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Elisabeth Rappe

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Elisabeth Rappe is a regular contributor to Film.com, CHUD, and The Spectator's arts blog. She spends her off-time with comic books, her pug, Elliot, video games, and Clint Eastwood movies.

Adam Sandler: Top 5/Bottom 5

When uttered, the name “Adam Sandler” is often followed by groans, jeers and rants about what a blight he is on cinema.  Sandler has been provoking those reactions ever since he left “Saturday Night Live” for a career in man-child movies. In the 1990s, “Billy Madison” was loudly decried as the moment at which art died.

Well, we survived. Good movies were made again, and Sandler kept on trucking, watering down his particular brand until he could sleepwalk through it. In retrospect, his early comedies have a loopy, frenetic charm that showcases Sandler as someone genuinely having fun and hoping you’ll laugh along with him — as opposed to the stale, middle-aged stuff he’s doing now.

Oh, and there were his attempts at Serious Acting. They weren’t too bad, either.

Without further ado, here are the five best (and five worst) movies of Sandler’s career.

THE BEST

5. ‘Happy Gilmore’

Golf became cool in 1996 thanks to two things: Tiger Woods going pro, and “Happy Gilmore” hitting theaters. (Is it a coincidence both players have incredible long drives?) Happy is a man of unbridled fury who bashes at everyone and everything that annoys him or gets in his way. He’s only one grandma, Subway deal, Carl Weathers’ wooden hand, and Bob Barker fight away from being a Martin Scorsese character. All right, that’s a lot of things away from being a Goodfella, but still.

4. ‘Funny People’

Sandler has toyed with drama from time to time, and “Funny People” was a successful break from his formula. In fact, it’s shockingly self-aware as Sandler brilliantly skewers his own film career, implying he’s closer to the broken, bitter George Simmons than we might suspect. The film’s flabbiness can’t be held against Sandler, who delivers on George Simmons’ full arc of depression, recognition and a tentative attempt at redemption. We know Simmons won’t completely change, but there’s just enough shyness in Sandler’s final scenes that we know he’ll keep trying.

3. ‘Billy Madison’

It may be a guilty pleasure, but it’s one even Paul Thomas Anderson is susceptible to, so pipe down!  This is the movie that debuted Sandler’s deranged and immature character to the masses, and it throws so much madness at the screen that you have to admire it, quote it, and watch it on a weeknight when you’re thoroughly depressed. Now stop looking at me, swan.

2. ‘The Wedding Singer’

Don’t let anyone tell you this is a guilty pleasure movie. Sure, it would collapse without all the ’80s references, but it’s the sweetest movie Sandler has ever made; and in comparison to most romantic comedies, it’s defiantly weird. The grandma who pays him in meatballs? Jon Lovitz’s creepy moment behind the curtain? The mutterings of his brother-in-law? Billy Idol serving airplane food? The foul-mouthed nephews? Steve Buscemi? It’s just off-kilter enough to balance out the typical romantic tropes, and even those are made so darn cute by Sandler and Barrymore that they’re utterly forgivable.

1. ‘Punch-Drunk Love’

It feels like something out of an alternate history: Sandler and Paul Thomas Anderson? Wait, that’s Paul Thomas “There Will Be Blood” Anderson, director of master actors and intense themes?  Yes! And it’s not as though Sandler was looking to shake up his career; Anderson deliberately sought the actor out for this dark and dangerous rom-com, which makes the whole thing feel even odder. But it works. The violence and desperation that Sandler had used as a joke (see: “Happy Gilmore”) becomes something terrifying, uncomfortable and admirable in the form of Barry Egan. Sandler revealed he was capable of depth and complexity, and it could have been the pivotal moment he retired his shtick in favor of harrowing dramas, a la Tom Hanks. That didn’t quite happen. But we still have “Punch-Drunk Love” to remind us what he’s truly capable of.

Honorable Mention:

’50 First Dates’

If you’ve never seen this movie — or watched it once and dismissed it — check it out again. The premise is disarmingly sweet, the locations are beautiful, and Sandler’s marine biologist is pretty awesome. (Forget a wedding singer; who doesn’t love a guy who brushes a walrus’s teeth singing “So fresh and so clean!”?)   There’s also Alexa, who may take the prize for “Most Unsettling Sandler Sidekick.” Who was that actress? Why isn’t she in movies with Kristen Wiig?

THE WORST

5. ‘Spanglish’

This is a film that could have easily been in the top five, but one of the dramas has to go here, and it’s “Spanglish.” The film’s shortcomings aren’t Sandler’s fault — he didn’t write the lush, magical Latina maid, or the wife who makes Darth Vader seem reasonable — but his performance is weakly one-note, the Super Nice Guy who just coasts through the film as things happen to him. Sure, it’s the one genuine grown-up he’s played, but knowing that Sandler is capable of more intensity than this just makes it that much more disappointing.

4. ‘Just Go With It’

A comedian has hit bottom when he begins making movies that portray him as a man studly enough to have top-notch beauties fighting over him … and they’re boring, to boot. This film feels like an excuse for Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker and Nicole Kidman to take a Hawaiian vacation. The moviegoing audience already paid for them to have one 10 times over. Why did we have to fund another?

3. ‘You Don’t Mess With the Zohan’

Who knew Sandler had such an impressive body under the plaid shirts?  And if that’s not his usual physique, who knew he was willing to go Method to play ex-Mossad? No one. Too bad it was for this garish comedy that reduces the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into a sideplot about a guy whose really good at pleasuring old women. The sad part is that it does have good moments (“You know, you shouldn’t jump around when this nice woman is holding a sharp pair of scissors. If you move she could slip and slice your jugular vein, on accident. There is no way to stitch the jugular. All of your blood will be on the floor in four minutes. I have seen this. I have done this. You don’t want this.”) that hint at something much sharper than this.

2. ‘Little Nicky’
What happens when a star-studded cast decides to play in the gutter? “Little Nicky” happens. The film is a garbled, loud, gross mess of a comedy. Even the deft touches of Harvey Keitel and Reese Witherspoon can’t save it. This proves Sandler should never, ever be given a CGI budget, because he’s just too tempted to assault you with it.

1. ‘Jack and Jill’

The worst of the worst of the worst, and it took Al Pacino down with it. As numerous critics and commentors said at the time, it looks like the kind of movie Sandler lampooned himself making in “Funny People.” Until Sandler reveals he deliberately made it as a piece of performance art inspired by his days with Judd Apatow, it remains an absolute low point for his career.


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Tags: 50 First Dates, Adam sandler, Billy Madison, Funny people, Happy Gilmore, Jack and Jill, Just go with it, Little nicky, Punch drunk love, Spanglish, The Wedding Singer, Top 5 Bottom 5, You Don't Mess With the Zohan