Decade In Review: Best JewFilms of 2000-2009

Operating in JST, we still haven’t released our ‘best of’ series as we reflect upon the last decade. This is the first of several posts in which we will review various aspects of Jewish culture in the past ten years.
Let’s face it: if there’s one thing Jews do, it’s watch films (unless they’re ultra orthodox, in which case they absolutely don’t). If there’s another thing Jews do, it’s criticize. Allow me to indulge in both of these glorious activities. Right now.
 keepingupwiththesteins1We all have our favourite hidden ‘Jew’ moments in films. Whether it’s the chaotic hava naglia scene in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985); when we meet the Royal Tenenbaum’s pet bird Mordechai (2001); the Heveinu Shalom Aleichem scene in Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995); the creepily touchy-feely prison counselor with a golden ‘chai’ dangling from his neck in the opening of the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona (1987), or, of course, the fact that the second instance of music in the first-ever feature-length ‘talkie’ is non other than Kol Nidrei (The Jazz Singer, dir. Alan Crosland, USA, 1927), film is a landfill of subtle references to all things Jewish. 
Perhaps my favourite Jew film of all time, the 2009 Academy Award nominated film, A Serious Man, outdoes itself in this sense: instead of a few understated touches in the mise en scène, the film is wall-to-wall Jewish; my immediate reaction upon leaving the theater after having watched it for the first time was, “for whom was this film made??”  The answer to this question seemed, curiously, quite obvious, when, after viewing this film several times with a variety of  friends, it became clear that  the multiple, cryptic Jewish references  flew by my non-Jewish friends, leaving them rather flummoxed by their inability to access the critical subtext of this film.  Usually however, what I am calling here a ‘Jew film’ reads more accessibly to its general audience. Whatever Jewish element is present in the film is noticeable enough to humour those privy to the joke but also sufficiently subtle to camouflage effortlessly within the rest of the film, thus not disorienting or confusing the general audience. 
In our context here, a “Jew film” will be defined as one containing some prominent Jewish element, such as an obviously Jewish character, prominent mention of a Jewish holiday, or other Jewish cultural references. For the sake of this list, I have not listed every Israeli film that has been made over the past ten years. On the level of logistics that would be rather unwieldy; on the level of content, I do not believe that everything Israeli automatically translates into ‘Jewish.’
(I once had a highly awkward argument with Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua about this.) Disagree with me if you must, but I am correct.
Upon reviewing this semi-complete list, I find it rather unsettling that a sizeable chunk of these selections are Holocaust-themed films. That is to say, many of these films are transparent expressions of the Holocaust-as-Jewish-identity theme that has haunted international Jewry for the past 60-some years.  One would hope that in the process of healing from the catastrophic events of the mid-20th century, “Jew Film”, while not abandoning the memory ofwib2 past horrors, might equally embrace the more vibrant and varied—if sometimes confusing—aspects of 21st century Jewish culture and existence.
Finally, I’d like to thank the Academy*—er, sorry—a handful of good friends who helped me compile this list: Tamar Fox (of, fellow teutophile Sonia Gollance, and former film collaborator Izzy Moskowits.
*(For any Jewish Chicagoans reading this, I am not referring to the high school I attended.)
