Adam Sandler has taken home the 2020 Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead thanks to his critically acclaimed performance in Josh and Benny Safdie’s “Uncut Gems.” Sandler earned the best reviews of his career for his performance as Howard Ratner, a self-destructive New York City gambler whose escalating addiction to gambling derails his personal and professional career. The Spirit Award victory gives Sandler his second major Best Actor prize of the 2019-20 awards season. Sandler previously won Best Actor at the National Board of Review awards. Sandler won the Spirit Award over fellow 2020 nominees Chris Galust (“Give Me Liberty”), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“Luce”), Robert Pattinson (“The Lighthouse”), and Matthias Schoenaerts (“The Mustang”).
Despite the Spirit Awards prize, Adam Sandler will not be repeating his victory at the 92nd Academy Awards as he was shut out of the race in favor of nominees Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), and Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”). Phoenix is the frontrunner to win the Best Actor Oscar after being awarded prizes in the same category at the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, the Critic’s Choice Awards, and the BAFTA Awards. Many film critics believed Sandler was snubbed for an Oscar nomination, although the overbearing, anxiety-ridden tone of “Uncut Gems” meant the film was always going to face an uphill battle with Oscar voters.
Sandler campaigned quite aggressively throughout awards season on behalf of the film. The actor was the subject of an in-depth New York Times Profile and he was positioned by A24 as the greatest chance for “Uncut Gems” to earn an Oscar nomination. Sandler was inarguably the highlight of the New York Film Critics awards, playfully addressing his history of receiving negative film reviews (“I know what you have said about me over the years. It’s fine. I have two words to say to you: You’re mean!”) and making hilarious jokes at the expense of his “Uncut Gems” directors.
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“How do you tell the Safdie brothers apart?” Sandler asked the NYFCC audience. “Well, Josh looks like a crazed yeshiva student who could possibly shoot you, and Benny looks like a friendly dentist who could also possibly shoot you…They write and edit movies that make you want to text your therapist and say, ‘I need an appointment right fucking now! Help me! Help me!”
Despite being snubbed at the Oscars, “Uncut Gems” has gone on to be a massive critical and commercial hit for A24 and the Safdie brothers. The film is set to hit or surpass the $50 million mark at the U.S. box office this Oscar weekend. Any final gross above $48.9 million would make “Uncut Gems” the highest grossing A24 movie in domestic box office history. Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is the current record holder.
To prepare for his role in “Uncut Gems,” Sandler spent a lot of time in New York City’s diamond district shadowing actual jewelers. “They were so excited about a movie being made about the block,” Sandler told Variety last year about the experience. “They let us into their daily lives. We not only got to be around them making sales and buying stuff to sell, they let us into their family’s lives. We saw them and they would conduct their lives with their families on the phone or people [who] would come by.”
The Spirit Awards mark the end of Sandler’s awards season journey with the movie. The actor has yet to announce a follow-up movie, although at the end of January news broke that Sandler was extending his lucrative deal with Netflix. The new agreement has Sandler making four more original movies for the streaming giant. Sandler’s 2019 Netflix movie “Murder Mystery,” in which he stars opposite Jennifer Aniston, was watched by a reported 73 million households over its first four weeks of availability on the streaming platform, making it the biggest Netflix original movie debut in the streamer’s history. Unfortunately, many of Sandler’s Netflix originals are the worst reviewed titles of his career, including “Murder Mystery,” “The Ridiculous Six,” and “Sandy Wexler.” Many fans are hoping that Sandler continues to make films on the level of “Uncut Gems” and does not revert back to his middling Netflix output.
Sandler’s Best Actor bid at the Spirit Awards was one of five nominations “Uncut Gems” received this year. The film also competed in the categories for Best Feature, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Screenplay. Sandler additionally won Best Actor prizes from the Austin Film Critics Association, the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle, and the St. Louis Film Critics Association.