FILM

Before "Uncut Gems": Why Does Adam Sandler Choose Bad Movies?

The Sandman will remind the world why he's one of today's best working actors in Uncut Gems.

Adam Sandler

Rodin Eckenroth via Getty Images

With his role in the Safdie Brothers' Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler is ready to make his Oscars push. More importantly, Sandler is reminding the world that he's one of the world's best actors.

Adam Sandler is a modern day Renaissance Man. The 53-year-old first made us laugh as "Opera Man" and "Canteen Boy" on Saturday Night Live. Then, he serenaded us with his witty verses and smooth guitar playing on "The Hanukkah Song" and in The Wedding Singer. Sandler has become one of the biggest box office stars of the last 30 years, with his movies grossing over $2 billion worldwide.

Now, Sandler is positioned to be in contention for Best Actor at the Oscars thanks to his upcoming role in Uncut Gems. Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, a jewelry store owner and dealer to the rich and famous in the diamond district of New York City. When his merchandise is taken from one of his top sellers, Ratner must find a way to pay his debts. The growing consensus around Sandler's performance is that it's one of the best of his career and will most certainly be a factor this awards season.

Uncut Gems | Official Trailer HD | A24 www.youtube.com

While Sandler is known for his comedic roles, it's his dramatic turns that are most impressive. In particular, Sandler excels as a psychologically troubled entrepreneur who falls in love with an English woman in 2002's Punch Drunk Love; in 2009, he embodied a depressed, terminally ill comedian who tries to fix the relationships in his life in Funny People. Both performances were met with critical acclaim and proved that Sandler could reach dramatic depths as an actor.

But as talented as Sandler is, he's equally as frustrating with his career choices. Sandler poignantly played a man who lost his family in 9/11 in Reign Over Me, but he also played an alcoholic, dimwitted father in the disturbing That's My Boy. Sandler beautifully played a divorcé who must confront his personal failures in The Meyerowitz Stories, which makes it hard to believe he's the same actor who played a set of twins (one of them female) trying to reconnect with one another in the awful Jack and Jill.

One obvious reason why Sandler continues to do silly and critically panned films: They make money. Sandler signed four-picture deals with Netflix in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Regardless of the movies' quality, it seems that Netflix users keep watching Sandler's movies. While 2016's The Ridiculous 6 has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, it was the most-watched movie on Netflix in the first 30 days of release at the time. His most recent work for Netflix, Murder Mystery, which received mixed to negative reviews, had the biggest opening weekend ever for the streaming service, with over 30 million accounts tuning in.

But there's a reason why some of the best directors in the world work with Sandler; when Sandler turns on that switch from silly to dramatic, magic can happen. Academy Award-nominated director Paul Thomas Anderson ( Punch-Drunk Love) and Academy Award winner James L. Brooks (Spanglish) both crafted entire films around Sandler. Judd Apatow (Funny People) cast Sandler because of his dramatic turn in Reign Over Me. Noah Baumbach (The Meyerowitz Stories), who will be in the awards race this year with Marriage Story, helped garner Sandler some of the greatest reviews of his career. Clearly, some of the most talented and well-respected filmmakers today work with Sandler because he's a phenomenal actor. Too bad he has a history of choosing bizarre and preposterous cash grabs, as well as meaningful roles.

Maybe Sandler will go back to making terrible and unfunny films like Jack and Jill after this year. Maybe he won't, and Uncut Gems could start a career revival for Sandler as a dramatic powerhouse. Either way, we'll never fully heal from seeing him play his own, frumpy twin.

Adam Sandler playing two roles in Jack and Jill Adam Sandler in Jack and JillSony Pictures Entertainment

FILM

Comeback Season: How Jennifer Lopez and Brad Pitt Ruled 2019

Jenny from the Block and People's two-time Sexiest Man Alive are back.

Jennifer Lopez and Brad Pitt

Michael Stewart/WireImage | Getty Images

Two larger-than-life stars of the 1990s, Jennifer Lopez and Brad Pitt, are having the best year of their careers. 2019 has been so good to them that it might end with Oscar gold.

