Wait? What? There’s Oscar Chatter About This Adam Sandler Performance?
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before — Adam Sandler, the beloved SNL alumnus responsible for some of the worst family comedies ever made, is on the cusp of becoming a bona fide, award-winning dramatic actor for a surprisingly good serious role in a movie that heavily features real-life NBA players.
Last night, Vanity Fair reported that The Sandman is set to receive one of the two coveted Performer Tributes at this year’s Gotham Awards for his performance in the sports drama Hustle, in which Sandler played an NBA scout who is determined to help a raw prospect from the slums of Spain make it to the biggest stage in basketball. Along with Michelle Williams, star of Steven Spielberg’s upcoming semi-autobiographical drama The Fabelmans and herself a reported Oscar frontrunner, Sandler will accept the award at the ceremony on November 28th, marking a major milestone on his path to Oscar gold.
The report came shortly before this year’s nominations were officially announced this morning, and with Sandler unofficially on the shortlist for Oscar nominations, our only reaction is, “Wait, for real this time?”
Back in 2019, Sandler shocked the world with his electrifying performance as the diamond-encrusted Manhattan cockroach Howard Ratner in the Safdie Brothers’ critically acclaimed cinematic panic attack Uncut Gems. At the time, it had been almost two decades since Sandler first proved that he could play a serious role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s dramedy Punch Drunk Love, and the years between had been filled with some of the most unadulterated putridity in Sandler’s vast and junk-filled filmography.
Despite rumors that Uncut Gems could earn him an Oscar nod, Sandler lost that year’s Gotham Awards Performer Tribute to Adam Driver, whose work in Marriage Story would also net him an Oscar nomination. Following the snub, Sandler went on The Howard Stern Show and warned the Academy of what he would unleash on the film world if they didn’t honor him. He threatened to make the worst movie of his career — a dauntingly low bar to set — saying, “If I don’t get it, I’m going to f—ing come back and do one again that is so bad on purpose just to make you all pay. That’s how I get them.”
Sandler was a notable omission from that year’s list of Oscar nominations. Though he never followed through on his promise to make the worst film of all time, presumably because he retroactively applied the threat to Jack and Jill, he didn’t waste much time by Sandler standards on the usual schlock that his film company, Happy Madison Productions, typically churns out by the toiletful.
By May 2020, Sandler had found a new avenue to Oscar legitimacy when he joined the production of Hustle and recruited director Jeremiah Zagar after seeing Zagar’s coming-of-age drama We the Animals. With Netflix and Happy Madison finally using their united forces for good, and with none other than LeBron James producing the project, Hustle was an engaging and deeply human sports drama anchored by the strong performances of Sandler as well as those of the real-life NBA players who played fictional competitors in the film.
Now, Sandler finally seems set on his path to the Oscars. While nothing is guaranteed, winning a Gotham Award is considered a serious step on the notoriously political campaign trail to Oscar night. In just the last three years, Kristen Stewart, Viola Davis and Laura Dern all won the Performer Tribute on the way to Oscar nominations, with Dern winning the Oscar for her performance in Marriage Story.
Though Sandler’s performance in Hustle was certainly lauded at the film’s release, his Oscar campaign feels like it’s storming toward contention out of nowhere — as recently as three weeks ago, Sandler didn’t even crack the top five on Entertainment Weekly’s Oscar polling positions, but with the Gotham Award now under his belt, look for Sandler to make a strong case for his first nomination.
If the Academy doesn’t give Sandler a chance this go around, who knows what he’ll do – we’d give him any award he wants as long as it keeps him from making Pixels 2.