The Best Jewish Movies (and Movie Stars) of 5779

Part of: The Almas 5779

While it was definitely a year for Jews on television, there weren’t too many Jewish stories on the big screen. The ones that did premiere, however, were super Jewish, and plenty of Jewish actors had a banner year as well. Without further ado, The Almas for movies (and movie stars) in 5779…


Best Movies

The Best Jewish Movie

On the Basis of Sex. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has seen her biopic, On the Basis of Sex, at least three times. Why? Because of Armie Hammer, who plays her husband, Marty. Daniel Stiepleman, RBG’s nephew and the film’s screenwriter, told Alma, “Part of the joy of the film is she gets Marty back for a couple hours.” (We’re not crying, you’re crying!)

What’s so magnificent about the film is that you get to see a portrait of Ruth before she became the Notorious RBG. We see Ruth as a young woman, navigating her ambitions and family and motherhood. As Stiepleman said, “We all think of Ruth as an 85-year-old bubbe. She wasn’t always a bubbe! She was a young woman who was trying to find her way in the world, just like the rest of us.”

On the Basis of Sex

The Best Jewish Documentary

Ask Dr. Ruth. From Haganah sniper to America’s favorite sex therapist, Dr. Ruth, aka “Grandma Freud,” has one of the most fascinating lives. Born Karola Ruth Westheimer, she’s famous for speaking frankly and openly about all sexual matters, but in Hulu’s documentary Ask Dr. Ruth, we see a more sinister side of her story: surviving the Holocaust. Through gripping animation, Ask Dr. Ruth details the titular icon’s childhood, from escaping the deathly hands of Nazis to caring for orphans in Switzerland. Drenched in Jewish history, this film wins Jewiest documentary by a landslide.

The Best Adaptation From a Jewish Book

The Wife. Jewish author Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 book The Wife finally made it to the big screen this year. It tells the story of a marriage between Jewish author Joe Castelman and his wife, Joan. As Wolitzer writes, she was blown away by Glenn Close’s performance as Joan. “What is it that happens to you, the writer, when the blurry face you’ve lived with for years is sharpened into specificity? And when the person playing your character has a face so familiar to you that you won’t ever be able to think of your character again in a more impressionistic form? What happened to me is as simple and as complicated as this: One of my characters will always be someone I know as my own invention, and now, in addition, she will always have the face of Glenn Close, the person who became Joan Castleman.” Close, notably, beat out Lady Gaga for best actress at the Golden Globes, but went on to lose the Oscar to Olivia Coleman.

The Best Jewish Duo

Billy Eichner & Seth Rogen, Timon & Pumbaa, The Lion King. While The Lion King was truly just a vehicle for Beyoncé and her new music (MOOD 4 EVA is truly a mood forever!), the unexpected highlight of the Disney remake was none other than Jewish comedians Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner. Eichner and Rogen, who voice Timon and Pumbaa, improvised most of their lines and brought much needed humor to the all-CGI film (let’s not call it “live action,” there’s nothing “live action” about it).

lion king

When Timon tells Simba life isn’t a circle, but a “meaningless line of indifference,” it’s impossible not to laugh. Eichner and Rogen were both dumbfounded over sharing scenes with Beyoncé — and to be featured on her new album (Billy called them “Destiny’s Jewish Cousins”). Plus, just watch this video of Billy freaking out to Seth over meeting Meghan Markle at the British premiere. All in all: It’s remarkable that they became the talk of this film, that, may we remind you, starred BEYONCÉ.

Best Movie Stars

Jewish Breakout Star of the Year

Beanie Feldstein. No ifs, ands, or buts: This was Beanie Feldstein’s year. The 26-year-old made waves in Lady Bird last year, but this year, we got to see her in Booksmart, where she finally went from sidekick to star. In Booksmart, she plays Molly, a straight A student who decides to party the night before graduation. “There can never be too many female friendship stories, as far as I’m concerned. I hope there are thousands,” Beanie said of working on Booksmart. We also hope there are thousands, all preferably starring Beanie. But it wasn’t just her role in Booksmart that endeared us to Beanie — it’s her actual personality, which is endearing and hilarious. What other movie star tweets about living “kosh for passover all year long”!?

Other notable Beanie moments from the year: She danced in a live music video for Karen O & Danger Mouse, starred as Jenna in Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s TV show What We Do In the Shadows, is slated to play Monica Lewinsky in the next season of American Crime Story, and, oh yeah, casually came out as queer. “It was completely meaningful for me to watch the film. My partner is a woman,” Beanie said at a panel about Booksmart in May. She’d been tweeting and Instgramming photos with her girlfriend long before that (there are just so many cute photos). Anyway, we’ll wrap up the Beanie-is-a-star-award with the most romantic tweet we’ll ever read:

Glow-Up of the Year

Seth Rogen. We’ve said it once, we’ve said it twice, and we’ll say it again: Seth Rogen can get it. The Jewish comedian with a gravelly voice and distinct laugh has always held a place in our hearts, but this year the rest of the world finally came to their senses. Remember his GQ Magazine cover spread? (How could anyone forget?) Dressed in designer fits like a snazzy orange suit that costs more than our rent, Rogen’s photoshoot practically broke the internet. From lovable schlub to outright stud, he’s undoubtedly this year’s biggest Jewish celebrity glow-up.

Best Rachel Weisz

Which goes to… (drumroll please…) Rachel Weisz! Obviously, Rachel Weisz wins the award for Best Rachel Weisz. Because truly, this was her year. Coming off the heels of Disobedience, the queerest, most Jewish love story of our time, Weisz starred in Yorgos Lanthimos’ fantastic period drama The Favourite this year and spent a lot of time on the red carpet and doing press, which meant we had so many moments to gaze at her in awe.

rachel weisz

For The Favourite, she racked up a series of nominations, and won at the BAFTAs, Critics Choice Awards, and Gotham Awards (she lost at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards). At the Gotham Awards, she said, “I hope one day soon in the not-so-distant future we don’t get asked what it was like to share the screen with other women. Because I don’t think you ever ask men that.” She’s truly an icon. All hail Rachel Weisz!


Best Jewish Superhero

Peter B. Parker. In Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, one of the many spider people who exist in different universes is a guy named Peter B. Parker. In the montage introducing him, there’s a scene of him getting married and stomping on a glass at a wedding. (Which is a Jewish wedding tradition!) At Vulture, they asked one of the directors if this means (one) Spider-Man is canonically Jewish, and he said, “Yes, I had my own personal theory and I was a real loudmouth about it. I was mainly just messing with people, but I would say, ‘You know Spider-Man is Jewish, right?’ I was like, ‘His name is ‘Spider-Man,’ just for starters” (pronouncing it Spiderm’n, “à la many Ashkenazi Jewish surnames”). (Read more here.)

Best Star of David Accessory

Chris Evans, Red Sea Diving Resort. The movie itself was deeply meh, and missed the real story of Ethiopian Jews, but it did bless us with an image of Captain America himself wearing a Star of David necklace. Bless.

Best Breakout Alma

Gal Gadot’s daughter Alma, Angry Birds 2. Wonder Woman’s daughter Alma Varsano made her big screen debut this year, as the voice of a bird in Angry Birds 2. Gal, a proud mama, captioned her Instagram, “Looks like I’m out of the job.”