Natalie Portman

The 89th Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 26, on ABC starting at 8:30 p.m., hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.

This year, again, the Honorary Academy Awards were presented in a separate ceremony — but will be noted at the televised ceremony. Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, 87, received an Honorary Oscar. A former law professor, he became a full-time filmmaker in 1967 and his so-called observational films are usually studies of institutions (schools, prisons, hospitals), presented without narration. A partial exception is his latest film, In Jackson Heights (2015), which showed a diverse New York City neighborhood via local meetings (at a mosque, synagogue, etc.).

The following are confirmed Jewish nominees in all but the technical categories.


Here are the Best Picture nominees with a confirmed Jewish producer: Arrival (Shawn Levy, 48, and David Linde, 56). Levy’s best known as the director of the Night at the Museum films. Linde’s paternal grandfather, a lawyer, fled Nazi Germany. His father, Hans Linde, 92, became nationally influential while serving as an Oregon Supreme Court Justice; Fences (Scott Rudin, 58); Hacksaw Ridge (David Permut, 62); Hell or High Water (Julie Yorn, 50); La La Land (Marc Platt, 58, father of actor Ben Platt, 23; and Gary Gilbert, 52, a Michigan native, co-owner of the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers and Dan Gilbert’s brother; see “La La Lovely” in this issue); and Moonlight (Jeremy Kleiners, 41).


Lead Actor: Andrew Garfield, 33, Hacksaw Ridge. As noted in a previous edition of “Celebrity Jews,” Garfield’s father is Jewish and his mother isn’t. Twice, in the context of defending Ridge director Mel Gibson, Garfield has said he’s Jewish. Other times, he edges off that self-description. Like many celebs, he calls himself “spiritual,” but isn’t a member of an organized religion. A possible Jewish upside to working with Gibson: It probably forced Garfield to think seriously about what being Jewish means — and maybe that’ll lead to something of benefit to the Jewish community. In any event, in 2016, Garfield firmly established himself as an A-list dramatic actor (Hacksaw and the Scorsese film Silence). Lead Actress: Natalie Portman, 35, Jackie. It’s unlikely Portman, who won the Lead Actress Oscar in 2011 (Black Swan) will win this year. Voters figure she’s already won one; she’s youngish; and there’s no tidal momentum for Jackie now. Still, I think Portman and the script captured Jackie Kennedy’s sense of vulnerability about her place in the world.

The odds favor a win in this category for French actress Isabelle Huppert (Elle), who, like Portman, was in every scene in her film. Unlike Portman, she has never won an Oscar and she’s 63. Voters likely figure it’s high time to honor this universally acclaimed actress. As noted in my column, Huppert has a Jewish father and a Jewish husband, but was raised Catholic and is loathe to talk about her father’s background.


The Best Original Score nominees: Nicholas Britell, 36, Moonlight; Mica Levi, 30ish, Jackie, and Justin Hurwitz, 32, La La Land. Britell, 36, is a Julliard graduate, whose first film work was an original composition for Natalie Portman’s first directorial effort, the short film Eve (2008). Since then, he contributed considerable original music to 12 Years a Slave, scored Portman’s first full-length film (the Israel-set Tales of Love and Darkness); scored The Big Short and produced the short and long film versions of Whiplash. Ironically, Whiplash (2014) made director/writer Damien Chazelle a star who could then get financing for La La Land — a film that will almost certainly rule the musical categories. Brit Mica Levi scored Under My Skin (2014), a sci-fi film starring Scarlett Johansson and won the European Bafta awards. Levi’s father, Erik Levi, is a music scholar who specializes in the history of music in Nazi Germany. I couldn’t confirm that he was Jewish and my educated guess is that Mica’s mother isn’t Jewish.

Hurwitz met Damien Chazelle while both attended Harvard and there they helped form Chester French, a successful rock band. In addition to scoring Chazelle’s Whiplash, Hurwitz also composed the music for the two La La songs nominated for Best Original Song: “City of Stars,” which won the Golden Globe, and “Audition.” The lyrics for those songs were written by nominees Benj Pasek, 31, and Justin Paul. Pasek met Paul at the University of Michigan. Both come from religious families of different faiths (Pasek is Jewish and Paul is Christian). Their works include a song-cycle called Edges that premiered in Ann Arbor in 2005 and has since been produced around the world. They are also the song-writing duo behind the recent Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen. (See sidebar “Hurwitz History” for more about Hurwitz.)


Director/Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, 56, is the only Jewish nominee in these categories (Manchester By the Sea). He was raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan by his Jewish stepfather and Jewish mother. Both were secular and both were psychoanalysts. His late father was Irish Catholic. Lonergan (who says he’s an atheist) told the New Yorker that he was about 8 years old when he finally realized that everyone wasn’t Jewish. He grew up in an affluent (but not super rich) world of mostly liberal, mostly Jewish professional folk and their offspring. Not surprisingly, most of his works (plays and films) have featured mostly Jewish or “half Jewish” people from this milieu (the 1996 play This Is Our Youth and the films Margaret and You Can Count on Me). Manchester seems to be his “Irish-side” film. The central character, Lee, is Irish Catholic, and his life is virtually destroyed by alcohol — the so-called curse of the Irish. Manchester is Lonergan’s breakthrough film, and I hope it prompts, finally, a film version of Youth.

Animated Film, Feature Length: Osnat Shurer (Moana). Shurer, 46, the film’s producer, was born and raised in Israel and served in an IDF intelligence unit.

Documentary Film, Feature Length: Life, Animated. While I wasn’t able to confirm that the film’s producer, Julie Goldman, is Jewish — I mention it because it’s based on a 2014 book of the same name by journalist Ron Suskind, 57. The book and film chronicle Suskind’s efforts to assist his autistic son. Documentary, Short Length: Joe’s Violin (directed by Kahane Cooperman, 52; co-produced by Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen). Cooperman, long a Jon Stewart Daily Show producer, became head of the New Yorker magazine’s video wing (Screening Room) a few years ago. She heard a 2014 radio story about a Holocaust survivor who had responded to a radio station appeal to donate his used instrument. Cooperman tracked down the survivor, Joseph Feingold, now 92, and made a New Yorker film about his life and that of the poor Bronx girl who received his violin. (The film can be viewed on YouTube; it is also screening through March 4 at the Detroit Film Theatre). Also in this category: Dan Krauss, 40ish, the director of Extremis, a Netflix original film about the grim realities of end-of-life care that was mostly filmed in a California hospital.