The Golden Globes, other than the excellent running commentary from Ricky Gervais, was a largely unremarkable cultural event with few surprises among the winners. This being the point where people typically evaluate the top ten films of the prior year, I was running through the list and was struck by how overwhelmingly masculine the best films of the year turned out to be. Perhaps this is personal bias and you should feel free to make the case for Greta Gerwig’s Little Women as a superior film, but my list looks like this:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Ford v. Ferrari
A Marriage Story
Everyone thinks the Actress categories are weak this year, and that’s because they are. Legacy noms for Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson are paired with that’s a stretch noms for Ana de Armas for Knives Out and Beanie Feldstein for Booksmart. Jennifer Lopez actually would have a shot at a Best Supporting Oscar, if not for how much everyone loves to hate Laura Dern in Marriage Story. The Best Actress Globe went to Awkwafina for The Farewell, which was a good movie but not as good as the podcast on which it was based. You could even conceivably drop Marriage Story for Avengers: Endgame and make it an even more bro-focused list and not be completely crazy. (Or drop it for 6 Underground and be Michael Bay level crazy.)
While many of these films have received critical praise for a host of strong small room performances, the film that deserves to be more prominently featured in all the discussions of best of the year is the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems.
Few actors have crafted more profitable careers than Adam Sandler. His Netflix contract alone includes eight movies for more than half a billion dollars – this year, more than 73 million Netflix subscribers watched his fourth movie in the deal, the Agatha Christie influenced “Murder Mystery”, in the first four weeks it was streaming.
Sandler is as popular with the people as he is unpopular with the critics – until this turn, where he proves that his Punch Drunk Love talent was not erased from his brain by all those movies he keeps making about Grown Ups. A loathsome desperate anti-hero, Uncut Gems’ Sandler is stretched so thin he makes every scene an edge of your seat experience. In a year when so many films seemed to be crammed with Martin Scorsese references – the man himself is an executive producer on this one – Gems feels like greasy, oversaturated, vintage Brian De Palma.
The film is set in 2012, which doesn’t sound that long ago, but upon reflection it is. (For reference, in 2012 Instagram was a 13 person startup which had less than a tenth of the current user base, and none of the appeal it has today as a place for thots to find athletes.) What Gems also serves as is a throwback to an era before sports gambling had gone mainstream and legit. Today there are a plethora of apps that Sandler’s Howard Ratner character could have used to place his bets, and even more on the way in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last year. Today’s bookies may not hunt you down and throw you naked into the back of the car, but they will take your house.
It’s odd that the best films of 2019 would be so guy centric in viewpoint and mode (The most prominent female in Gems is the 29-year-old Julia Fox, most famous as a New York club scene girl and former dominatrix whose only prior screen credit was for something called “The Great American Mud Wrestle”). As television becomes higher and higher quality in writing, acting, clothing and cinematography, movies are going to become increasingly a retro pursuit favored by men. The Ringer described this as “Dad Cinema” – a fair critique, but what it amounts to is a story that can be told in 2 hours or so for those too impatient and busy to binge 10+ hour storylines. These also tend to be stories that lean on what you can do with a big screen and a confined space. Uncut Gems gives you the feeling of the ever-present impossibility of pausing for a breath, and that’s the way it’s meant to be watched. Enjoy the guy movie on the big screen. Leave the streaming to the young.