Ben and Josh Safdie. At the time of writing have not had a chance to catch their debut- 2009’s Daddy Longlegs or second effort Heaven Knows What in 2014 but with Good Time (2017) and Uncut Gems (2019) The Safdie brothers have arrived. They certainly have a trademark style: feverishly paced tales of self-destructive characters set in a gritty New York City. They frequently use the handheld cinéma vérité style to keep up with that pace, use neon lighting (the dedication to color is especially potent in Good Time).

Best film: Good Time

  • It is an excellent film, but more than that, it is a work of very promising young filmmakers who make clear ambitious aesthetic choices throughout- I think at least one of the Safdie brothers is 33 (review written in 2017) so these are young filmmakers. If you follow the credits they have their hand in the writing, direction, acting, music and editing
  • First off, from the opening shot, you’ll notice the choice to focus in on close-ups, this Cinéma vérité hand-held approach to it is very different than the somewhat similar close-up style work of Tom Hooper and say Jonathan Demme
  • JJ Leigh steals a few scenes as do a few others but it is largely Pattison’s show. I’m still not convinced he’s a great actor- he’s really a vehicle here for the Safdie brothers and he’s in great hands. There are a lot of things going on around him here but this is his best work and I’m more optimistic than ever on his future. He’s making great choices on directors to work with similar to his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart- he’s good at playing rather vacant characters who are really lifeless behind the eyes
  • The film has an energetic tonic of narrative momentum sapped in formal and reoccurring visual choices like close ups, neon color scheme, and driving score
  • The narrative reminds me of North by Northwest, Inside Lleweyn Davis, it’s just indiscriminate narrative propulsion- a yarn- similar to The Game maybe as well by Fincher. Fascinating
  • Bold colors in the mise-en-scene all over the place, the bank dye, the Christmas lights (Eyes Wide Shut), the fun house, the arcade—

Bold colors in the mise-en-scene all over the place, the bank dye, the Christmas lights (Eyes Wide Shut), the fun house, the arcade

  • Reviled by Rex reed which is another good thing going for the movie
  • The score is like tangerine dream 80’s meets a driving john carpenter score- it’s wonderful
  • I’m not sure about the flashback yarn by secondary character about half way through the movie but it’s such a good tangent that it’s hard to be too upset at the break of form
  • Very promising young filmmakers
  • I feel the influences from Scorsese (After Hours– one night, NYC, drug/rush, heavily stylized), to Lumet (gritty, raw NYC, bank heist), to Carpenter (genre-plus, crazy score)
  • I think Benny Safdie does a hell of a job acting as Nick– it’s not easy to act like that
  • neon and heavy color- red Ecko sweatshirt
  • non-stop narrative
  • the copywriting in the credits is almost like QT’s and Rodriguez’s grindhouse
  • the Safdie’s to the sound, writing and editing- lots of work on the non-diegetic music
  • credits take 22 minutes to end in 100 min movie
  • the Safdie’s turn a phone conversation at the bail bond place into an enthralling thriller
  • the score- Daniel Lopatin (as Oneohtrix Point Never) is amazing- it makes a stroll down the hall seem intense
  • Pattinson’s Connie is a fantastic character- a pariah– leech– I’m more impressed with Pattinson’s performance with a second visit here
  • the set pieces are very well thought out for the visual motifs– we have an Arcade, Adventureland, Cop cars galore, Christmas lights
  • I’m not sure in on the ending with Nick at the care center– could be wrong– I guess you had to end there since you started with Nick but I prefer the long stare of Pattinson’s Connie in the cop car

total archiveable films: 2

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0

top 100 films of the decade:  2 (Good Time, Uncut Gems)

most overrated: They don’t have one. The two films below aren’t overrated and I really need to catch Heaven Knows What– it is the third Safdie film that lands on the top 1000 of the 21st century.

