One of the things that separates my very favourite films from those that are merely excellent is that they seem to fold in other mediums as they go. With its dense plotting and lovingly textured surroundings, 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – as an example – makes you feel like you’re reading the novel as the film goes by. Similarly, with a perfect soundtrack and rhythmic, rapid-fire dialogue, The Social Network has much of the appeal of a great song, whilst Claire Denis’s Beau Travail is an interpretive dance piece even before its barnstormer of an ending. Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems is even greater, managing, like no other film before it, to feel like a live sports match, as unpredictable, tense, miserable, and cathartic as any high-stakes England game or basketball playoff.

For an intricately plotted fiction film to capture the sort of heart-in-mouth combination of dread and thrill that seems exclusive to events where the outcome isn’t pre-ordained is a towering achievement. Though other films might have fit the mood of lockdown 2020 better (i.e. The Lighthouse) or had greater resonance with the deep-rooted societal issues that continued to plague the world (see; Parasite and the Small Axe series), nothing could compare to the atom bomb of excitement that was Uncut Gems. I remember walking out of my first-time screening genuinely dazed yet with a probably unhealthy level of adrenaline coursing through me, like I’d just been in a drunken fight.


Courtesy of: Netflix

Given its unrelenting intensity, it’s not always the easiest film to revisit, but in the bizarre year that was 2020, Uncut Gems even offered some comfort viewing during the various lockdowns. Its release in January seems like another lifetime when our gravest concerns were whether Parasite would win an adequate number of Oscars, and Adam Sandler’s tour of the indie awards shows, threatening to make the worst movie all time if he didn’t win Best Actor now a fond, foggy memory.

We can see some of Uncut Gems’s quality in its sheer staying power. Already meme’d half to death before it even came out – see the countless ways Twitter found to use ‘this is how I win’ or ‘Holy shit, I’m gonna cum’ – Sandler, the Safdies, and breakout star Julia Fox have stayed in the cinematic conversation all year. It’s a rare feat in a cultural climate where even the biggest event movies and TV drop out of the public consciousness almost as soon as they arrive, a testament to how deeply Uncut Gems connected with its audience.


Courtesy of: Netflix

This connection came through not just the thrills, but the laughs. All the previous Safdie films have had some dark humour running through them, but with a comedic legend like Sandler at their disposal they allowed themselves to go a lot broader. Uncut Gems is hilarious, even when it’s terrifying, the Safdies’ trademark hidden camera-esque stylings adding a wince-inducing authenticity to even the silliest of the film’s jokes. It’s no wonder that their next project is in collaboration with Nathan Fielder, the king of weirdo ‘reality’ TV.

A good chunk of ORWAV’s top 10 this year is dominated by immaculately designed period movies, and though it might not seem particularly intuitive to chuck Uncut Gems in with Mangrove, The Lighthouse, 1917, etc, it does indeed join this pantheon. To be able to include basketballer Kevin Garnett (who is truly a revelation as an actor) so prominently in the plot, Uncut Gems has to be set in 2012, and the Safdies do an amazing job of transporting back to that recent history. The clothes, the phones, the culture – all of them are just not quite up to date, and it’s this kind of eye for detail and disarmingly subtle disconnect from our current reality that makes for a film that you really can’t shake from your mind. Like Greta Gerwig making 2002 into *history* with Lady Bird, the Safdies have a profound grasp of how fast our world is moving, and are able to turn that stomach-churning perpetual motion into yet another tool in their arsenal.


Courtesy of: Netflix

A mesmerising fusion of visionary direction, explosive performances, oppressive sound work, and extraordinary visuals (New York has never looked as alien as it does here, no mean feat for a film set in one of the most filmed cities on earth), Uncut Gems does nothing in half measures. It sets out to viscerally affect you in every scene and succeeds absolutely, so queasy and aggressive that sitting still is almost impossible all the way to an ending that is just a hair shy of unbearable in its tension. In the 11 months since it came out, nothing else has even come close to matching the pure giddiness that the Safdies leave in their wake here. It’d be a career-defining masterpiece for any filmmaker, but for a pair who seem to just be hitting their stride, it’s a cinematic miracle.

So to recap, here’s our Top 20 so far…

=#20 – Shirley
=#20 – A Hidden Life
#19 – And Then We Danced
#18 – Dick Johnson is Dead
#17 – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
#16 – Wolfwalkers
#15 – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
#14 – True History of the Kelly Gang
#13 – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
#12 – Lovers Rock
#11 – Ema
#10 – Mangrove
#9 – Rocks
#8 – 1917
#7 – Bacurau
#6 – Babyteeth
#5 – The Lighthouse
#4 – Uncut Gems

Stay tuned each and every day for the remainder of 2020 to count down our Top 10 films of 2020.