AJFF What to Watch: Films for the Holidays


The holiday season is here and we have the film recommendations to see you through. From documentaries to animated features, we've got you covered. Film titles are linked with information on where to watch.

Best friends Hillary (Barbara Hershey) and CC (Bette Midler) meet as children while vacationing in Atlantic City, N.J., and remain friends throughout the decades. CC, a loud New Yorker, becomes a famous singer and Hillary, a conservative Californian, becomes a successful lawyer. Over the years, the two quarrel or compete, fall in and out of touch, but are there for each other through good times and bad, including the holidays where CC begrudingly sings with Hillary a multitude of Christmas classics and some other "dreidel songs".  

Doing Jewish
A young Canadian filmmaker undergoes a transformative spiritual journey in the most unlikely of places, in this documentary, featured at the 2017 AJFF. Gabrielle Zilkha had little interest in religion when she arrived in Ghana to volunteer for six months of community service, a lone Jew from Montreal awash in a sea of Christians. As the High Holidays approach, she longs to reconnect with a Jewish community and goes on a day-long trip to a remote western township in Sefwi Wiawso where, remarkably, Judaism has been practiced in isolation for centuries. Identifying as descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, a tiny but devout congregation and its charismatic leader practice kosher dietary laws, circumcision and other Jewish rites. Over five years, the filmmaker follows the ongoing struggle for acceptance and community by the Jews of Ghana, while consulting experts about Jewish lineage, and its ability to cross borders and thrive. This heartwarming, often humorously self-deprecating consideration of identity and belonging uses a unique global lens to re-examine the age-old question of what makes someone Jewish. 

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas
This documentary, featured at the 2017 AJFF, is an offbeat, playful celebration of the Jewish American songwriters who composed the soundtrack to the holiday season. In an irony of ironies, it was Jewish immigrant outsiders—Irving Berlin, Mel Tormé and many others—who redefined Christmas as a secular and inclusive cultural phenomenon. Penning such yuletide classics as “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” these artists amplified the spirit of the holidays through musical merriment. A panoply of performers delivers signature renditions of these beloved melodies, amusingly set in a Chinese restaurant, while musicologists, religious leaders, comedians and others add insights into the strange, contradictory and poignant relationship American Jews have with “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (also written by a Jew).

Eight Crazy Nights
This animated musical holiday comedy-drama film is directed by Seth Kearsley and produced, co-written by, and starring Adam Sandler in his first voice-acting role. Davey Stone (Adam Sandler), is a 33-year old party animal, whose community has had enough of his wild ways. In keeping with the holiday spirit, a judge gives Davey one last chance at redemption, to spend the holiday performing community service as an assistant referee for the youth basketball league or go to jail. Davey thinks he's gotten off with a good deal, until he meets Whitey Duvall, the eccentric, elf-like head referee.

For Your Consideration
Co-written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, who also star in the film, this comedy follows a cast and crew of an independent film, firmly deluded by the possibility of Oscar gold after the performance of its virtually unknown, veteran star (Catherine O'Hara) generates awards buzz. Though the movie in question, "Home for Purim," is an ongoing disaster, rumors of future nominations snowball and attracts the attention of a distributor, whose suggestions and continued edits further upset the project, including suggestions which subequently affect the main holiday at the crux of the film's plot.