It’s that time of year again! Time to light up the Menorah, spin the dreidels, and endanger your health with the greasiest food items of all, latkes and sufganyot! That’s right, it’s Chanukah time! It’s an eight-night party to celebrate the “rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE.”
To put it in Goy terms, it’s sort of like Christmas, but celebrated by Jews.
But what are the best movies to watch to get into the Chanukah spirit? It can be a little overwhelming because there are just so many to choose from! If you ask any Jew what their favorite Chanukah movie is, you’ll usually get a different answer. Everything from “Hmmm…are there even any Chanukah movies” to “I actually can’t think of any”. Sarcastic answers, to be sure, because it’s such a hard decision. To be honest, I think people are just trying to get out of answering the question because they’re afraid that they will forget one.
Well, never fear, because good ol’ Jeremy Moran is here to settle the dispute and present the definitive list of the very best Chanukah movies. Yes, that’s right. I’m ending the debate right here, right now.
So here they are. The Top Ten Chanukah movies ranked!
10) Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
Have you seen a movie called It’s A Wonderful Life? I haven’t. Is it good? I bring it up because I am told that this animated Adam Sandler movie is very much in the vein of that popular Christmas film, in the way a depressed character is assisted by kindly characters in discovering the true meaning of Christmas. Though I have not seen that movie, I have to assume that it does not feature the image of deer licking up human feces and then smiling wide to the camera to show the brown goodness in their teeth. That is what I am assuming, anyway.
Yes, in Eight Crazy Nights, Davey Stone (voiced by Sandler) is a sociopathic criminal misanthrope who goes from pushing seizure-addled old men down snowy hills in waste-filled port-a-potties to learning the True Meaning of Chanukah. That old man, Whitey (Also voiced by Sandler), is a plucky angel who helps Davey deal with a horrible childhood tragedy that left him the way he is. A big turning point comes when Davey goes to a mall and all the logos of all the various stores (The Foot Locker guy, the letters in the GNC logo, the phrase RadioShack…) come to life and let him know that it’s okay to let it all out and cry in order to deal with the pain he has repressed for years. They do this through a song that contains one of the laziest lyrics I have ever heard:
“Let it out, Davey!”
“Oh, shut your wooden mugs!”
“Let it out, Davey!”
“Would ya check out her buzzugs?!?”
Do you hear that sound? That’s the sound of Lin-Manuel Miranda saying “Oy! Why can’t I think of anything that good???”
But I digress…
Eight Crazy Nights is a short movie that spends its first sixty-five minutes wallowing in the laziest of the lazy gross-out humor and then suddenly turns sentimental and gooey in the final fifteen. It just doesn’t work. There’s just nothing about the Foot Locker guy that evokes a strong emotional response from me. Sandler, who has always been a corporate whore, fills the movie with wall-to-wall product placement and that somehow goes against the whole “True Meaning of Chanukah” message.
But, despite its low quality, it’s still a Chanukah movie and that’s why it belongs on this list! And, hey! The Technical Foul song is actually pretty funny. Not in a “this is actually funny” way but in a “I can’t believe this song actually exists in a real movie” way.
9) The Hebrew Hammer (2003)
Well, hey! If you can’t stomach Eight Crazy Nights, you can check out Jonathan Kesselman’s The Hebrew Hammer, which parodies the blaxploitation genre by billing itself as a “Jewsploitation” flick. Adam Goldberg stars as the titular character who is a “Certified Circumcised Dick” defending Chanukah from Santa Claus’ evil son, played by Andy Dick in the role of his lifetime. There are Jew jokes galore, from an empty chair representing “The Association for Jewish Athletes” to lines like “I like my women like I like my matzah….unleavened.” It’s a much better movie than Eight Crazy Nights, but that still doesn’t mean that it’s a good movie because the bar is so low.
Ultimately, The Hebrew Hammer exemplifies a lot of the faults of a lot of comedies that are targeted to Jews which is that it’s all jokes about Jewish stereotypes, customs, and beliefs that are aimed to provoke a Jewish person to chuckle and say “Haha! That one hit close to home!” That’s all well and good but it gets a bit tiresome after a while. “Close to home” ethnic humor has fueled an entire industry and its whole ethos can be summed up in the title of Steve Solomon’s one-man show My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy. If you’re Italian, you laugh. If you’re Jewish, you laugh. If you’re both (which I am), you laugh harder. That’s the theory, anyway. But dig a little deeper and it’s hard to find much else you can hang onto.
So that’s how The Hebrew Hammer is. It’s a one-joke movie and that joke was done far better in thirty seconds on an episode of The Critic than in this movie’s entire feature length. Still, if you want something to put on in the background while you spin the Dreidel, you could do much worse. Like Eight Crazy Nights, for example.
Okay, ah… *fiddles through notes* …I can’t seem to find what the next one is. Let’s skip to Seven.
Um….Okay…wait….I think I know what number six is. Let’s come back to this one.
6) A Rugrats Chanukah
Ah, there we go. A Rugrats Chanukah has everything you could possibly want from a Chanukah movie. It’s got humor. It’s got heart. It’s got pathos. It’s got a great turn from Michael Bell as Grandpa Boris. And it’s….Oh, well I guess it’s not a movie. It’s just an episode of the television show Rugrats.
Friends, you may have detected an ulterior motive in this piece. It exists as a way of bringing to attention the sad dearth of Chanukah movies in pop culture. And I’ve always found that a little odd. Chanukah, with its eight-night structure, provides a pretty solid narrative backbone. You could imagine A Chanukah Carol, which has eight ghosts and a Jewish Scrooge making latkes for the town after his transformation. Although, due to a history of hurtful stereotypes, he wouldn’t be a miserly businessman but a successful stand-up comedian. But that’s an example of the versatility that Chanukah can offer!
Weirdly enough, in 2012, notable anti-Semite Mel Gibson of all people was going to make a film about the Jewish Maccabee revolt before it got mercifully shelved. While that probably wasn’t the greatest meshing of creator and material, a Judah Maccabee historical epic has a lot of potential. Why not give the job to a Jewish director with a proven track record of action and epic scope? Or maybe take a huge risk and allow Judd Apatow to take a whack at it. There already seems to be a subgenre of movies about ass-kicking Jews (Munich, Inglourious Basterds). Why not tell the story of the original ass-kicking Jews?
It’s foolhardy to expect Chanukah to blast through pop culture the way that Christmas has. But we owe it to the kids of today to give them better than Eight Crazy Nights. They are going to be telling the story of Chanukah to their kids. Don’t you want them to tell it in compelling, entertaining, and surprising ways that have nothing to do with deer licking human feces?
For real, though. Rugrats Chanukah is legitimately good.