Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Nights of Movies: Night #2

Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Nights of Movies is a new series in which for each night of Hanukkah I will recommend a new movie to watch. Each movie might have been made by a prominent Jewish filmmaker, or embodies a prominent part of Jewish culture. Because I missed the first night, as I was embarking on a great Florida migration, I will recommend two for the second night.

Inglourious Basterds 

Here is a movie that needs no introduction, as I can barely go a day (or a blog post) without talking about it. With "Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino earned the title of Honorary Jew for fulfilling any little Jewish boy's childhood fantasy of getting vengeance on the Nazis. But it is not just a violent, one-dimensional revenge fantasy but rather a morality tale that dares us to ask whether or not our enemies can actually be human. This might be the only movie of its kind that will actually make you feel like a more enlightened human being. The movie also includes moments of gripping suspense and utterly insane hilarity. Despite the newfound enlightenment you may have found, it will not stop you from standing up and cheering after the movie's history-bending twist (most people probably know what it is at this point but if not, I will spare the spoiler). No movie will make you feel prouder to light the menorah tonight.

Leaves of Grass

I didn't really think "Leaves of Grass" was as brilliant as some believed (Ebert called it a "masterpiece"). It is flawed and its narrative probably made more sense in novel form, but it is certainly "whacky" and inventive enough for me to recommend to the more adventurous cinephile. Edward Norton is brilliant as always, this time giving two performances in one movie, one as a philosophy professor and the other as a drug dealer. Most shocking about "Leaves of Grass" is that it reveals that there is indeed a Jewish community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That is, in case you were the kind of person who likes to track down Jews in random parts of America. It is partly based on writer-director Tim Blake Nelson's life growing up in a Jewish family in Tulsa. "Leaves of Grass" is not just a crime-thriller-satire but an examination on Jewish identity. I can't say I "get" the whole thing but if one of you does, please feel free to explain it to me.

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