most underrated :  Good Time as #18 ranked film of 2017 is preposterous. Uncut Gems is faring better- it is #7 of 2019 which is actually a little higher than I have it but not worth splitting hairs about—a marvelous film- auteur cinema.

gem I want to spotlight :  Uncut Gems (forgive the pun)

  • A roller-coaster, a time bomb, a heart-attack—you pick the analogy— the Safdie brothers have confirmed their arrival as major auteurs, in a big way, with Uncut Gems. Their specific brand of narrative propulsion is their directorial trademark
  • It’s not even really a story- it’s a scenario—the Safdie’s wind it up and let it go— aided by the proclivity of claustrophobic close-ups, overlapping (and loud) dialogue, New York City, savage selfishness
  • The film lacks the level of dedication to the neons and specific color palate in Good Time
  • ambient noise a character in the film, overlapping dialogue like Altman, but at a crazy high volume, shouting, buzzers going off, street noise, high anxiety
  • Alexander Mackendrick’s 1957 film The Smell of Success seems like an appropriate precursor in a lot of ways- dark, juggling act— how about Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon?
  • The Daniel Lopatin score is a wow— ballsy—very different — I admired his work on Good Time as well which was more John Carpenter-grindhouse—this is a little more retro melodic almost Vangelis-like—I do like that this score makes it clear that the Safdie’s were in clear creative control of this project— I think with any other studio or meddling producer they insist on something else.
  • Sandler’s achievement is among the best for an actor or actress in 2019. He’s a tornado– destructive, compulsive– It’s worth a debate whether this or 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love is Sandler’s best and I consider that an incredible compliment
  • The NYC diamond district is a character in the film, like Howard Ratner (Sandler, and a great name), loud, abrasive—the casino, the nightclub (a gorgeous sequence at 58 minutes of the red neon at the club)
  • Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992) certainly feels like a companion piece (though I can’t imagine anyone is such a masochist (or have the endurance) they’d watching them together in a double-feature—haha).  Going way back how about von Stroheim’s Greed? Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre? Gollum’s obsession with the precious in LOTRAfter Hours from Scorsese is another for sure- NYC, compressed time, a labyrinth.
  • The opening and closing bookends are tremendous. We start with a man who has a leg compound fracture (all in the name of greed) – then the camera dives into the opal at a molecular level like Fincher’s Fight Club — The Safdie’s transition to Howard’s colonoscopy and then at the very end of the film we mirror the opal molecular examination with his bullet wound

The opening and closing bookends are genius


stylistic innovations/traits:                             

  • Kinetic pacing in the editing and camerawork– narrative propulsion
  • no plots- just characters trying to escape, survive, frenetic mousetraps
  • selfish characters, destructive characters, greedy, opportunistic
  • A gritty New York City- Lumet, Ferrara or Scorsese
  • Handheld camerawork
  • Claustrophobic hand-held close-ups—this isn’t the perfectly symmetrical and framed shots of Barry Jenkins or Demme

Claustrophobic hand-held close-ups—this isn’t the perfectly symmetrical and framed shots of Barry Jenkins or Demme— these are clearly auteurs- the above is from Uncut Gems— below on this page is a very similar shot in Good Time

the Safdies even bounce the red police lights and street lighting, Christmas lights off the characters faces– stunning work

  • If you follow the credits they have their hand in the writing, direction, acting, music and editing
  • neons- work with color (red in particular with Good Time– really special dedication to color in a believeable mise-en-scene) in that film

neons- work with color (red in particular with Good Time- really special dedication to color in a believeable mise-en-scene) in that film

red ecko sweatshirt– not a mistake or coincidence


  • Wild musical scores
  • Ambient noise, overlapping dialogue (like Altman but yelling here- maybe closer to David O. Russell) the street noise, sirens, phone calls—all characters in the film—they can shoot a phone conversation and make it one of the most intense sequences of the year- that’s talent (and their trademark)

top 10

  1. Good Time
  2. Uncut Gems


By year and grades

2017- Good Time MS
2019- Uncut Gems HR/MS


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives