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Our Most Anticipated Films of TIFF 2018

From big guns like ‘First Man’ and ‘Halloween’ to the latest from acclaimed indie directors like David Lowery, these are the films we’re most excited for at 2018’s TIFF.

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Today marks the beginning of the 43rdToronto International Film Festival, and with it comes the usual electricity in the city. From all the biggest stars getting picked up from airports and dropped off in downtown Toronto, to the long line-ups for even the smallest movies, the festival is one of the most hyped events in the city for tourists, residents, and the illustrious film industry alike.

This year marks an onslaught of high profile films from directors like Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins (Will there be another Moonlight vs La La Land situation at the 2019 Academy Awards?), as well as Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill’s respective debuts behind the camera. And then there is my personal favourite section: Midnight Madness. Every year it’s a riot, and the staple venue of Ryerson Theater is opened up to a bunch of genre fans waiting to catch the next big obsession.

Among it all there are films waiting to be discovered, the less-talked-about movies itching for that buzz that will push them into the end-of-the-year conversation. TIFF’s People’s Choice Award winner is almost always a safe bet to receive a nomination come award season, so we’ll have an indication of what to look forward to this fall/winter season. There are plenty of movies to get excited about, but these are a handful of the ones we can’t wait to witness on the big screen.

Boy Erased

Boy Erased

Adapting the memoir of a gay teenager forced into conversion therapy by his religious parents, Joel Edgerton is quickly establishing himself behind-the-camera just as much as he has in front of it. Boy Erased looks to be an incredibly emotional follow up to his directorial debut, The Gift. That film was one of my personal favourites from that year, serving as a taut thriller and a moving look at the way our words can do just as much harm as our actions. With Boy Erased, Edgerton serves on scriptwriting duties again, with an all-star cast that is led by Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Edgerton himself. This is a movie making its moves at almost every festival this fall, so the push is on to prop it up for an Oscar run — which it looks like it has the potential to achieve.

First Man

First Man

Damien Chazelle can pretty much do no wrong at this point. With both Whiplash and La La Land receiving universal critical acclaim, and the latter winning Chazelle the Best Director award at the 2017 Oscars, it isn’t surprising to see him come back so soon with Ryan Gosling in tow again. Buzz is already out from Venice about whether this Neil Armstrong biopic reaches the moon or not, and it seems like technically it is a marvel to behold, with Claire Foy standing out amongst a swarm of male actors.

The trailers have all been incredible and the IMAX preview before screenings of Mission: Impossible – Fallout was breathtaking. Once again, First Man is taking on all the film festivals it can, leaving no doubt that people will be hard-pressed not to hear buzz about this film for the rest of the year. It also helps that Chazelle’s last film at TIFF was La La Land, which won the People’s Choice Award that year.

Hold the Dark

The body count is allegedly higher than Green Room, and Jeremy Saulnier is not afraid to let audiences suffer through tension and a dark atmosphere, so to say that Hold the Dark is promising would be an understatement. Saulnier’s particular blend of dread and violence is on full display in the trailer for the Netflix film, but it also feels like his most ambitious effort yet. Mystery plays a larger component, which is all well and good when you have Jeffrey Wright at the helm to uncover it (he’s uncovered enough mystery in Westworld this season). Alexander Skarsgard, Riley Keough, and James Badge Dale round out the cast with the usual appearance of frequent Saulnier-collaborator Macon Blair. Expect a miserable experience of the best kind.

In Fabric

In Fabric

I was unimpressed with the widely celebrated Berberian Sound Studio, which seemed to catapult Peter Strickland to arthouse stardom, but The Duke of Burgundy is a hell of a sensory experience, and it stood out as something unique and utterly compelling from its sound design and editing. Strickland returns again with an entry in the Midnight Madness programme that sounds like someone taking the title Phantom Thread extremely literally. Sidse Babett Knudsen returns after her stint on Westworld and starring in The Duke of Burgundy, and alongside Game of Thrones’ star Gwendoline Christie, this makes for what will undoubtedly be a trip and a half.

Halloween

Halloween

The Midnight Madness lineup has two of the biggest films of the year headlining it: The Predator and David Gordon Green’s Halloween. While Shane Black’s take on the Predator franchise looks promising, it’s about time there was a good version of Halloween since John Carpenter unleashed Michael Myers on the world in 1978. Co-written by Green and Danny McBride, with the blessing of Carpenter (and a new score from him), this film is forgetting that any of the sequels happened, and picking up decades after the original. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is back, and prepared for the inevitable moment when Myers returns for more. The trailer is extremely promising, and TIFF is building this “One Night Only” event up as something that can’t be missed before the film releases wide in October. Add the impact that Blumhouse has had on the horror genre, and it’s hard not to get your hopes up just a little bit.

Widows

Steve McQueen is back from his 2013 Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave to offer something that looks both powerful and thrilling. Viola Davis leads a group of widows whose husbands all died on a heist, and they decide to step up and finish the job. The plot alone is rife with potential, but it’s that cast that demands attention. Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, and Daniel Kaluuya aren’t even all the ones worthy of talking about. With Sean Bobbitt shooting the film and Hans Zimmer contributing the score, as well as Gillian Flynn co-writing with McQueen, this is an easy sell come awards season. Whether it holds up beyond its incredible talent is the question, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this isn’t one of the most talked about films of the festival.

Killing

Killing

Playing in the Masters platform, Killing is Shinya Tsukamoto’s latest film — and one of his longest, even though it clocks in at only 80 minutes. The Japanese actor/writer/director has had a wild filmography filled with oddities that would fit perfectly in a Midnight Madness slate (I’m looking at you Tetsuo: The Iron Man). Sometimes not for the faint of heart, yet often entrancing to say the least, Tsukamoto tends to veer into obscure territory with a plot that can twist and turn in the same frantic way the camera does. Killing is exciting because it is placed within the very well-worn samurai genre, and images from it look to lean less into the insanity that Tsukamoto is known for. This could be a tamer film than we’re used to from the director, but what excites me is how he will work within a genre so familiar.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born

Okay, we’ve heard the story a million times, and we have no idea whether Bradley Cooper can take what he’s learned from being on film sets and translate it to a directing role. What are probable guarantees is that the soundtrack for A Star is Born will be great, both Cooper and Lady Gaga will likely be a great duo on-screen, and it’s hard not to get a little excited after all of the buzz from Venice. Lady Gaga has been making her acting chops slightly known on American Horror Story, as well as from her music videos, which are lavish affairs that demand a star. The story is tried-and-true, but placing Lady Gaga in the lead female role is an absolute certainty for success. The buzz has been positive, and every time I hear Lady Gaga sing in the trailer I get goosebumps. This is definitely one of the movies that cannot be missed from the awards season.

Climax

Controversy is the last thing you should be thinking about when going into a Gaspar Noe film. The man is trying to provoke you, so just walk into all of his films knowing that upfront and putting it in the back of your mind. If you do that, this Sangria-fueled dance nightmare looks to be less inaccessible, yet still filled with the kind of insanity Noe fans have come to expect. Climax fits right at home in the Midnight Madness slate, pitting itself up against movies like The Predator and Nekrotronic just to see how crazy they’re willing to go. But most importantly, how far are you willing to go through this delirious-looking movie? We saw it at Cannes this year and can attest to its entertainment value.

If Beale Street Could Talk

I mentioned earlier that we may have a recurrence of the La La Land and Moonlight debacle this awards season. If you’ve seen the trailer for Barry Jenkins’s latest effort, you can understand why. While a movie like First Man looks like an easy frontrunner for the Oscar, La La Land also looked like that when it lost to Moonlight, the little movie that could. As powerful as the latter is, If Beale Street Could Talk seems primed to be another moving film that will have you holding back tears while equally thinking about the world we live in. Place Regina King in anything and I’m there, but adapting a James Baldwin novel and following up the masterpiece that was Moonlight adds more hype to a movie that really shouldn’t need to make its name known. We should already be looking forward to this, and I suspect after its World Premiere at TIFF, we will.

