September 18, 2019

Oscars salute a city of stars — and many are Jewish

Oscar belted out “City of Stars” on Jan. 24, with a special nod to Jewish talent, as the 89th Academy Award nominations were announced at 5:30 a.m. local time.

The uplifting musical “La La Land” danced off with 14 nominations, including one for best picture — tying the records of “All About Eve” and “Titanic,” thanks mainly to two former Harvard roommates, Justin Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle, both 32.

Hurwitz (see profile on Page 63) received nods for musical score and original song (with Benj Pasek’s lilting lyrics) for both “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” Chazelle was nominated in the director and screenplay categories.

Chazelle told the Jewish Journal last year that his parents, although Catholic, were dissatisfied with their son’s education at a church Sunday school so they enrolled him in the Hebrew school of a liberal synagogue.

Over the next four years, Chazelle recalled, “I had that period of my life where I was very, very into Hebrew and the Old Testament, and then I went with my class to Israel when we were in the sixth grade. I don’t think they even knew I wasn’t Jewish; I was, like, ‘passing.’ ”

Two noted thespians were nominated in the lead actress race: Jerusalem native Natalie Portman for her role as former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in “Jackie,” and veteran French star Isabelle Huppert in the French film “Elle.”

Huppert, who plays a successful businesswoman who plots an elaborate revenge on the home intruder who raped her, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. Her parents were married while France was under Nazi occupation, with her father hiding his Jewish roots.

In the lead actor category, a nod went to American-British actor Andrew Garfield, whose paternal grandparents were Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe to London. He stars in “Hacksaw Ridge,” the story of the only conscientious objector ever awarded the Medal of Honor.

The movie also earned a nomination for director Mel Gibson, still living down his anti-Semitic outbursts of the past. However, actor and director got along well, with Garfield declaring in a TV interview, “I am proud to be Jewish.”

Also in the running for outstanding achievement in direction is Kenneth Lonergan for the critically acclaimed “Manchester by the Sea.” Lonergan’s mother and stepfather are Jewish.

“Joe’s Violin,” a film by Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen, made the cut in the short documentary category. It explores the friendship between a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor and a 12-year-old Bronx schoolgirl and how the power of music can brighten the darkest of times.

The winners will be crowned Feb. 26 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The ceremony will be broadcast to 225 countries and territories worldwide.