Another year has come to a close. Was it Good For The Jews? Eh, time will tell. If you lived in the capital of Israel, one morning you woke up to find out everybody was screaming about whether or not you lived in the capital of Israel. You still had to go to work.
But at the movies (and a little bit on TV) there were a substantial number of wins. How many? Well, let’s keep it to 10, or else we’ll be here all day. The placement of a certain Israeli export may surprise you, but hopefully you’ll buy my argument.
Before we kick it off, though, 2107’s special Shonda Prize goes to the very talented writer Aaron Sorkin, who directed his first feature film with “Molly’s Game.” It’s an exceptional and clever movie that zooms at an incredible clip, but stops short when the lead character, played by Jessica Chastain, mentions that she is a Russian Jew.
If you take a look at the real life “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom it’s obvious that she is, but when it’s Jessica Chastain saying it (and Kevin Costner plays her father) it brings the movie to a grinding halt, because you don’t know if it’s meant to be a joke. Later in the film, there are scenes of gross chiselers (in slow motion) wearing yarmulkes. In other words, the bad Jews look like Jews, but the hero Jews don’t. Aaron, we say “feh.”
10. Ansel Elgort in “Baby Driver”
What if an entire movie were set to highly choreographed, music-driven set-pieces? It would be a good deal of fun, even if the story was thinner than Streit’s mazto. Gangland picture “Baby Driver” is an impressive piece of filmmaking and playing second fiddle to the editing and sleek camera movements is the young Ansel Elgort, who is not Alden Ehrenreich — we checked.
The 23-year-old Manhattan-born Elgort is Jewish on his father’s side. His maternal grandmother saved Norwegian Jewish children by smuggling them into Sweden, and spent 18 months in a concentration camp as a result. We love this kid!
9. “The Women’s Balcony”
A hit both in Israel and New York’s Upper West Side (also known as Israel East), this good-natured movie about a shul in need of maintenance works as a light comedy and as a greater allegory. It argues that traditional values and modernity need not be at odds, and in fact can even strengthen each other. This is also the only 2017 movie to have a really good “Shabbos goy” joke.
Jewish writer-director Darren Aronofsky has been incorporating religious themes into his films since 1998’s paranoid kabbalist dystopian sci-fi indie “Pi.”
“mother!” has been polarizing since its festival debut (just look at that lowercase title and exclamation point — a real pain to copy editors!) but I am here to end the argument and tell you it is brilliant. It is a retelling of all of human history from the point of view of “Mother Earth” or Gaia, refracted through the lens of the Bible. The bulk of the scenes are drawn from the Old Testament, but it skips ahead to the ending, too. (And it ain’t pretty!)
It’s also a simple story about a young wife whose obnoxious artist husband keeps throwing messy dinner parties.
7. Jeff Goldblum in “Thor: Ragnarok”
Jeff Goldblum grows strangely sexier each year. A GQ “oral history” about his awesomeness went viral just as he was starring as the flamboyant Grandmaster on the Jack Kirby-inspired scavenger planet of Sakaar in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Even by Marvel movie standards, Goldblum was given free reign to be as creative and strange as he liked in this performance, milking every pause for laughs. We lost Natalie Portman for this third episode, but I think we still came out on top.
6. “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”
When “The Meyerowitz Stories” debuted at the Cannes Film Festival a gargantuan poster hung over the Promenade de la Croisette. “I can’t wait to see ‘Jew: The Movie,’” I joked. Weirdly, the film has no explicit Jewish content, but when Noah Baumbach directs Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, maybe it doesn’t have to. This is a deeply funny, somewhat aggravating story about a fractured family that is universal to all, but maybe a little extra involving for us.
5. Jason Isaacs in “Star Trek Discovery”
Anglo-Jewish actor Jason Isaacs is not the first member of the tribe to be a “Star Trek” captain, but he’s the first to play the role as anything other than a hero. The newest iteration of the 50+ year franchise (which is on a streaming channel nobody gets, so don’t feel to bad if you barely knew this was even happening) is set 10 years before the original Kirk-Spock-Bones years, and follows the ups and downs of a former First Officer named Michael Burnham. But she (yes, her name is Michael) has a fall from grace and ends up on the USS Discovery, a science vessel that’s up to something mysterious. In the center seat is Isaacs’ Captain Lorca and … do we trust him? I don’t know yet. But I do know that Isaacs is a mesmerizing figure and one of the best actors working in television today.
4. “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”
I still can’t believe this movie is real. Like an Isaac Bashevis Singer story updated for the cellphone age, “Norman” follows Richard Gere (yes, Richard Gere) as a wandering court Jew, making deals for rich and poor people alike, all for “altruistic” purposes. (Sure, one of those is taking his fee, but why not?) Things get out of hand when he floats into the waters of US-Israeli politics. Israeli-born director Joseph Cedar mixes on-the-ground realism (including pickled herring on a cracker) with a surrealist shooting style, making this story of machers and bubbemaysah into a modern day myth.
3. “Call Me By Your Name”
This gorgeous and erudite dream of first romance is the most lovely movie of the year and extremely Good For The Jews. Timothée Chalamet is a young Jewish man coming-of-age in Northern Italy with his professor parents. A summer houseguest comes in the form hunky Star-of-David-necklace-wearing Armie Hammer and, well, you need to see the rest, because film is a visual medium and sometimes words won’t do the trick. Based on Egyptian-Jewish author André Aciman’s book, this is already being hailed as one of the most important gay films ever made.
2. “Wonder Woman”
I know, I know. How could Gal Gadot not be #1 on this list? She should be #1 on the list this year, next year and probably the year after that, right?
This is the woman who spoke in Hebrew on Saturday Night Live and got the world’s children to mimic an Israeli accent on the schoolyard. And if she appeared in the splendid and invigorating “Wonder Woman” and nothing else it would be a no-brainer.
Alas, life is always a little more complicated. Diana, Princess of Themyscira and current art conservator at the Louvre (?), appeared in a second movie this year: the heinous, risible and altogether unwatchable “Justice League.”
It wasn’t Gal’s fault, we know. A contract is a contract. But still, we can’t reward anyone with the top prize for being within 10 miles of that stinker.
1. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Wonder Woman may beat her in strength but no one can outwit the mouth of the marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The most exciting Jewish combination since rye bread and caraway seeds is Amy Sherman-Palladino and Amazon. The streaming network’s new show from the “Gilmore Girls” producer is so overwhelmingly Good For The Jews that Roger Waters may soon start covering Ofra Haza.
Set in the late 1950s and very, very, very loosely modeled off of Joan Rivers, Miriam “Midge” Maisel is a mother of two with a lousy husband who has been making people laugh forever, so why not try to do it on a stage? There are complications (like hiding this fact from her parents) but each step of the way is hilarious and, importantly, an absolute joy to watch. Imagine “Mad Men,” but, you know, nice.
The best news is that Season Two is already on the way.