Hotel by the River

Hotel by the River

South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo has been on a rapid-fire streak the last few years. He directed three films last year (all varying degrees of excellent), and already has another movie under his belt from earlier this year. Hong’s switch to lower budgets and digital photography has helped speed up his pace and give him the freedom to experiment. His relationship with actress Kim Min-hee (The Handmaiden) has also replenished his art; Kim is the strongest actor Hong has even worked with. The bigger names have mostly disappeared from his recent films, but her presence makes up for any perceived talent drain. Hotel by the River shares the same gorgeous black and white cinematography of recent works like the excellent The Day After, but it promises to be darker and more emotional than that film, or its even more buoyant counterpoint, Claire’s Camera. Hong is operating at the height of his powers, and each new film is an occasion for celebration.

Transit

Transit

One of my favorite discoveries from 2014 was Christian Petzold’s Phoenix. Petzold wasn’t exactly new, but that film, an inversion of Vertigo set in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, was a simultaneously brutal and ravishing portrait of a woman reclaiming her identity. The director again explores identity, this time focusing on a man who adopts the identity of a dead writer, and begins to obsess over the dead man’s wife. It sounds quite a bit like The Passenger on paper, but Petzold’s film promises to strike out toward a bold new territory.

22 July

22 July

Paul Greengrass has already made one of the defining films of a national tragedy in United 93, and here he returns with 22 July, another austerely titled film that takes as its subject the tragic terrorist attack that devastated Norway. The killer, a reactionary right-winger, targeted a leftist youth camp, slaughtering 77 people and injuring hundreds more using explosives and high-powered rifles. Greengrass’ film is based on the excellent One of Us, the definitive history of the massacre. Despite using Norwegian actors, the film is in English, which may leave it open for some possible Oscar love. The Academy Awards aren’t crazy about films focusing on international subjects, but Greengrass might just have enough clout to catch their attention.

High Life

High Life

Claire Denis has long been esteemed among cinephiles, but her films haven’t always been easy to come by in North America. The more readily available works have been hopelessly dour meditations that leave one with a sour taste in the mouth. Yet last year’s Let the Sunshine In was a bold new step for Denis. Its romantic comedy rhythms were new for her, yet utterly arresting and fresh (and the final scene with Gerard Depardieu is one of the single best moments of film from the past decade). Denis now makes her English-language debut with High Life, a science fiction film starring Robert Pattinson, and also reunites her with Juliette Binoche. Denis has experimented with genre filmmaking before, but never to this extent. Considering that Pattinson’s last few roles (Good TimeThe Lost City of Z) have been his best work to date, this new collaboration with Denis is sure to be exciting.

The Old Man & the Gun

The Old Man & the Gun

It’s clear that Robert Redford doesn’t mind being a bit coy about his future projects. The legendary actor and director has made it clear that The Old Man & the Gun will be his last acting project, though he still plans to direct (and he’s not opposed to returning to acting if a role speaks to him). David Lowery, who made last year’s heartbreaking meditation on loss, A Ghost Story, returns to work with Casey Affleck, who plays a detective chasing after Redford’s charmingly polite bank robber. Lowery is one of the strongest voices in independent cinema at the moment, yet he has also shown an ability to effectively steer studio creations like Pete’s Dragon. Redford’s greatest sin as an actor is that he has rarely challenged himself in the last few decades, but Lowery is someone who can push him to go out on a high note.

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Those are the ones we’re most looking forward to, but who knows what surprises await? Goomba Stomp will be covering the whole festival, so check back for our daily coverage of 2018’s Toronto International Film Festival!

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Toronto, Ontario. His favorite films include The Big Lebowski, The Raid 2, Alien, and The Thing. You will often find him with a drink in his hand yelling about movies.

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‘Richard Jewell’ is Both For and Against Character Assassination

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Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell (Warner Bros.)

With Richard Jewell, director Clint Eastwood does two things at once: tell a compelling story of something that was all over the news about 25 years ago, and seek to make an incendiary political point meant to play to very specific modern-day resentments. Let’s just say the former objective is much more defensible than the latter. 