Raysh’s top ten Jew films of the 21st century:
Winner: A Serious Man / Waltz with Bashir (a tie)
The other eight, in alphabetical order:
Alles Auf Zucker! (dir. Dani Levy, Germany, 2004)            
The Bubble (הבועה) (dir. Eytan Fox, Israel, 2006)                                                      
Kedma (dir. Amos Gitai, Italy/Israel/France, 2002)                                                      
Mary (dir. Abel Ferrara, Italy/France/USA, 2005)                                                  
Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran (dir. François Dupeyron, France, 2003)                     
O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias (dir. Cao Hamburger, Brazil, 2006)
Palindromes (dir. Todd Solondz, USA, 2004)                                                              
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (dir. Liam Lynch, USA, 2005)
The collective Jewschool writers’top Jewfilms of the first decade of the 21st century list:
Arranged (dir. Diane Crespo/Stefan C. Schaefer, USA, 2007)        
The Believer (dir. Henry Bean, USA, 2001)        
boratBorat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (dir. Larry Charles, USA, 2006)             
Everything is Illuminated (dir. Liev Schrieber, USA, 2005)             
For Your Consideration (Christopher Guest, USA, 2006)              
Keeping the Faith (dir. Edward Norton, USA, 2000)                                              
Keeping Up with the Steins (dir. Scott Marshall, USA, 2006)        
Late Marriage  (חתונה מאוחרת) (dir. Dover Koshashvili, Israel/France, 2001)    
Loving Leah (dir. Jeff Bleckner, USA, 2009)                                     
A Mighty Wind (dir. Christopher Guest, USA, 2003)                     
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (dir. Peter Sollett, USA, 2008)                                  
The Pianist (dir. Roman Polanski, France/Poland/Germany/UK, 2002) 
Trembling Before G-d (dir. Sandi Simcha Dubowski, Israel/France/USA, 2001)
A Serious Man (dir. Ethan and Joel Coen, USA/UK/France, 2009)                             
Sixty Six (dir. Paul Weiland, UK, 2006)
Ushpizin (האושפיזין) (dir. Giddi Dar, Israel, 2004)                                                           
When Do We Eat? (dir. Salvador Litvak, USA, 2005)
(Disclaimer: there are undoubtedly films I have missed here. This is where you come in: feel free to add more in the comments).
And here is every first-decade 21st century (2000-2009) ‘Jew film’ that comes to mind:
2 or 3 Things I Know About Him (2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß), (dir. Malte Ludin, Germany, 2005)
Adam & Steve (dir. Craig Chester, USA, 2005)
All About Steve (dir. Phil Traill, USA, 2009) (not the same Steve)
All Over the Guy (dir. Julie Davis, USA, 2001
Almost Peaceful [Un monde presque paisible] (dir. Michel Deville, France, 2002)
Alpha Dog (dir. Nick Cassavetes, USA, 2006)
Amen. (dir. Costa-Gavras, France/Germany/Romania, 2002)
American Gangster (dir. Ridley Scott, USA, 2007)
American Psycho (dir. Mary Harron, USA, 2000)
Analyze That (dir. Harold Ramis, USA/Australia, 2002)
Anger Management (dir. Peter Segal, USA, 2003)
Anita (dir. Marcos Carnevale, Argentina, 2009)
Anything Else (dir. Woody Allen, USA/France/UK, 2003)
The Army of Crime [L’armée du crime] (dir. Robert Guédiguian, France, 2009)
Arranged (dir. Diane Crespo/Stefan C. Schaefer, USA, 2007)
As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me (So weit die Füße tragen) (dir. Hardy Martins, Germany, 2001)
Bee Season (dir. Scott McGehee/David Siegel, USA, 2005)
Before the Fall [NaPolA] (dir. Dennis Gansel, Germany, 2004)
The Believer (dir. Henry Bean, USA, 2001)
Bit by Bit [Livet i 8 bitar] (dir. Pontus Klänge/Jonathan Metzger, Sweden, 2002)
Black Book [Zwartboek] (dir. Paul Verhoeven, Netherlands/Germany/Belgium, 2006)
Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi [הכוכבים של שלומי] (dir. Shemi Zarhin, Israel, 2003)
Borstal Boy (dir. Peter Sheridan, UK/Ireland, 2000)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (dir. Mark Herman, UK/USA, 2008)
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (dir. Larry Charles, USA, 2006)
Broken Promise [Nedodrzaný slub] (dir. Jirí Chlumský, Slovakia/Czech Republic/USA, 2009)
The Bubble (הבועה) (dir. Eytan Fox, Israel, 2006)
The Business of Fancydancing (dir. Sherman Alexie, USA, 2002)
Cadillac Records (dir. Darnell Martin, USA, 2008)
Campfire (מדורת השבט) (dir. Joseph Cedar, Israel, 2004)
Canone inverso – making love (dir. Ricky Tognazzi, Italy, 2000)
Charlie Wilson’s War (dir. Mike Nichols, USA, 2007)
Charlotte Gray (dir. Gillian Armstrong, UK/Australia/Germany, 2001)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (dir. George Clooney, USA/UK/Germany, 2002)
The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher) (dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky, Austria/Germany, 2007)
Date Movie (dir. Aaron Seltzer, USA/Switzerland, 2006)
Day of Wrath (dir. Adrian Rudomin, Hungary/UK, 2006)
The Deal (dir. Steven Schachter, USA/Canada, 2008)
Defiance (dir. Doveed Linder, USA, 2002)
Divided We Fall (Musíme si pomáhat) (dir. Jan Hrebejk, Czech Republic, 2000)
Eden (dir. Amos Gitai, Italy/Israel/France, 2001)
Edges of the Lord (dir. Yurek Bogayevicz, Poland, 2001)
Eight Crazy Nights (dir. Seth Kearsley, USA, 2002)
Eyes Wide Open (עינים פקוחות) (dir. Haim Tabakman, Israel/Germany/France, 2009)
Everything is Illuminated (dir. Liev Schrieber, USA, 2005)
Facing Windows (La finestra di fronte) (dir. Ferzan Ozpetek, Italy/Turkey/Portugal/UK, 2003)
Factory Girl (dir. George Hickenlooper, USA, 2006)
Far from the Window [Daleko od okna] (dir. Jan Jakub Kolski, Poland, 2000)
Fateless (Sorstalanság) (dir. Lajos Koltai, Hungary/Germany/UK, 2005)
Focus (dir. Neal Slavin, USA, 2001)
For Your Consideration (Christopher Guest, USA, 2006)
Garden State (dir. Zach Braff, USA, 2004)
Ghost World (dir. Terry Zwigoff, USA/UK/Germany, 2001)
God is Great, and I’m Not (Dieu est grand, je suis toute petite) (dir. Pascale Bailly, France, 2001)
God Wears My Underwear (dir. Leslie Steit, USA, 2005)
Go for it Zucker (Alles auf Zucker!) (dir. Dani Levy, Germany, 2004)
The Good German (dir. Steven Soderbergh, USA, 2006)
Goodbye Mothers (Adieu mères) (dir. Mohamed Ismail, Morocco, 2007)
Good Night, and Good Luck (dir. George Clooney, USA/UK/France/Japan, 2005)
The Grey Zone (dir. Tim Blake Nelson, USA, 2001)
The Hebrew Hammer (dir. Jonathan Kesselman, USA, 2003)
Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger (dir. Cathy Randall, Australia, 2008)
Hitler’s Secretary (Im toten Winkel – Hitlers Sekretärin)
Hineni (dir. Irena Fayngold, USA, 2005)
The History Boys (dir. Nicholas Hytner, UK, 2006)
The Holiday (dir. Nancy Meyers, USA, 2006)
A House Divided (dir. Mitch Davis, USA, 2006)
The Human Stain (dir. Robert Benton, USA/France/Germany, 2003)
Inglorious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino, USA/Germany, 2009)
In Her Shoes (dir. Curtis Hanson, USA/Germany, 2005)
I’m Not There (dir. Todd Haynes, USA/Germany, 2007)
Inside Man (dir. Spike Lee, USA, 2006)
Invincible (dir. Werner Herzog, Germany/UK/Ireland/USA, 2001)
It Runs in the Family (dir. Fred Schepisi, USA, 2003)
Junebug (dir. Phil Morrison, USA, 2005)
Kedma (dir. Amos Gitai, Italy/Israel/France, 2002)
Keeping the Faith (dir. Edward Norton, USA, 2000)
Keeping Up with the Steins (dir. Scott Marshall, USA, 2006)
Kissing Jessica Stein (dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, USA, 2001) (but not of the same Stein family! Lest we get too incestuous…)
Knocked Up (dir. Judd Apatow, USA, 2007)
The Last Letter (La dernière lettre) (dir. Frederick Wiseman, France/USA, 2002)
Late Marriage (חתונה מאוחרת) (dir. Dover Koshashvili, Israel/France, 2001)
