Top 25 SNL Alumni Performances: Numbers 15-11

My top 25 personal favorite cinematic performances by the alumni of Saturday Night Live continues with part 3 covering numbers 15-11! If you missed the first two posts, you can find them right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/21/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-25-21/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/22/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-20-16/

Let’s get to it!

15. Dan Aykroyd & John Belushi, The Blues Brothers (1980)

This is the first spin-off movie from the show and it’s certainly one of the best. Aykroyd and Belushi sold out stadiums with their musical act and their car chase friendly comedy was a major box office success as they embarked on their mission from God.

14. Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems (2019)

Now is the time to address what many might consider to be oversights on the list. This is the only Sandler entry. That’s right – no Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore or The Wedding Singer or any of his other blockbusters. While I certainly admire some of his work in those features, my Sandler preferences lie with his rare dramatic work. I could have given the nod to 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, but last year’s Gems absolutely floored me and I believe it represents his best performance yet on the big screen.

13. Bill Murray, Lost in Translation (2003)

Speaking of comedic actors doing less humorous work, Murray nabbed his only Oscar nomination here. The Sofia Coppola directed critically acclaimed pic perfectly pairs its star with Scarlett Johansson and is further evidence of just how versatile Murray is. And he’s not done on this list…

12. Chevy Chase, Caddyshack (1980)

Be the ball.

At his best, no one pulls off smarmy charm better than Mr. Chase. I could have gone with Fletch as the selection, but he’s at his smarmy peak in this now revered classic.

11. Christopher Guest, Waiting for Guffman (1997)

Guest was only on SNL for one season alongside Billy Crystal and Martin Short. He had already starred in the fantastic mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, which set the standard for that type of film. Guest would go on to direct his own treasured pics in the genre including Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. As far as his own performances, my favorite is his dedicated community theater director Corky St. Clair.

We’ll get to the top ten in short order! Until then…

Daily Streaming Guide: March 31st Edition

Today’s Streaming Guide bring us an absolute masterclass in filmmaking and acting that is currently available via Netflix:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is an early 20th century tale of oil mining and greed with a towering and Oscar winning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. As Daniel Plainview, a ruthless prospector turned tycoon – Day-Lewis pretty much won the Academy Award as soon as the picture screened for critics. Blood was also victorious in the Cinematography category and deservedly so. The pic also features dynamite supporting work from Paul Dano as a scheming preacher. And there’s a line regarding milkshakes that stands along the hit Kelis track as the best 21st century milkshake references.

Blood continued Anderson’s ascent into greatness after such features as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love. It has since continued with The Master, Inherent Vice, and Phantom Thread (which is headlined by another terrific Day-Lewis role). I have a special place for Boogie Nights, which I considered to be the best movie of the 1990s not named Pulp Fiction. As far as PTA’s output, this ranks second.

That’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

Uncut Gems Movie Review

When the brothers Safdie (Ben and Josh) made Good Time in 2017, the thriller centering on low-life crime figures contained segments that showed the duo was capable of creating something special. Clearly influenced by similar grimy pics in the 1970s, that film gave Robert Pattinson a role that drew him far away from a sullen romantic vampire and is primarily responsible for his current career trajectory. However, I found Good Time better in spots than as a cohesive whole. Their follow-up is Uncut Gems and it’s the “something special” that was hinted at in their predecessor.

In many ways, it stays in the Good Time lane. The setting is again the Big Apple. The characters are again a level of bottom dwelling criminals who aren’t exactly top level at their professions. And like Pattinson, Gems allows a very famous actor to try something different. Here it’s Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, who owns a diamond store and is a degenerate gambler. In Howard’s universe, there’s not a problem that he can’t seem to make worse.

His family life is in a constant state of chaos as his wife (Idina Menzel) is ready to freeze him out and his brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian) is a loan shark that Howard owes money to. Then there’s his girlfriend Julie (Julia Fox, in her feature debut) who works for him and is a consistent source of stress. Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) is his business associate charged with bringing in celebrities and high rollers to the store. He finds one in Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett, who plays himself and does so memorably.

When Howard gets his hands on a rare Ethiopian opal, it sets off a series of frenzied events. Garnett is obsessed with purchasing the rarity while Howard looks to cash in with it at auction. The hoped for financial windfall means he can pay his off his considerable debts. Yet Howard just cannot help himself as one scheme simply leads to the next one, including betting on his NBA client for large sums of money.

Like Good Time, the pacing here is relentless. For over two hours, the screenplay and direction immerse us in Howard’s out of control daily existence. It’s exhilarating and Sandler deserves a lot of the credit. These days, it’s rare to see the performer in anything other than middling to less than middling Netflix comedies. Seeing him rise to the challenge in more dramatic material shouldn’t come as a huge surprise as we saw it in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love nearly two decades ago. It’s just been a while. Howard is onscreen nearly the entire running time and for good reason. You can’t take your eyes off him.

The lead’s remarkable work is accentuated by his supporting cast. This especially applies to the women in his life as both Menzel and Fox are given notable scenes reacting to Howard’s never-ending foibles. By the time the credits roll, one could argue Uncut Gems has the happiest ending it could have if you really ponder it. This is a tale of addiction in a highly stylized setting where Howard just can’t become the winner he pines to be. His turmoil is interrupted by brief glimpses of happiness and we witness a couple of great ones. In the era that the Safdies are paying homage, Al Pacino or Robert De Niro might have played Howard. Sandler gets the job here and knocks it out the park. It’s something special.

**** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Uncut Gems

Amidst a stream of Netflix comedies that haven’t exactly had critics on their side, Adam Sandler is now garnering some career best reviews for his starring role in Uncut Gems. The crime thriller from directors Josh and Benny Safdie premiered at the Telluride over the weekend ahead of its December, non-Netflix release.

Praise has been heaped on Sandler and he finds himself potentially in contention for Oscar chatter for the first time in years. In 2002, the comedian’s heralded work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love nabbed some awards buzz that ultimately went unrealized. The Brothers Safdie are making their follow up to 2017’s Good Time, which generated some talk of a Robert Pattinson leading actor nod that also never materialized.

This could all come down to competition for Sandler and if the pic gains any traction with a decent sized audience. Distributor A24 will probably make a push for his inclusion even as they concentrate on other titles like Waves and The Farewell. The original screenplay and cinematography from Darius Knondji have also been singled out in critical write ups.

Bottom line: Uncut Gems opens the door for Sandler to make the cut for Oscar attention, but let’s see how open the field is as time goes on. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Another Cannes Film Festival screening has put two items in the same sentence that don’t really belong together: Oscar buzz and Adam Sandler. Yes, it’s true. When we think of Sandler pics premiering on Netflix over the last couple of years, quality doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

However, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) isn’t your typical Sandler fare. The comedic drama (or dramatic comedy if you will) is from acclaimed indie director Noah Baumbach, maker of The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha. Instead of David Spade and Rob Schneider, the costars here include Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, and Emma Thompson.

Early reviews from France suggest this is Mr. Sandler’ finest performance since at least PunchDrunk Love 15 years ago. And that has some folks whispering Oscar nomination. In all likelihood, even with strong notices and a current 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the star of Meyerowitz is probably a bit of a long shot. Yet a weak Best Actor race could change that dynamic come autumn.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…