The 90th Oscars ceremony takes place on Sunday, March 4, beginning at 8 p.m. on ABC and hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. The following is a list of “confirmed” Jewish Oscar nominees. The number of Jewish nominees is smaller than some years, but still substantial.
Leading actor: Timothée Chalamet, 24, Call Me by My Name. He competes in this category with Daniel Day-Lewis, who starred in Phantom Thread. Chalamet is the breakout actor of 2017. Besides starring in Call Me, a best picture nominee, he had a biggish supporting role in Lady Bird, another best picture nominee. He grew up in New York City, the son of an American Jewish mother (a real estate broker who was formerly a Broadway dancer) and a French Protestant father (an editor for UNICEF). Chalamet has referred to himself as Jewish, and, as I’ve noted before, his mother has posted photos online of the family about to celebrate Passover and celebrating Chanukah. Chalamet has compiled a number of credits in TV and film since he was a child. However, before Call Me, almost nobody but his friends and family would immediately recognize his name.
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In Call Me, Chalamet plays Elio Perlman, a 17-year-old living in Italy with his Italian Jewish mother and American Jewish father. His character has a brief same-sex affair with Oliver, 22, a visiting American Jewish student. The movie ends with Elio receiving a call from Oliver just as the family is about to celebrate Chanukah. The film is based on a novel of the same name by André Aciman, 67, a Sephardic Jew who was born in Egypt. He left Egypt in 1965 with his family, briefly settling in Rome before moving to New York in 1968. LiFke the leading actors in the film, he is straight (the married father of three) and he’s emphasized that Call Me should not be seen as only a gay love story, as Elio’s sexuality is still forming, Aciman says, during the time period depicted in the film. Moreover, he told the Times of Israel that the initial spark between Elio and Oliver is not sexual, “but Jewish at first,” Aciman says. “It’s something fundamental and deep-rooted between them. It’s the development of an essential bond between them.”
The novel has a 30-page end section which provides a partial coda about the lives of Elio and Oliver (scenes that take place 15 and 20 years after their first meeting). This has led the director, Luca Guadagnino, to seriously posit the making of sequels to Call Me.
Daniel Day-Lewis, 60, is the only person to win three best actor Oscars. His father, Cecil Day-Lewis, was of Irish Protestant background and the Poet Laureate of England. His mother, the late actress Jill Balcon, was Jewish. Jill’s father, Sir Michael Balcon, was a founder of the British film industry. Daniel has always been secular. He says Phantom Thread, in which he plays a fashion designer, will be his last film. Day-Lewis was close to his late father-in-law, the famous playwright Arthur Miller. In 1996, Day-Lewis wed Rebecca Miller, now 55, and they have two children. Miller, a (secular) writer and filmmaker, has occasionally touched on Jewish themes in her work.
No Jewish actresses are nominated this year; no Jewish actors got a supporting actor nomination and no Jewish writers are nominated for an original screenplay, but a number are nominated for best adapted screenplay. The Disaster Artist, a comedy about a terrible real movie, was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, both 40. They adapted a memoir. The duo has been a writing team since 1999 and have similar backgrounds — Neustadter grew up on Long Island and Weber in Atlantic City. Both had a bar mitzvah and like to schmooze about Jews in the movies. Their breakout film was 500 Days of Summer (2006), a clever original romantic comedy/drama, followed by The Fault in Our Stars (2014).
Also in this category: Logan, which was co-written by Scott Frank, 57, James Mangold and Michael Green, 45. Logan is the first comic book-based movie to get a best screenplay Oscar nomination. Frank’s credits include writing Out of Sight, for which he got an Oscar nomination. He also wrote and directed Godless, a recent Netflix series. Green, 44, grew up in a New York City suburb where his religious, Israel-born mother insisted he attend a yeshiva. He became more secular as he grew older. Also: Aaron Sorkin, 56, for Molly’s Game, a film from a memoir by Molly Bloom (whose father is Jewish) about running high
stakes poker games. Sorkin became famous with his 1989 play A Few Good Men, which became a hit movie in 1992.
Lee Unkrich, 50, was the co-director and co-producer of Coco, a best feature-length animated movie nominee from Pixar Studios. He directed Toy Story 3, which won the Oscar in 2011. Coco won the 2018 Golden Globe for best animated film and the betting is that it will win the Oscar, too. Unkrich was raised in Cleveland. This writer lives near Unkrich in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I’m happy to tell you that the bar/bat mitzvah announcements of Unkrich’s three children, with his wife, Laura, have all appeared in the Bay Area Jewish paper.
Frank Stiefel, 60ish, is nominated for best documentary short subject (Heaven is a Traffic Jam). It’s about Mindy Alper, 58, a talented California multimedia artist who has battled mental health problems. Stiefel made a short movie, Ingelore (2009), about how his mother escaped Nazi Germany as a deaf teen.
Bryan Fogel, 40ish, wrote and co-starred in Icarus, a best feature length documentary nominee. Fogel, a very serious bicyclist, blew the lid off Russian athlete doping in his film. Before Icarus, he was best known for Jewtopia, a comedic play/film. His parents, who belong to a Denver Orthodox synagogue, will accompany him to the Oscars.
Diane Warren, 61, is nominated for best song: “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall. This is her ninth best song nomination. She competes with U-M alums Benj Pasek, 32, and Justin Paul, who wrote “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman. Hans Zimmer, 60, is nominated for best musical score for Dunkirk. He’s been Oscar-nominated 11 times, winning in 1995 (The Lion King).
I don’t usually cover the technical nominations because it’s very difficult to ascertain if a sound editor, etc., is Jewish. However, a Canadian friend helped me establish that film editor Sidney Wolinsky, 70, a truly talented man, is Jewish. Born and raised in Winnipeg, he’s nominated for editing The Shape of Water. Before Water, he was mostly known for his TV work, including The Sopranos, for which he won an Emmy. His mother, Eva Koves Wolinsky Stubbs, died last December, age 92. She fled Hungary in 1944 and eventually became one of Canada’s leading sculptors. Wolinsky told the Winnipeg Free Press: “I regret that she didn’t get to see me get this nomination. I think she would have enjoyed it. But she was in her 90s and lived a long and good life and she couldn’t make it any longer.”
The best picture nomination goes to a film’s producers. Nine movies are nominated. The following have “confirmed” Jewish producers:
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Call Me by My Name was co-produced by Peter Spears, 50. In a 2007 profile in the Los Angeles Jewish paper, Spears recounted how helping the Israeli film industry reignited his Jewish ties, including having a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall. He recently said he could relate to the “outsider” status of the main characters in Call Me because he is Jewish, gay and grew up in Kansas.
The Darkest Hour was co-produced by Eric Fellner, 58. This is the fifth best picture nomination for Fellner, a Brit.
Lady Bird was co-produced by Scott Rudin, 59. This is the seventh best picture nomination for Rudin. He previously won for No Country for Old Men (2007). Greta Gerwig, the director/writer of Lady Bird, recently told NPR she wanted to use excerpts of a Stephen Sondheim musical in her film. Fortunately, she said, Rudin is friends with Sondheim, 87, and Sondheim gave her permission.
Lastly, The Post was co-produced by Amy Pascal, 59, and Steven Spielberg, 71. Spielberg directed The Post, but wasn’t nominated for best director this year.