For many Jewish families in America, December 25 means Chinese food and the movies. At this point, it’s practically its own Jewish holiday to hit up the movie theater on Christmas. Both traditions can be traced to the Lower East Side, where many Jews from Eastern Europe settled at the turn of the 20th century.
When Jews arrived, as Jamie Lauren Keiles writes in Vox, “They worked in sweatshops and lived in tenement housing. In their time off, they would go to the newly opened nickelodeons. For between one cent and five cents, they could see a very early form of a movie. By 1909, there were 42 nickelodeons adjacent to the Lower East Side and 10 uptown in Jewish Harlem. Christmas was just another day off, so these early movies attracted big crowds. We know from the Yiddish press that Christmas became a popular day for the opening of new Yiddish theater productions. It was a day off from work, so what do you do? You can stay home, or you can go to the nickelodeons, or the Yiddish theater.”
(As for Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas, that also goes back to the Lower East Side, where Jewish and Chinese immigrants lived side by side.)
With so many movies to watch this December 25, we decided to rank them for you — from least Jewish to most Jewish, based on a completely and utterly subjective scale. Points were awarded based on Jewishness of plot and Jewish creatives (and actors) involved. May you all have a merry movie day.
14. “House of Gucci“
The biographical crime drama tells the tale of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) and Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). Despite Adam Driver playing Jews (like his star turn as a Jewish cop in “BlacKkKlansman”), Adam Driver is not Jewish. “House of Gucci,” on the whole, is extremely not Jewish. Case in point: a line from the movie that went viral is Lady Gaga crossing herself and saying, “Father, Son, House of Gucci.”
am i allowed to freely say “father, so , and house of gucci” if im jewish…. (answer if you’re jewish)
— Charna Flam (@Charna_Flam) November 9, 2021
Again: Not Jewish.
Jewish points: 0 for plot, -100 for Adam Driver, -100 for viral reference to the cross, +50 for Italians. Jewish movie score: -150 points. Sorry, “House of Gucci.”
13. “The Green Knight“
“The Green Knight” is a medieval fantasy film based on Arthurian legend, and begins on Christmas morning, following the story of Gawain, a nephew of King Arthur. Gawain is kind of a Christ figure, but the story really is about the collision of the pagan and Christian worlds. As A.R. Vishny wrote in Alma, “Arthurian Legend is derived chiefly from Breton, Welsh, Saxon, and other Celtic storytelling traditions. Over time, retellings have merged the Pagan and Christian aspects of these legends seamlessly (see the Holy Grail and all that talk about the ‘once and future king’) to the extent that anything Arthurian is Christian in essence.”
Mainly ranking this above “House of Gucci” because of how attractive Dev Patel is, and because of these very two funny “The Green Knight” Jewish tweets:
Watching the Green Knight my inner Jewish monologue the whole time is just
“he doesn’t look warm enough. That yellow shawl thing is not thick enough for the winter he’s completely under dressed “
If his witch mum were a Jewish witch mum he’d have at least 3-4 more layers
— Prequel (@djprequel) August 22, 2021
hey a24! maybe more people would have liked the green knight if he wasn't a tree? maybe make him shorter? give him glasses? a pinch of anxiety? jewish? have him standing in a kitchen with diane keaton going "the lobsters! grab the lobsters!"? then more people would like it.
— jordan defilippo. (@jordandeadsoon) August 4, 2021
Jewish points: -100 for Christian themes, -20 for no (seemingly) Jews involved. Jewish movie score: -120
“Encanto” is Disney’s 60th (!!) animated movie. It tells the story of the Madrigals, a family who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia. Every child has a unique gift — except Mirabel. The story begins with a young woman named Alma Madrigal escaping armed conflict with her triplet infants. We then flash forward and follow Mirabel, Alma’s granddaughter, as she sets out to save Encanto.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the songs for “Encanto.” And while Lin is not Jewish, he’s extremely Jewish-adjacent. His other big movie of this fall was “Tick, Tick… Boom!” about Jewish composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson. And, Lin-Manuel Miranda was a bar mitzvah dancer. Also, he sang “To Life” (from “Fiddler on the Roof”) at his wedding. Anyway, nothing really Jewish about “Encanto” but LMM.
Jewish points: +50 for Alma (le duh, we’re a Jewish site called Alma!!), +20 for Lin-Manuel Miranda, -30 for Walt Disney being an antisemite. We don’t forget!! Jewish movie score: 40.
