10 Movies for Jewish American Heritage Month
May is Jewish American Heritage Month. The history of Hollywood is full of examples of Jewish people who started studios (hello, Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer) or had other key roles in production, directing, screenwriting, and more. Books like An Empire of Their Own by Neal Gabler and Hollywood’s Chosen People: The Jewish Experience in American Cinema edited by Daniel Bernardi, Murray Pomerance, and Hava Tirosh-Samuelson go into depth on this history.
You could (and I would) argue that anytime you put on a Steven Spielberg or Billy Wilder or Nancy Meyers movie, you’re celebrating the role of Jewish Americans in film. If Natalie Portman or Jennifer Connelly is on the screen, that is part of Jewish film history. Michael Curtiz, director of Casablanca, was Jewish, as were the film’s screenwriters, brothers Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch (not to mention Jack, Harry, Albert, and Sam Warner, aka Warner Bros., the studio that made the film).
It’s difficult to distill all that history into a blog post. So instead, here are some films specifically about Jewish people, families, and experiences that are worth watching.
A Serious Man R
Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a physics professor at a 1960s university, but his life is coming apart at the seams. His wife is leaving him, his jobless brother (Richard Kind) has moved in, and someone is trying to sabotage his chances for tenure. Larry seeks advice from three different rabbis, but whether anyone can help him overcome his many afflictions remains to be seen.
An American Tail G
Young mouse Fievel and his family emigrate from Russia to the United States by boat after their home is destroyed by cats. During the trip, a fierce storm throws Fievel from the ship, and he loses contact with his family. Luckily, he manages to sail to New York in a bottle. There, Irish mouse Bridget, Italian mouse Tony, and a kindly cat named Tiger help Fievel search for his loved ones.
Angels in America TV-MA
Adapted from Tony Kushner’s award-winning play about social, sexual, and religious issues facing 1980s America as the AIDS crisis gains momentum.
Crossing Delancey PG
Thirty-something Isabelle Grossman (Amy Irving) spends her time going from her tiny, solitary West Side apartment to that of her grandmother (Reizl Bozyk) on the Lower East Side. While her grandmother plots to find her a romantic match, Isabelle is courted by a married, worldly author, yet can’t seem to shake the down-to-earth appeal of Sam (Peter Riegert), a pickle vendor.
Funny Girl G
In this bittersweet, classic musical drama, the vibrant and beautiful young Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) starts out as a bit player on the New York City vaudeville stage, working her way up to stardom on Broadway. Valued for her vocal and comedic talents by the renowned theater impresario Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon), Fanny thrives, but her relationship with her suave husband, Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif), is another story.
Keeping the Faith PG-13
Best friends since they were kids, Rabbi Jacob Schram (Ben Stiller) and Father Brian Finn (Edward Norton) are dynamic and popular young men living and working on New York’s Upper West Side. When Anna Reilly (Jenna Elfman), once their childhood friend and now grown into a beautiful corporate executive, suddenly returns to the city, she reenters Jake and Brian’s lives and hearts with a vengeance. Sparks fly and an unusual and complicated love triangle ensues.
Liberty Heights R
This semi-autobiographical film by Barry Levinson follows the Kurtzmans, a Jewish family living in suburban Baltimore during the 1950s. As teenager Ben (Ben Foster) completes high school, he falls for Sylvia (Rebekah Johnson), a Black classmate, creating inevitable tensions. Meanwhile, Ben’s brother, Van (Adrien Brody), becomes smitten with a mysterious woman.
Shiva Baby Not Rated
While at a Jewish funeral service with her parents, a college student has an awkward encounter with her sugar daddy and her ex-girlfriend.
The Meyerowitz Stories TV-MA
An estranged family gathers in New York City to celebrate the artistic work of their father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman).
Uncut Gems R
Charismatic jeweler Howie (Adam Sandler) makes a high-stakes bet that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. In a precarious high-wire act, he must balance business, family, and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win.