The film tells the story of a security guard (Paul Walter Hauser) in the Atlanta area who was working in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics when a bomb went off in the park. Jewell was first treated as a hero who rescued people during the bombing, but was later considered a suspect in the bombing by the FBI and named as such in the media. But Jewell, it turned out, was innocent, with domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph confessing to the crime years later. 

As depicted in Eastwood’s film, Richard Jewell bears more than a passing resemblance to Shawn Eckhardt, the character Hauser played two years ago in I, Tonya — a real-life creature of a sensational mid-’90s true crime case who hadn’t done much with his life, but has aspirations of something greater. In Jewell’s case, it’s thwarted dreams of becoming a cop, which haven’t kept him from worshiping and idealizing law enforcement. He’s also depicted as a man so simple-minded that he keeps doing things that made him look super-guilty, even though he isn’t.

Richard Jewell reporters

Richard Jewell takes us into how exactly the man came to be accused. The FBI, in the person of agent Jon Hamm, applied its vaunted profiling tactics — the ones you’ve seen lionized on such shows as Criminal Minds and Mindhunter — to the case, and came up with the wrong guy. 

Filmmaking-wise, what we have here is similar to most other late-period Eastwood films, and the pacing and storytelling aren’t the problem. The sequence right before the bombing, in particular, is especially harrowing and suspenseful.

While in the works for many years (Jonah Hill was at one point set to star as Jewell, and remains a producer), Richard Jewell itself was produced and completed uncommonly quickly, with production beginning in June, just six months before its release. Nevertheless, it creates a reasonable approximation of 1996 — The Macarena included! — and while seemingly the majority of studio movies these days are shot in Georgia, this one at least is actually set there.

The problem, however, is another decision the film makes. We see Hamm’s FBI agent leaking the existence of the investigation to media, specifically reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), after what’s essentially a seduction on her part. This is the film’s biggest misstep, which is in fact an act of pure character assassination against Scruggs, a real-life journalist (deceased) who is accused of horrible ethical breaches that she almost certainly never committed, including offering to sleep with sources in exchange for information. Beyond that, the character is played by Wilde as something resembling a cartoon witch. There are a lot of unique characters who exist in newsrooms, but this character isn’t one of them.

And despite what you may have read, the Richard Jewell makes the FBI look even worse than the media. It also shows Jewell, who spent his whole life wanting to be a cop, defending and making excuses for these unscrupulous agents who are falsely accusing him. The script also doesn’t really get the dynamic that takes place between media and the police/FBI quite right; in 95 percent of high-profile crime stories, the only major source is law enforcement, and media outlets just go with whatever the cops tell them. 

What the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did was report — accurately, at the time — that the FBI was looking at Jewell as a suspect. Yes, they should have done more due diligence, but they also didn’t make things up. Had Scruggs behaved the way she did in the film in real life, that would be worthy of condemnation. But she didn’t. 

Furthermore, yes, what happened to Richard Jewell was pretty terrible. But on the other hand, he was never arrested, he never did a day in jail or prison, and was cleared after about three months. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but…other wrongfully accused people have gone away for years and decades. Multiple movies this year, including Brian Banks and Just Mercy, have told the stories of such cases. 

Hauser is very good, and getting to be expert at this sort of role, although the performance ends with him delivering a long, articulate speech in which Jewell turns into essentially a different person.  Sam Rockwell, on something of a roll with Jojo Rabbit and Fosse/Verdon, is just fine as his lawyer. There’s also a performance by Kathy Bates, as Jewell’s mother, that’s been getting inexplicable praise — it’s more a regional affectation than a great performance. 

While Eastwood — the Obama invisible chair speech notwithstanding — is far from a down-the-line right-winger, the timing of this particular release is somewhat cynical. It’s clearly pitched right now in a way to exploit discontent with media misconduct and “fake news,” while also directly in line with that weird cultural tic in which cops are seen as beyond reproach, while the FBI is evil. 

Richard Jewell isn’t bad as a character study, but its agenda is a whole other story. 