Thanks to the streaming era, the number of financially successful original movies has dwindled at the box office. During the summer months, it's rare for studios to put anything that's not a sequel or a superhero film in theaters. Critically acclaimed hits like Long Shot and Late Night failed to get butts in seats, and even big franchise features like Men in Black: International and Godzilla: King of the Monsters performed poorly (overall box office numbers are down 6.4% from last year).

Are superhero flicks, franchise sequels, and reboots the only films that make money? Not necessarily, but it's much harder for a an original screenplay to compete. However, the one element that counteracts this pattern is star power. Name recognition still matters; A-list stars can still sell movies.

A study in 2017 showed the two biggest age demographics of moviegoers were 25-39 and 60+. Which group of stars do these demographics identify with more easily: 20-something-year-olds like Ansel Elgort and Ashleigh Cummings or wizened Hollywood veterans like Jennifer Lopez and Brad Pitt? The resounding answer is Lopez and Pitt.

Hustlers | Official Trailer [HD] | Now In Theaters www.youtube.com

In fact, Elgort and Cummings' recent film, The Goldfinch, bombed at the box office, making just $2.6 million on a $40+ million budget. You know whose films didn't bomb? Lopez's (Hustlers) and Pitt's (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Ad Astra). Lopez and Pitt have only been in a total of five films since 2017, but if box office success serves as evidence, their names still carry weight.

Both Lopez and Pitt are experiencing a career renaissance in 2019. To be clear, neither of them has ever vanished from the public eye. As long as they are living and breathing on this Earth, their names will still have currency in celebrity gossip circles and entertainment forums. Although Lopez hasn't starred in a lot of films since the end of 2015, she's just as relevant as ever. Lopez starred on NBC's Shades of Blue, held both a Las Vegas residency and world tour, and currently judges on World of Dance. On top of that, Lopez is in a high-profile relationship with Alex Rodriguez, has over 100 million followers on Instagram, and will co-headline the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show with Shakira.

Now, thanks to Hustlers, J-Lo has the Oscars in her sights, too. Based on the The Cut article by Jessica Pressler titled "The Hustlers at Scores," Hustlers follows a group of New York City strippers who steal money from wealthy Wall Street executives and businessmen. Lopez stars as Ramona, a feisty veteran stripper who helps lead the scheme with her coworker, Destiny (Constance Wu). Hustlers is already Lopez's highest opening weekend of her career at the box office (for a live-action film), as well as the highest opening weekend for the film's studio, STX Entertainment. In fact, the 50-year-old actress has generated Oscar buzz in the supporting actress category, which would be her first ever nomination.

Pitt is, without a doubt, one of the best actors of the last 30 years. At the turn of the 21st century, Pitt was arguably the biggest movie star on the planet. In the 1990s, Pitt had been nominated for an Oscar, won People's Sexiest Man Alive, starred in Fight Club, and dated Jennifer Anniston. And that was before his charming character in the Ocean's series stole America's heart.

Unfortunately, Pitt doesn't act a lot anymore. Instead, he's chosen to produce more films with his company, Plan B. From 2015 to the release of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Pitt was only in four movies. Then, Pitt decided 2019 was the time to remind the world that he's "Brad Effin Pitt," one of the last movie stars we have. For the first time in almost a decade, Pitt starred in two movies in one year, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and Ad Astra. Let's start with the flashy role in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, which, as of Sept. 26, has grossed over $340 million worldwide. Pitt plays Cliff Booth, a stuntman to Rick Dalton (Leonard DiCaprio) who navigates the changing landscape of Hollywood in 1969 Los Angeles. Pitt is so fantastic in the role that he's one of the favorites to win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times said Pitt killed it and "turns in one of the most memorable performances of his career."

Ad Astra | IMAX Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX www.youtube.com

However, Pitt's true powers were on full display in James Gray's Ad Astra. Pitt plays Major Roy McBride, an astronaut who goes into space to search for his father, whose experiment threatens the entire solar system. It's a father-son love story disguised as a sci-fi epic. Ad Astra is a character study in what it means to be alone and how to find the true meaning of life. Pitt successfully channels these emotions of solitude and grief and gives one of the best performances of his career (again). The film recently launched overseas and grossed $26 million.