11. The King’s Man
Here is the plot of “The King’s Man”: “As a collection of history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to plot a war to wipe out millions, one man and his protégé must race against time to stop them.” Per one review, the story includes a murderous Rasputin and a Woodrow Wilson sex tape. The film is an ensemble cast led by Ralph Fiennes. One of the cast members is Jewish actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays Scottish soldier Archie Reid; another is German Spanish actor Daniel Brühl (who has played many German bad guys in his career), who portrays Erik Jan Hanussen, an Austrian Jewish charlatan, hypnotist, astrologer and more, who supposedly taught Hitler about public performance.
Jewish points: +50 for Jewish actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, +50 for Erik Jan Hanussen, a real Austrian Jewish man, -50 for the only Jewish character being a dude who supposedly helped Hitler. Jewish movie score: 50.
10. The Matrix Resurrections
Honestly, I know nothing about “The Matrix.” So I thought it’d be a safe bet to slip this in the middle here. I found a fun article from Hillel: “The secret Jewish history of the Matrix.” Anyway, Keanu Reeves is not Jewish.
Jewish points: +100 for that article existing. (You know you’ve made it when you have a “secret Jewish history…” blog.) -50 for resurrections, which feels very not Jewish. Jewish movie score: 50.
9. Nightmare Alley
Guillermo del Toro’s newest film “Nightmare Alley” is based on a 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham about “Stan Carlisle (Cooper), an ambitious carny, who hooks up with a corrupt psychiatrist, Dr. Lilith Ritter (Blanchett), who proves to be as dangerous as he is.” The psychological thriller stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen and David Strathairn.
“Nightmare Alley” is sitting at no. 9 on our list because of two reasons: One is actor Ron Perlman – this is the Jewish actor’s sixth film with del Toro. Perlman plays a father figure to Stan’s love interest, and said his experience growing up in a Jewish family in Washington Heights shaped his roles. Perlman also explained he was the reason del Toro is adapting “Nightmare Alley.” “It is my No. 1 favorite noir,” Perlman said. “It always has been. And he had never heard of it. So we screened it at my house, which is how Guillermo began the love affair.”
Two is that Del Toro “credits Austro-Hungarian director Otto Preminger with nurturing his passion for film noir.” Otto Preminger was a Jewish director born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (present day Ukraine). Two of Preminger’s films — “Laura” and “Fallen Angel” — directly inspired “Nightmare Alley.”
Jewish points: +100 for Ron Perlman, +80 for Otto Preminger, -20 for the fact I thought the “Nightmare Alley” novel would be written by a Jew for some reason but it was not. Jewish movie score: 160.
8. Spider-Man: No Way Home
The third installment of Tom Holland’s “Spider-Man” was eagerly anticipated. (There will be spoilers here!!) In the film, “Peter Parker (Holland) asks Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to make his identity as Spider-Man a secret again with magic, but it breaks open the multiverse and allows five supervillains from alternate realities to enter Parker’s universe.” Also featured? Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s Spidermen. Garfield, of course, is a Jewish heartthrob, and we are always happy to see him on our screens.
Stan was Jewish, came from a very Jewish background, and a lot of that informed how his career went. But then when he’s sitting down to actually make comics, it’s unclear how much of the comics are really being made [by him], period. But you can look for “Jewish themes” in those comics and come up with stuff that I guess is Jewish, but it’s also pretty universal. You see people saying, “Marvel was Jewish because it has Spider-Man who’s very neurotic and lives in Queens.” And it’s like, a lot of neurotic people lived in Queens of any number of ethnicities, it’s a very diverse borough, that does not necessarily narrow it down to Spider-Man being Jewish. I love that they had a Jewish Spider-Man in “Into the Spider-Verse,” I thought that was a delightful little touch. But I don’t think you can say, “Well, you go back to the original comics and this is a fundamentally Jewish character, a fundamentally Jewish story.” It’s a story about an outsider and a nerd, who ends up having a lot of power and responsibility, etc. That can be universal, that can really apply to any ethnic category.
So while Spider-Man may not be fundamentally Jewish, there are still some fun Jewish tidbits about “No Way Home.”
Jewish points: +75 for Stan Lee, +100 for Andrew Garfield, +25 for a neurotic superhero from Queens. Jewish movie score: 200.
7. Being the Ricardos
“Being the Ricardos” is about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, set during one week of production on “I Love Lucy.” Written and directed by Jewish filmmaker Aaron Sorkin, the film premiered to mixed reviews. One of the main characters is Jewish producer Jess Oppenheimer, a head writer for “I Love Lucy.” (Lucille Ball called Jess “the brains” behind the sitcom.) Tony Hale plays Oppenheimer, and Jewish and Catholic actor John Rubinstein plays an older Oppenheimer. Linda Lavin, a Jewish actress, is also featured as “I Love Lucy” writer Madelyn Pugh.
“‘I Love Lucy,’ I grew up on that,” Tony Hale said. “The thing that’s special about this movie, is it’s a drama about the making of ‘I Love Lucy.’ To watch Nicole Kidman and Javier really transform into these iconic characters, obviously directed by Aaron Sorkin, I kind of had this front row seat of, ‘Alright, which one of these is not like the other? Did they make a mistake in casting me?’ The whole time I was just like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.'”
Hale added, “I really just tried to look at Jess and his relationship to Lucy… their relationship, and then his relationship with Desi, just to kind of find those human relationships.”
Jewish points: +150 for writer/director Aaron Sorkin, +80 for Jess Oppenheimer, +25 for John Rubinstein +25 for Linda Lavin. Jewish movie score: 280.
6. Don’t Look Up
“Don’t Look Up” is about two astronomers (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) who try to warn the world that a comet is coming to destroy earth. The president is played by Meryl Streep (a dream come true). Relevant for us: Jewish actors in the film!! We have Jonah Hill, brother of Beanie, who plays the president’s son and Chief of Staff. There’s Timothée Chalamet, who plays Yule, an “evangelical shoplifting skater punk.” And our bestie Ron Perlman, who portrays Colonel Ben Drask, “a not-so-bright military officer who is enlisted by President Orlean in a flashy plan to knock the comet off course before it can hit Earth.” Jewish actors Sarah Silverman and Liev Schreiber also appear in the film.
Jewish points: +100 for Jonah Hill and his incredible press tour around the movie, +50 for Timothée, +50 for Ron, +50 for Sarah, +50 for Liev, +20 for the fact Meryl Streep’s son-in-law is Mark Ronson. Jewish movie score: 320.
5. The Tragedy of Macbeth
Look, how is “Macbeth” the fifth most Jewish movie you can see this Christmas? I don’t know. But here we are. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is an adaptation of the Shakespeare play from director Joel Coen, in his first solo endeavor. (He usually works with his brother Ethan, they’re known as the Coen brothers.) Joel has said, “There’s no doubt that our Jewish heritage affects how we see things.” Now, I am not saying this is a Jewish Macbeth. But I am saying it’s a Macbeth starring Denzel Washington (!!) and Frances McDormand (!!), and it’s shot in black and white, and it looks veryyyyy good.
As one reviewer wrote, “Coen’s work in The Tragedy of Macbeth is otherwordly. The style is a complete departure from the years of work he’s done with his brother Ethan. Every aspect of the production works in unison by combining stage and screen sensibilities to execute his masterful vision of the Scottish play.”
Plus, do we think Amelia Bassano — a Jewish woman, often called Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady” — is the reason Lady Macbeth is such an incredible, nuanced character? (The idea that she was the “Dark Lady” “remains unproved, though not impossible.”)
Jewish points: -10 for me not being able to find any tweets with the phrases “The Tragedy of Macbeth” and “Jewish,” but +200 for Joel Coen, and +150 for Amelia, just because. Jewish movie score: 340.
4. The Lost Daughter
Jewish actress Maggie Gyllenhaal made her directorial debut with “The Lost Daughter,” an adaptation of the Elena Ferrante novel of the same name. “The Lost Daughter” is about “a woman, while on a summer holiday, finds herself becoming obsessed with another woman and her daughter, prompting memories of her own early motherhood to come back and unravel her.”
In the film, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, a British Jewish actor, plays Toni, the husband of Nina (Dakota Johnson). Jackson-Cohen’s mom is English Protestant and his dad is French, born into an Orthodox Jewish family from Egypt. Oh, and he’s very very good looking!!!