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‘Apollo 11’ Leads the Best Documentaries of 2019

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Best Documentaries of 2019

2019 was a generally strong year for documentaries, with many of the best ones sharing one or more of several elements: a focus on music, a resonance with the current moment, and the word “Apollo” in the title.

The Year’s Best Documentaries

Best Documentaries 2019

1. Apollo 11. Directed by Todd Douglas Miller, this documentary made masterful use of archival footage — much of it on 70mm film long not available to the public — to tell the story of the Apollo 11 mission on its 50th anniversary. It’s one of those films that’s nerve-wracking, even as everyone watching knows exactly how it all happened. The film opened in theaters, then showed on CNN, and then returned to theaters this month. 

Best Documentaries 2019

2. The Kingmaker. The Queen of Versailles director Lauren Greenfield takes another look at the ridiculously wealthy, this time catching up with Imelda Marcos, the 90-year-old former first lady of The Philippines. For its first half hour, the film hints that it’s going to be a soft-focused look at a newsmaker of the past, before it takes a sudden turn into showing its subject as a monster who looted her own people of billions and was almost certainly complicit in horrific war crimes. The film played in theaters this fall and will debut on Showtime in early 2020. 

Best Documentaries 2019

3. Love, Antosha. The life of the beloved late actor Anton Yelchin, which ended in a freak accident in 2017, is celebrated with home movie footage, clips of his movies, and interviews with a star-studded array of his co-stars. It’s a sweet remembrance of a talent gone far too soon — while also telling the story, through both letters and interviews, of his relationship with the loving Russian immigrant parents he left behind. Now streaming from on-demand providers. 

Best Documentaries 2019

4. City of Joel. Director Jesse Sweet’s film is an astonishing work of anthropological filmmaking, as he looks at the tension and land disputes between a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who arrived in an upstate New York town, and their secular neighbors. The film, which played the Jewish film festival circuit and is now available on demand, is uncommonly evenhanded, letting both sides of the dispute have their say. 

Best Documentaries 2019

5. David Crosby: Remember My Name. There were many very strong music documentaries this year, but this film, directed by A.J. Eaton and produced and narrated by Cameron Crowe, was the best of them all. Crosby, knowing he’s in poor health and unlikely to live many more years, is uncommonly candid about his regrets, especially his many feuds with his famous musical collaborators. Now available on demand, it’s also the best film Crowe has been associated with in almost two decades.

Best Documentaries 2019

6. Cold Case Hammarskjöld. Mads Brügger’s documentary starts off by looking at the mysterious 1961 plane crash death of U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, and then goes off in all sorts of crazy directions, including a supposed plot by South Africa’s apartheid government in the 1980s to infect people with AIDS. Not everything asserted here is true (most likely), but it’s all wildly intriguing. Now available on demand. 

Best Documentaries 2019

7. The Apollo. The year’s “other” Apollo documentary takes a look back at the history of Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, a mecca of African-American culture for nearly a century. The film looks at how the theater has waxed and waned in importance over the years, while using a staged reading of Ta’Nehesi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” as a framing device. This one played at festivals and then debuted on HBO; it’s currently available on HBO’s streaming platform. 

Best Documentaries 2019

8. Horror Noire. Director Xavier Burgin’s documentary takes a look at the history of black horror films, using 2017’s Get Out as an inflection point to look back on decades of African-American representation — as well as ugly tropes — in the horror genre. The film had some big-screen showings before streaming on Shudder. 

Best Documentaries 2019
Tell Me Who I Am CR: Netflix

9. Tell Me Who I Am. Director Ed Perkins’ documentary about a pair of twins, and the family secrets one must tell the other, is very creepy and unsettling, but still essential. It debuted on Netflix, where it’s a perfect fit, and is still streaming there now. 

Best Documentaries 2019
** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITONS, MAY 29-30 ** FILE – In this June 29, 1986 file photo, Diego Maradona of Argentina, is lifted up as he holds the World Cup trophy after Argentina defeated West Germany 3-2 in the World Cup soccer final in the Atzeca Stadium, in Mexico City. (Ap Photo/Carlo Fumagalli, File)

10. Diego Maradona. This look at the 1980s soccer star, directed by Amy filmmaker Asif Kapadia, makes masterful use of archival footage to depict the rise of this one-of-a-kind athlete. The doc, which played on HBO this fall and is still streaming there now, is a must for the many Americans who have gotten into soccer for the first time in the last decade, and are unfamiliar with the stars and stories of the past. 

