From as early as 1918, when Lazar Meir moved to California and changed his name to Louis B. Mayer, the Jewish contribution to cinema has been broad and deep, with Jewish directors, writers, producers, and actors helping to invent the nascent art form and create some of its most memorable milestones. Our definitive if subjective list of the 100 Greatest Jewish Films of all time celebrates many of these titans, but it is also far from predictable.
So, what is a Jewish film?
There’s no scientific algorithm by which to arrive at this answer, and we did not pretend to invent one. Instead, we—the Tablet Magazine staff, along with our pal and contributing editor Jody Rosen—brought to the table our individual notions of Jewishness (and film-ishness). Some choices were based on the identity of their creators, others for their themes, quite a few for their sheer influence on pop culture, and others because of some elusive sensibility that is impossible to define and yet feels instantly familiar. Our answers cut across genre lines: Some stories of robots or ghosts or spies had as much of a Jewish heart as movies focused on more solemn, obvious subject matters. Also, while many of our selections come from Hollywood, others don’t. From neo-realist Italy to postmodern Israel, we did our best to look at filmmaking across nations and across time.
Today we reveal the bottom 25 on our list, Nos. 100 to 76. Over the next four days, we’ll present the rest, and we hope that you’ll share yours, as well. We hope you’ll be delighted, and we trust you’ll be infuriated. This swirl of conflicting emotions is what we have in mind; it’s what makes movies great and, as we found, often what makes them Jewish.
Today’s installment spans from helpless Jews and their Christ-like gentile saviors in Nazi-occupied Warsaw to a magical land somewhere over the rainbow, and includes a classic of Israeli cinema as well as a classic of 1980s New Jersey glam. Here, then, are numbers 100 to 76.