Me watching The Lost Daughter: who’s that hottie kissing Dakota Johnson
Me two seconds later: OH MY GOD THAT’S OLIVER JACKSON-COHEN AUTOMATIC FIVE STARS 🤩🤩🤩
— aly 🏹 ravenous (@alyravenous) December 11, 2021
The fact that it was helmed by a Jewish female director is a big freaking deal to us. Gyllenhaal, 44, is the daughter of filmmakers Stephen Gyllenhaal and Naomi Achs, and was born Margalit Gyllenhaal (and is, of course, the sister of Jake). And, fun fact, “The Lost Daughter” was translated into English by Ferrante’s longtime collaborator, the Jewish translator Ann Goldstein.
Jewish points: +100 for Maggie Gyllenhaal, +100 for Maggie Gyllenhaal directing, +100 for translator Ann Goldstein, +100 for Oliver Jackson-Cohen, +50 for Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s face. Jewish movie score: 450.
3. Sing 2
“Sing 2” is a jukebox musical comedy featuring a bajillion actors. Relevant to these purposes, there are four Jews in “Sing 2.” Here they are, with their character descriptions from Wikipedia:
- Scarlett Johansson as Ash, a teenage porcupine punk rocker
- Nick Kroll as Gunter, a passionate dancing pig who is partnered with Rosita for the show
- Eric André as Darius, a self-important yak who is cast in the stage production opposite Meena in a romantic duet
- Chelsea Peretti as Suki, Jimmy Crystal’s haughty dog assistant and talent scout
(Ignoring Scarlett) Nick, Eric and Chelsea are three of the funniest Jews working in Hollywood right now, and Nick Kroll’s Gunter is a main character in the plot. Here to cheer Jews on, even if they’re a “self-important yak” or a “passionate dancing pig.”
Jewish points: +100 for Scarlett, +150 for Nick, +150 for Eric, +150 for Chelsea. Jewish movie score: 550.
2. West Side Story
“West Side Story” is Steven Spielberg’s venture into musicals, at long last. The musical film is based on the 1957 musical from four Jewish creatives: Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents. Originally conceived as “East Side Story,” a conflict between an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family on the Lower East Side, the musical features a rivalry between a white gang, the Jets, and a Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Jewish Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner adapted the screenplay for 2021. None of the actors are Jewish, with the exception of Corey Stoll as Lieutenant Schrank.
This is my official recommendation for what you should see in theaters, btw. It demands the big screen — and it’s a stunning, gorgeous musical, and a work of art from Spielberg. Rachel Zegler (María), Ariana DeBose (Anita), David Alvarez (Bernardo) and Mike Faist (Riff) all shine, and deserve allll the awards.
Jewish points: +300 for Steven Spielberg, +150 for Tony Kushner, -100 for the problematic nature of the plot (still, yes), +200 for Sondheim, +200 for Bernstein, +100 for Robbins, +100 for Laurents, +100 for the story being rooted in Jewish immigrants, -300 for Ansel Elgort (he was distractingly terrible) and -20 for Rachel Zegler not being Jewish!!! (With a name like that?! C’mooooon.) Jewish movie score: God, I cannot do math. 730 I think?
1. Licorice Pizza
“Licorice Pizza” is by far the Jewiest movie you can see this Christmas. Two words: Alana. Haim. The youngest Haim sister makes her film debut, and she’s incredible. The coming-of-age movie from Paul Thomas Anderson features a Shabbat dinner, Alana’s actual sisters, her parents Mordechai and Donna Haim, and Jewish actors Maya Rudolph and Benjamin Safdie. There’s discussion of krav maga, Jewish noses and so much more. As Malina Saval writes in Variety, “Alana Kane represents the majority of self-identified Jewish women in America.” Behold, others agree:
licorice pizza is a jewish movie. it’s for the jews, their noses, and shabbat! it’s for the haim’s! it’s for the queer jews! it’s for benny safdie lovers!
— em (tay’s version) (@maloneshaloms) December 12, 2021
Besides all its other virtues, LICORICE PIZZA is also a top-tier entry in the Jewish canon.
— Noah Gittell (@noahgittell) December 10, 2021
licorice pizza will make you believe that any young man armed with the right moves and mindset can go out into the world and secure himself a jewish gf
— josh lewis (@thejoshl) December 12, 2021
as someone who was a weird jewish boy and grew up to become a hot jewish woman i do think licorice pizza was made for me
— nightmare ali (@alirichthem) December 15, 2021
Jewish points: +1000 for Alana Haim, the Haim family, Mordechai. +180 for Shabbat. +100 for Maya, +100 for Benjamin Safdie, +50 for discussions of circumcision, +50 for Jewish nose jokes. Jewish movie score: Not even counting, this wins.