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Honorable mention: Black Mother, The Human Factor, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, Carmine Street Guitars, Mike Wallace is Here, Varda by Agnes, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, Screwball, American Factory, Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce,

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‘Uncut Gems’ Sends Adam Sandler Through the Ringer

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a hectic, abrasive crime thriller that revels in its misery.

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Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have followed up their grimy, abrasive Good Time with a film that never quite reaches those levels of tension, but is nevertheless cut from the same cloth. With Uncut Gems, the directing duo has crafted something so loud and chaotic — led by a perfectly-cast Adam Sandler — that there is no denying it’s a fun ride, even when it is not so fun to watch. Digging through the grit of loan sharks and a dog-eat-dog world, Uncut Gems is another bonafide hit by the Safdie brothers, but one that works when it piles on the misery — which it often does, rather than find a shred of happiness.

Evading debt collectors throughout New York City, Howard (Sandler) runs a jewelry shop in the Diamond District where he sells to many high-profile celebrities. When a new opal arrives at his shop from Ethiopia, he can’t help but show it off to Boston Celtics player Kevin Garnett (who stars as himself in a fun role that never feels out-of-place), who becomes obsessed with the rock and borrows it with the hope of eventually convincing Howard to let him buy it. Of course, Howard has other plans, as the rock is allegedly worth a million dollars if sold at an auction in which he has already purchased a spot. When Garnett doesn’t return the stone, everything starts going horribly awry in Howard’s life as he juggles a failing marriage, his Jewish family ties, and keeping the loan sharks at bay.

Right out of the gate, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) hits the ground hard with a score that carries the cosmic and reverberating effects of the titular uncut gems. When Garnett stares into the opal, he sees exactly what Howard tells him he’s supposed to see: the universe. In that, Lopatin provides a sonic scape so expansive and yet violently singular in its aesthetic that it provides much of Uncut Gems with a mystical aura. Drenched in gritty camerawork that gets up close to show the blemishes of everyone, there’s no denying the film’s mean and potent intensity.

Where Uncut Gems often stumbles is in its narrative threads. While the Garnett storyline weaves in and out, providing a lot of fun as well as hectic tension, it’s a piece of stunt casting that works, while also highlighting one that very clearly doesn’t involve R&B singer The Weekend. Why he is in the movie is baffling, other than perhaps because he evokes a further sense that Howard is in a very upscale world — something we already know by his clientele, multiple properties, and the wealth he actually wears. The Weekend ends up as a weird diversion that can take viewers out of the experience, even if his presence does lead to a further escalation in problems for Howard.

That all being said, Uncut Gems also brings Adam Sandler back into the fold as an actor who can do more than the drivel he has churned out over the decades. More evocative of his performance in Punch-Drunk Love than The Meyerowitz Stories, Sandler gives a comedic and sympathetic performance to a character for whom everything suddenly goes wrong. Living a manic, fast-paced lifestyle, Howard is impatient, aggressive, and greedy, but Sandler makes it possible to get on board with his plight at least partially (there is no way to be on his side completely). His vices are many, but the performance keeps him down to Earth even when it feels like everything is flying off the hinges.

There will likely be many that can’t get past how dirty this movie feels, as it treats many criminal activities as both simply the way things are and the way they always will be. Beyond that, however, the Safdie Brothers provide a nuanced look at Jewish culture, utilizing one of Hollywood’s most prolific Jewish actors, and treat it is as matter-of-fact. Uncut Gems is a frenetic crime film from a Jewish perspective and delivers on its promise of being a wild ride with a phenomenal Sandler performance. Just don’t expect there to be much hope present, as the Safdies revel in the misery as much as humanly possible, only using hope as a torture device to make the anguish all the more painful.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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