Spend your new year delighting in a cinematic feast that puts Jewish actors, writers and experiences in the spotlight.
2023 was significant for Jewish representation in cinema – and there are no signs of it slowing down as we begin a new year.
Whether shining on-screen or crafting stories behind the camera, Jewish voices are being broadcast loudly and proudly, traversing all kinds of audiences and genres.
In the first of our three-part series unpacking the best Jewish media to consume this summer, we bring you the top Jewish films currently on offer: from the Manhattan Project to Kindertransport, Leonard Bernstein to Golda Meir, and Amy Schumer to Adam Sandler.
Life played appassionato
Maestro is chronicles the life of famed Jewish conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, weaving his music with his complicated love life. The use of a prosthetic nose by non-Jewish lead actor Bradley Cooper – who also directed, co-wrote and produced the film – hurled Maestro into the spotlight long before its premiere late in 2023.
But Cooper’s portrayal, including the nose, is warmly endorsed by Bernstein’s children and Steven Spielberg, credited as a producer, told Cooper he did a “mitzvah” in telling Bernstein’s story. The score is gorgeous, of course, and Jewish actor Sarah Silverman delights as Bernstein’s sister Shirley.
Where to watch: Netflix
An inspirational hero
One Life is an emotional film depicting the remarkable true story of Nicholas Winton (Anthony Hopkins), a British humanitarian with German Jewish heritage who helped over 600 mostly Jewish children escape from German-occupied Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s. The operation later became known as Kindertransport – the world’s greatest rescue of refugee children. Surviving children and their descendants advised One Life’s screenwriters, with some even appearing in the film.
Where to watch: In cinemas
An uncomfortable relationship
Walking a tightrope between drama and comedy, May December tells the story of the relationship between a popular actor (Natalie Portman) and the woman she has been cast to play, Gracie (Julianne Moore), who is infamous for her 23-year-long relationship with her husband (Charles Melton) that began when he was just 13 years old.
Loosely inspired by the scandal surrounding American sex offender and teacher Mary Kay Letourneau, May December has received critical acclaim, with nominations at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and Cannes Film Festival awards.
Where to watch: In cinemas
A coming-of-age celebration
You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, Adam Sandler’s Jewish family comedy – literally, as the film also stars Sandler’s wife and two daughters – is a feel-good celebration of Jewish culture and rites of passage.
It follows two best friends who have always dreamed of throwing epic Bat Mitzvahs but find their plans go awry and their friendship threatened by a popular boy and middle school drama. Joining the very Jewish cast is musical theatre icon Idina Menzel, comedian and actor Jackie Hoffman and Israeli actor Ido Mosseri.
Where to watch: Netflix
A powerful biopic
Golda is a biographical drama depicting the life of Israel’s first female prime minister Golda Meir. It draws particular focus to the high-stakes responsibilities and decisions the so-called ‘Iron Lady of Israel’ faced during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Helen Mirren stars as Meir – a decision prompted by Meir’s grandson, Gideon, which caused some controversy given Mirren’s non-Jewish heritage – while Jewish actor Liev Schreiber plays Henry Kissinger and Israeli Guy Nattiv directs.
Where to watch: Prime Video
A chilling documentary
Produced by Yes Studios, #Nova is a 52-minute Israeli documentary chronologically depicting the horrors of the October 7 Hamas terror attack on the Supernova music festival in Israel.
The film is pieced together using a combination of smartphone videos from the partygoers, GoPro footage shot by Hamas and transcripts of WhatsApp conversations and audio recordings between the ravers, their parents and police.
Where to watch: Yet to air in Australia
A bright – and flawed – young man
Directed by Steve James, A Compassionate Spy explores the life of Theodore Alvin Holtzberg – later known as Ted Hall – a brilliant mathematician and physicist who was plucked from Harvard University at the age of 18 to work under Robert Oppenheimer on the top-secret Manhattan Project.
Hall was notorious for giving away key secrets of the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the Soviet Union. He and his wife Joan, both of whom had Russian-Jewish pedigrees, are the focus of this documentary, which interweaves effective dramatised scenes.
Where to watch: DocPlay
Looking for more?
- Those needing a comedic fix can turn to the 2023 specials from Jewish powerhouses Amy Schumer (Emergency Contact, Netflix), Alex Borstein (Corsets & Clown Suits, Prime Video) and Sarah Silverman (Someone You Love, Binge).
- Starring Jewish actor Timothée Chalamet, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, the optimism, magic and humour of Wonka (In cinemas) is a welcome antidote to our current times and offers a fresh take on the much-loved Roald Dahl children’s classic.
- Cultural phenomenon and the highest-grossing film of last year, Barbie (Apple TV, Prime Video), was co-written by Jewish American Noah Baumbach. Not to mention that the inventor of Barbie, Ruth Handler, was Jewish – and is represented on-screen by Jewish icon Rhea Perlman.