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Your Oscar Cheat Sheet

Here’s what to root for

Marc Tracy
March 05, 2010
A scene from A Serious Man.(Focus Features)
A scene from A Serious Man.(Focus Features)

The Oscars air Sunday evening on ABC, hosted by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Below: the five most Jewish movies in contention (in increasing order of Jewy-ness!), and which categories they’re nominated in. Because how else are you going to know when to cheer, and when to Tweet your grievances?

UPDATE: This list should have included An Education (see comments). Your guide follows:

An Education
• What: Nick Hornby adopted this film from a memoir about a young girl in early-’60s England who falls for an older Jewish man, played here by Peter Sarsgaard.

• Up for: Best Picture; Leading Actress (Carey Mulligan); Adapted Screenplay (Hornby).

• Will win: Its best chance is in Adapted Screenplay.

• Jew rating (out of 10, and adjusting for Hollywood): 5. While the older man’s Jewishness isn’t the film’s dominant theme, or even necessarily his dominant characteristic, it’s certainly in there.

And now, the list.

5: Up in the Air
• What: This flick, adopted from Walter Kirn’s novel, stars George Clooney as professional fire-er. Fans say it’s very now; detractors say it’s very mediocre.

• Up for: Picture; Director (Jason Reitman); Adapted Screenplay (Reitman and Sheldon Turner); Actor (George Clooney); Supporting Actress (Vera Farmiga); Supporting Acress (Anna Kendrick).

• Will win: Very long shot at Picture, Director, and Supporting Actress; slightly less long shot at Actor; favorite at Adapted Screenplay.

• Jew rating (out of 10, and adjusting for Hollywood): 2. Largely on the strength of Jewy (and kind of insufferable) director/co-writer Reitman.

4: The White Ribbon
• What: German auteur Michael Haneke’s extremely dark film about a village in Germany immediately before World War I.

• Up for: Foreign Language Film; Cinematography.

• Will win: It’s the Foreign Language Film prohibitive favorite.

•Jew rating (out of 10, and adjusting for Hollywood): 3. Not really explicitly Jewish, but it is dark and German. Plus a prominent Jewish writer called it fantastic in a certain magazine of Jewish life and culture.

3: Inglourious Basterds
• What: Quentin Tarantino’s crazy, violent, hilarious, awesome World War II movie about a group of American Jews whose mission is to brutally kill as many Nazis as possible and then assassinate Hitler, as well as a French-Jewish movie theater owner who secretly plots, also, to assassinate Hitler. Spoiler alert: They succeed.

• Up for: Picture; Director (Tarantino); Original Screenplay (Tarantino); Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz); Cinematography; Film Editing; Sound Editing; Sound Mixing.

• Will win: Waltz is all but a lock, and Tarantino is the Original Screenplay (though not Director) favorite. Also a threat in the technical categories.

•Jew rating (out of 10, and adjusting for Hollywood): 7. Except for Waltz’s SS agent and Brad Pitt’s commando leader, the major characters are Jews; the French-Jewish theater owner is even played by a young French-Jewish actress named Mélanie Laurent. On the other hand, at its heart, the movie isn’t about Jews, Nazis, or really anything besides other World War II movies. Also, Liel hated it (though Germans liked it!).

2: Ajami
• What: Israel’s third consecutive Best Foreign Language nominee, and the first in Arabic, its gangster plot depicts Palestinian-Jewish relations in the titular Jaffa neighborhood.

• Up for: Foreign Language Film.

• Will win: It’s a long shot.

•Jew rating (out of 10, and adjusting for Hollywood): 8. I mean, it’s Israeli!

1: A Serious Man
• What: The Coen Brothers’s quiet, comic, and in the end deeply serious tale of Larry Gopnik, a Jewish physics professor in late-1960s Minnesota who wonders why his life has gone totally to hell.

• Up for: Picture; Original Screenplay.

• Will win: In a just world, both of them (and Michael Stuhlbarg would have an Actor nomination). In this world, probably nothing.

•Jew rating (out of 10): 10. If it were just that all the characters were Jews, and that the comic climax took place at a bar mitzvah, then it would be an 8, maybe a 9. But this movie wrestles with what it is to be Jewish on the most profound level; short of Yom Kippur services, nothing will make you reflect on your Jewishness like sitting through it. The day after A Serious Man gets no love, go see it, even if it’s your fifth time.

Nominations [The Oscars]

Related: Painfully Good [Tablet Magazine]
Inglorious Indeed [Tablet Magazine]

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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