The changing of the guard is inevitable when it comes to Hollywood. New stars will eventually surpass the old ones. Maybe the box office will eventually sway back towards original movies and away from flashy superheroes and unwanted sequels. Lopez and Pitt are much-needed reminders that the reign of superhero franchises and reboots is temporary: The Old Guard of Hollywood is still a powerful creative force. And maybe, just maybe, A-listers of the 90s are the key to scaling back the pit of recycled material that Hollywood has fallen into.

Merritt Wever and Toni Collette in Unbelieveable

Beth Dubber / Netflix

The race for the 2020 Emmys already has impressive contenders. On Netflix's Unbelievable, the trio of Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette, and Merritt Wever should not only receive nominations but win for their moving performances.

Unbelievable is inspired by the 2015 Pulitzer-winning ProPublica and The Marshall Project's report, "An Unbelievable Story of Rape," which chronicles the 2008-2011 Washington and Colorado serial rape cases. Kaitlyn Dever plays Marie Adler, a teenager who experienced a brutal assault and rape at the hands of an attacker who broke into her apartment in 2008. At first, the police showed sympathy and care towards Marie. However, due to her crippling anxiety and inability to lean on and trust those in power, Marie began to forget and alter tiny details in the assault after days of constant torment and questioning from the detectives. Instead of focusing on the big picture (i.e.finding the culprit), the police berated Marie for these minute details and eventually coerced her into lying about the rape. Then they charged Marie with filing a false report and dropped the case entirely.

The pilot displays Marie's tragedy and its aftermath in the community. The episode includes harrowing and disturbing flashbacks to the night of Marie's assault. The 58-minute episode is tear-jerking with its depiction of the police's lack of compassion and the overall negligence.

Unbelievable | Official Trailer | Netflix www.youtube.com

In particular, the show gives Dever a chance to showcase her impressive acting ability. The 22-year-old is having a landmark year thanks to her starring role in Booksmart. Dever's performance is raw, gut-wrenching, and powerful. Throughout the series, her character's arc is uncomfortable to watch. You find yourself wanting to look away but feel compelled to see for yourself how the system failed this poor victim.

After the pilot, the series takes a much-needed emotional break from Marie's saga and introduces two new characters, Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever). Rasmussen and Duvall are detectives in neighboring Colorado towns who are brought together in 2011 when they discover similar characteristics in their respective rape cases. By sharing case details and interviews from new victims, it becomes clear that the same attacker in Colorado is more than likely the same criminal who assaulted Marie in Washington three years prior. Essentially, the series becomes two shows in one: a tragic look into Marie's case in 2008 and a buddy cop drama about two female detectives working together to solve the case.

The chemistry between Collette and Wever is magnetic. Collette's foul-mouthed and witty Rasmussen counteracts and meshes perfectly with Wever's patient and empathetic Duvall. While Marie's story is excruciating to witness, Rasmussen's and Duvall's relationship is far more entertaining and enjoyable. Collette and Wever keep the audience entertained and engaged despite discussing tough matters of sexual assault and domestic violence. The quest to find the serial rapist wraps you into the story and keeps you coming back even if it means revisiting disturbing case details.


Kaitlyn Dever Kaitlyn Dever in UnbelievableBeth Dubber / Netflix

Unbelievable has rightly been called one of the best shows of 2019 by Vulture, and both the series and its actors deserve Emmy nominations in the limited series categories next year (they sadly missed the cut off date for the 2019 Emmys). Both Collette and Wever have previously won Emmys (Collette for United States of Tara and Wever for Nurse Jackie and Godless), while Dever has given multiple noteworthy performances so far in her young career.

Sexual assault and victim shaming is a tricky topic to portray onscreen because of its sensitivity and likeness to real crimes. Marie's case is just one of the many sexual assault cases that are reported each day. According to RAINN, one American is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds. That's why Unbelievable treats this subject with the professionalism and respect it deserves. Thanks to three superb performances that channel the trauma of the case so expertly, Unbelievable is a difficult, but necessary watch.