” For that one week, the show set aside jokes about politics in favor of more absurdist sketches that matched Sandler’s sense of humor. He revived some of his best-loved characters from the ‘90s, including Opera Man, and shared the stage with fellow SNL alums like Molly Shannon, David Spade, and Mike Myers. Sandler ended the episode on a touching note, by paying tribute to his late friend Chris Farley, who died of a drug overdose in 1997 at age 33.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002)
This Paul Thomas Anderson film was the first role that alerted a lot of people to Sandler’s dramatic potential. Rolling Stone wrote, “Sandler will shock a lot of people with the ferocity and feeling of his performance.” He plays Barry Egan, a depressed bathroom supply salesman with seven domineering sisters and a penchant for violent outbursts. Emily Watson plays his radiant, no-bull love interest and Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an extortionist. It’s wonderfully weird and definitely worth a watch.
REIGN OVER ME (2007)
Sandler gave another solid dramatic performance in Reign Over Me, written and directed by Mike Binder, about a man who lost his family in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Don Cheadle plays Sandler’s former roommate. They run into each other and rekindle their friendship, helping Sandler’s character finally recover from his grief. “At the very least, it puts a whole new spin on Billy Madison,” the Toronto Star wrote.
THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) (2017)
This Noah Baumbach flick is stacked with an all-star cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Ben Stiller star alongside Sandler as members of the Meyerowitz clan. But it was Sandler who earned rave reviews for his surprising and nuanced dramatic performance. “While Mr. Stiller’s Matthew is both reliably and appealingly neurotic, it is Mr. Sandler who excels, both riotously and poignantly,” The New York Times wrote.
Critics panned this movie when it came out, but the premise is incredible. Sandler, Brendan Fraser, and Steve Buscemi play dim-witted heavy metal rockers who hold a radio station hostage with plastic guns to demand airtime for their demo. Things quickly go off the rails, obviously. The movie’s a quarter century old now, but it’s got a gritty crime vibe that provides cool context for Uncut Gems.
ADAM SANDLER'S EIGHT CRAZY NIGHTS (2002)
Okay, Sandler's musical-comedy Hanukah fable is not good in the traditional sense. There are more jokes about bodily functions than anyone should have to stomach around the holidays. The Guardian called it, "Quite the worst animated movie of the year." OUCH. But 17 years have passed and weed is legal in far more places, so we say it's time to give Eight Crazy Nights another try. 'Tis the season, after all.