Review - Uncut Gems

Nominated for zero Oscars, as a reminder that the Academy Awards are a pointless celebration of a limited range of films.

As I alluded to above the poster, Uncut Gems is not nominated for a single Oscar at this years ceremony, which made the place I had put aside for it on my schedule seem redundant. However, we're still going through with it because I've already covered most of the big hitters (I encourage you to browse, you'll find every Best Picture nominee apart from Le Mans '66 reviewed) and I need something to fill this time. Plus, it's a great chance to talk about one of the best films of the last year, that comes to Netflix everywhere apart from America on Friday. Frankly, it is my duty to encourage people to seek it out. The story is of a jeweller named Howard Ratner, a scumbag with a real bad gambling habit and a lot of people trying to collect debts from him. He meets with Boston Celtics player Kevin Garnett and while trying to impress him, Howard shows off a rare Etheopian Opal gem. Garnett becomes obsessed with it and wants to buy it, but Howard already has it up for auction and it's at this point that the walls start to crumble in around him, as bad decisions lead to worse decisions lead to really bad consequences. If you saw Good Time, the last film made by the Safdies, you know the kind of trajectory it has, where each decision is a frantic scramble towards redemption in the eyes of the character, a doomed effort in the eyes of the audience. Also with Good Time, it is remarkably unpredictable and while two viewings means I now have the plot memorised, first time viewers are going to be blindfolded and taken on a hell of a ride. Just trust that those leading the way know exactly where they're taking you.
Every single performer has at least one moment in this film where they hit utter nirvana, dragging the audience with them.
With this film, the performances are super interesting to talk about, because a lot of the actors we see on screen are non-professional actors. While trying to spare you another film history lecture, this is something that started to appear in the forties with Italian Neo-Realism, a genre whose gesturing to realism I really do dislike. The only reason I bring this up is because it totally works here, absolutely any time it's used. If I were a voter at an awards show, I would struggle with my voting, as every single performer has at least one moment in this film where they hit utter nirvana, dragging the audience with them. A couple of non-professional actors are people I'd never seen or heard of before, turning in amazing work with a casual ease. Maksud Agadjani is briefly around as an overly egotistical jeweller, Wayne Diamond plays a figure so unbelievable you could be convinced that his IMDb photo was fake and as a recurring heavy, Keith Williams Richards is outstanding, being one of the best bad guys of 2019. On the other side of this are people you may have seen before, acting for the first time, like basketball player Kevin Garnett and singer Abel Tesfaye (better known as The Weeknd). Both play versions of their public personas to often hilarious results, although it really can't be understated how difficult playing yourself can be in film, a barrier they apparently did not have at all.
If any performance could come close to redeeming Sandler for his crimes against comedy, it's this powerhouse.
Another unknown with a huge part in the film is Julia Fox, playing Howard's mistress. She's sensational. The first time I saw the film, I thought maybe I just thought that because she's hot but no, second time around, it only confirmed what an impressive actress she is, a talent we will hopefully see more of in the future. Popping up again after appearing in Knives Out, one of the other best films of the year, we have the always excellent Lakeith Stanfield. His roles in these two films are so different and show the versatility this man can bring, putting exactly the spice on a role that the given film asks. King of this creamy crop of performances though is the star of Jack and Jill himself, Adam Sandler. I'm on record many times as saying Jack and Jill is the worst film I have ever seen and while Sandler has been good before in Punch Drunk Love, nothing prepared me for this. The man is simply working at another level, not just a level above his previous work but a level few others this year were at. All throughout the film I was appreciating his work but there is a pivotal moment where you snap away from Howard's perspective and only then did I realise that I had been watching Howard for the last two hours, not Sandler. Quite frankly, the fact he was snubbed of a nomination by the Academy Awards only proves what a sham they are, because this is one of the best performances of the year. It doesn't mean all is forgiven for the crimes he has committed to the genre of comedy over the years, but if any performance could come close to redeeming Sandler for that, it's this powerhouse.

This awards season, the topic of genre has come up a lot, because it's a topic that has only grown more fluid as film has evolved. 1917 is a war film that feels like a horror film, Marriage Story is a divorce drama with slapstick set-pieces and Parasite is simply the genre of a Bong Joon-Ho film. So what is Uncut Gems? In a similar vein as Good Time, the best genre to clasify this film as is chaos. The Safdie Brothers portrayed that brilliantly in Good Time but on Uncut Gems, they have perfected the genre. Just like with the performances, every single technical aspect of this film fires on all cylinders, except those cylinders are made out of dynamite and this whole film is about to explode very soon, we don't know when but soon, too soon, in a big explosion, if your heart can last that long. The Safdies brought back a couple of their best collaborators from Good Time to somehow one up themselves on this, by which I'm primarily referring to writer and editor Ronald Bronstein and composer Daniel Lopatin, previously working under the name Oneohtrix Point Never. The script is fantastic, I've already gestured towards the great structure and will take this chance to congratulate the team on the ferocity of the many swear words in this film, but the editing is superb too, keeping up an almost agonising pace. Hell, the pace is more breakneck than Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it's that exhausting. Daniel Lopatin too is just astounding. His score for Good Time was great, a nightmare to listen to, but his work on Uncut Gems is damn operatic. This, I can listen to over and over again and the tone of the film is immaculately captured in it, capturing the chaos but also taking time to bask in the sweet moments, allowing Howard his rare glimpses of glory. Finally, the film is shot by Darius Khondji, who does an incredible job. He captures neon madness, gem fever and the feeling of how I win in a way that will make you doubt this is the same man who created the immaculately neat Anima last year.
This is life or death cinema.
Unavoidably though, this is a Safdie Brothers film and even after having seen only two films from them, I know that feeling well. These are two filmmakers who put their all into their projects, who, even on the biggest budget they've ever had, are sharing the load. Between Benny and Josh Safdie, they directed this film, wrote this film, edited this film, produced the score for this film and even held the boom microphones for this film. Like so many other films this awards season, this is life or death cinema. Throughout the exhausting 135 minute runtime, you get the sensation that not making this film would kill the Safdies, simply due to how much of their life they pour into this. The good news is, it pays off and they have created a work that is indisputably sensational. Both times I saw the film, I kept thinking about the world building they did, creating a world that feels far greater than what we see in the film. So many characters pop in for a scene or two but you feel the history behind each interaction. Even on a simpler level, I know very little about Jewish culture or the Diamond District of New York, but I believed and understood both due to how efficiently they were set up and would watch an entire cinematic universe of just characters from Uncut Gems! Imagine Avengers: Endgame but with Howard's ex-wife, those two Charlie Kaufman looking dudes and The Weeknd in place of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man and you're getting the kind of bonkers head space this film takes me to. The Safdie Brothers created a world, breathed their own life force into it and it has rejuvenated me.
Uncut Gems is the defibrillator that cinema needed and that the Academy declined.
Sorry then team, I adore this movie too. We'll start reviewing trash again soon (only two more weeks until Sonic) but this is my time, I get to talk about how Uncut Gems is the defibrillator that cinema needed and that the Academy declined. If you're reading this in the US, it may still be in cinemas to check out, if you're reading it in the UK, it'll be on your Netflix on Friday, ready to give you that heart attack your arteries have been bracing for. Uncut Gems is quite simply a masterpiece, one that yet again forces my hand to give the perfect rating of a 


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