Later (מאוחר יותר, Plus tard) (dir. Amos Gitai, France/Israel/Germany, 2008)
Leo & Claire (dir. Joseph Vilsmaier, Germany, 2001)
Liam (Stephen Frears, UK/Germany/France, 2000)
Little Jerusalem [La petite Jérusalem] (dir. Karin Albou, France, 2005)
Live and Become (Va, vis et deveins) (dir. Radu Mihaileanu, France/Belgium/Israel/Italy, 2005)
Lost Embrace [El abrazo partido] (dir. Daniel Burman, Argentina/France/Italy/Spain, 2004)
Loving Leah (dir. Jeff Bleckner, USA, 2009)
The Man Who Cried (dir. Sally Potter, UK/France, 2000)
The Man Who Sued God (dir. Mark Joffe, Australia, 2001)
Mary (dir. Abel Ferrara, Italy/France/USA, 2005)
Max (dir. Menno Meyjes, Hungary/Canada/UK, 2002)
Meet the Folkers (dir. Jay Roach, USA, 2004)
Meet the Parents (dir. Jay Roach, USA, 2000)
Mendy (dir. Adam Vardy, USA, 2003)
The Merchant of Venice (dir. Michael Radford, USA/Italy/Luxembourg/UK, 2004)
Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noël) [from the title, you wouldn’t think it!] (dir. Christian Carion, France/Germany/UK/Belgium/Romania, 2005)
A Mighty Heart (dir. Michael Winterbottom, USA/UK, 2007)
A Mighty Wind (dir. Christopher Guest, USA, 2003)
Monsieur Batignole (dir. Gérard Jugnot, France, 2002)
Monsieur Ibrahim (Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran) (dir. François Dupeyron, France, 2003)
Moonlight Mile (dir. Brad Silberling, USA, 2002)
Mrs. Henderson Presents (Stephen Frears, UK, 2005)
Munich (dir. Steven Spielberg, USA/Canada/France, 2005)
My Wife is an Actress [Ma femme est une actrice] (dir. Yvan Attal, France, 2001)
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (dir. Peter Sollett, USA, 2008)
Nine Queens (Nueve reinas) (dir. Fabián Bielinsky, Argentina, 2000)
One Night with the King (dir. Michael O. Sajbel, USA, 2006)
Only Human [Seres queridos] (dir. Dominic Harari/Teresa Pelegri, Spain/Argentina/Portugal/UK, 2004)
Palindromes (dir. Todd Solondz, USA, 2004)
Paper Clips (dir. Elliot Berlin/Joe Fab, USA, 2004)
Paradise Now (dir. Hany Abu-Assad, Palestine/France/Germany/Netherlands/Israel, 2005)
The Passion of the Christ (And, I would just like to point out, as I always do, that if you pay close attention to the un-subtitled Aramaic, you’ll hear that the unwieldy masses of Jews cry out to crucify Christ. Gibson implicated the Jews in the crucifixion of Christ? Never) (dir. Mel Gibson, USA, 2004)
The Pianist (dir. Roman Polanski, France/Poland/Germany/UK, 2002)
Pretty Persuasion (dir. Marcos Siega, USA, 2005)
Prime (dir. Ben Younger, USA, 2005)
Protector (Protektor) (dir. Marek Najbrt, Czech Republic/Germany, 2009)
Protocols of Zion (dir. Marc Levin, USA, 2005) (I vividly recall making a snarky comment at a premiere screening in Chicago… Little did I know the director was sitting right in front of me)
The Rape of Europa (dir. Richard Berge/Bonni Cohen, USA, 2006)
Rosenstrasse (dir. Margarethe von Trotta, Germany/Netherlands, 2003)
The Royal Tenenbaums (dir. Wes Anderson, USA, 2001)
Safe Conduct [Laissez-passer] (dir. Bertrand Tavernier, Spain/France/Germany, 2002)
Santa’s Slay (dir. David Steiman, USA, 2005)
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (dir. Liam Lynch, USA, 2005)
Saved! (dir. Brian Dannelly, USA, 2004)
Snatch (dir. Guy Ritchie, USA/UK, 2000)
A Secret [Un secret] (dir. Claude Miller, France, 2007)
The Secrets (הסודות) (dir. Avi Nesher, Israel/France, 2007)
A Serious Man (dir. Ethan and Joel Coen, USA/UK/France, 2009)
Sixty Six (dir. Paul Weiland, UK, 2006)
Sophie Scholl (Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage) (this is what we call an upper of a film) (dir. Marc Rothemund, Germany, 2005)
Starter for 10 (dir. Tom Vaughan, UK/USA, 2006)
Starting Out in the Evening (dir. Andrew Wagner, USA, 2007)
Stolen Summer (dir. Pete Jones, USA, 2002)
Storytelling (dir. Todd Solondz, USA, 2001)
Steal this Movie (dir. Robert Greenwald, USA, 2000)
The Tailor of Panama (dir. John Boorman, USA/Ireland, 2001)
