Come on Academy, put Adam Sandler in the game!
The Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations announced on Wednesday yielded 25 first-time nominees across film and television. Among them was Sandler, who, in Jeremiah Zagar’s “Hustle,” has a dramatic turn as a basketball scout who discovers a street ball player in Spain. With AMPAS voting opening tomorrow, he’s peaking at the perfect time to garner his first Oscar nod for best actor.
Outside of his Independent Spirit Award win for “Uncut Gems” in 2020, the SAG nod was Sandler’s first major acting recognition of his 35-year career. Released by Netflix in early June, “Hustle” would have been discarded if it was with any other studio for awards prospects. But the streaming giant has made Sandler, and the movie, one of its top priorities along with a slate that includes more industry-friendly titles including war drama “All Quiet on the Western Front,” whodunit sequel “Glass Onion” and stop-motion animated “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.”
Thus far, Sandler’s received a tribute at the Gotham Awards, where his hilarious and touching speech written by his daughters went viral, in addition to a couple of regional critics’ mentions. Playing Stanley Sugarman, a jaded scout for the NBA team Philadelphia 76ers, the 56-year-old comedy vet delivers an against-type role, one that clearly resonated with the SAG Nominating Committee.
Following the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and SAG noms, in addition to the BAFTA longlists, the best actor race has cemented four actors — Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”) and Bill Nighy (“Living”). The last spot has rotated with Tom Cruise (“Top Gun: Maverick”), Hugh Jackman (“The Son”) and Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”), with a few names still bubbling despite not showing up yet — Tom Hanks (“A Man Called Otto”) and Gabriel LaBelle (“The Fabelmans”). The question is, does a large enough contingency of the Actors Branch feel compelled to vote for Sandler after snubbing him in the past?
No movie star is without their share of “bombs” and “critically panned” flicks, and Sandler has had a few over his career with “Little Nicky” (2000) and “Jack and Jill” (2011). However, Sandler has also played revered roles, such as the anxiety-driven Barry Egan from his Golden Globe-nominated “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) or the musically unemployed Harold from “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” (2017). His closest dance with the Academy came with Howard Ratner, his gambling-addicted jeweler in the Safdie Brothers’ thriller “Uncut Gems” (2019). His awards season run that year included mentions from Critics Choice, Gothams, Indie Spirits, and a noteworthy win from the National Board of Review for best actor. With its strong performances and anxiety-inducing pace, “Uncut Gems” went down as one of the notable Oscar snubs of that year.
Now, sitting with this major piece of industry recognition, one that has considerable crossover with the Academy’s membership, Sandler finds himself in a transitional period for stars who are traditionally more popular with consumers but are vying for awards recognition. See the first nods for Tom Hanks for “Big” (1988), Robert Downey Jr. for “Chaplin” (1992) and Johnny Depp for “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2004).
However, for every comedy star who makes the effort to transition to a “serious actor,” that Academy recognition never comes. See Jim Carrey’s three egregious snubs for “The Truman Show” (1998), “Man on the Moon” (1999) and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004).
So will Sandler manage to pick up the final best actor slot? If there was any moment for Sandler to get Academy recognition, it’s now, the day before Oscar nomination voting opens.