Tellement proches (dir. Oliver Nakache/Eric Toledano, France, 2009)
Then She Found Me (dir. Helen Hunt, USA, 2007)
Time of Favor (ההסדר) (dir. Joseph Cedar, Israel, 2000)
Trembling Before G-d (dir. Sandi Simcha Dubowski, Israel/France/USA, 2001)
Turn Left at the End of the World (סוף העולם שמואלה) (dir. Avi Nesher, Israel/France, 2004)
Two Ladies (Dans la vie) (dir. Philippe Faucon, France, 2007)
Two Lovers (I actually did not see this film, but from the preview, I counted three) (dir. James Gray, USA, 2008)
Unfair Competition (Concorrenza sleale) (dir. Ettore Scola, Italy/France, 2001)
Ushpizin (האושפיזין) (dir. Giddi Dar, Israel, 2004)
Valley of the Wolves (Kurtlar vadisi – Irak) (dir. Serdar Akar/ Sadullah Sentürk, Turkey, 2006)
Waiting for the Messiah (Esperando al mesías) (dir. Daniel Burman, Spain/Italy/Argentina, 2000)
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (dir. Jake Kasdan, USA, 2007)
Walk on Water (ללכת על המים) (dir. Eytan Fox, Israel/Sweden, 2004)
Waltz with Bashir (dir. Ari Folman, Israel/Germany/France/USA/Finland/Switzerland/Belgium/Australia, 2008)
West Bank Story (dir. Ari Sandel, USA, 2005)
Wet Hot American Summer (You attended Camp Ramah. You loved this film. I didn’t.) (dir. David Wain, USA, 2001)
What’s Cooking? (dir. Gurinder Chadha, UK/USA, 2000)
What Just Happened (dir. Barry Levinson, USA, 2008)
When Do We Eat? (dir. Salvador Litvak, USA, 2005) (I have never seen this film, but from the title, it sure sounds authentic)
Whisky (dir. Juan Pablo Rebella/Pablo Stoll, Uruguay/Argentina/Germany/Spain, 2004)
The White Countess (dir. James Ivory, UK/USA/Germany/China, 2005)
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias) (dir. Cao Hamburger, Brazil, 2006)
Yossi & Jagger (dir. Eytan Fox, Israel, 2002)
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (dir. Dennis Dugan, USA, 2008)
So that’s my list. Feel free to curate your own personalized Jewish film festival now.

16 thoughts on “Decade In Review: Best JewFilms of 2000-2009

  1. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (dir. Larry Charles, USA, 2006)
    This should be called the worst film of the decade.

  2. I’m sure most will (again) disagree with that one, Jonathan.
    Inglorious Basterds backlash? No Hebrew Hammer?
    IMO, For Your Consideration was awful.

  3. I’m sure most will (again) disagree with that one, Jonathan.
    Thank God I write (do) what I think is correct, regardless of what the “majority” thinks. Are you afraid to voice any opinion that contradicts the majority’s?
    In any case, Borat was a disgrace, and my heart goes out to the innocent people hurt by that movie’s release.

  4. Yes. I haven’t made a movie where I called them disgusting-looking prostitutes, had them show me how to wipe my butt, chased them down a NYC street, tried to kiss them on the subway, etc., etc. . . . and then distributed these scenes in a movie, making millions of dollars on their humiliation.
    B.S., dood.
    Nice response, btw.

  5. Sorry but I really think Ha’buah was terrible. Didn’t really get to the heart of being gay in Israeli society like Yossi and Jagger; didn’t at all get into the head of becoming a suicide bomber like Paradise Now. The bombing at the end was such a cop-out: it would have been much more interesting–not to mention realistic–if the film had attempted to deal with how they would reasonably try to make the relationship work. That’s much more likely, and, by extension, much more heartbreaking ultimately. I found the plot abrupt and contrived. And on top of that, it was TERRIBLY written–the dialogue made me want to die. I really can’t understand why Americans liked it so much. Except perhaps for Yusef Sweid’s abs.
    BTW, I think Bonjour Monseur Shlomi (HaKochavim Shel Shlomi in Hebrew) from 2003 is lacking in your list. Plus it’s way better than Ha’Buah.

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