Noah Baumbach is an American filmmaker born on September 3rd, 1969, in Brooklyn, New York. Receiving his Bachelor of Arts in English from Vassar College in 1991, Baumbach’s debut film was 1995’s “Kicking and Screaming”, launching his career and pointing many of the aspects and traces he would never abandon in his films from that moment on.
Until 2017, when he premiered Netflix’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” at the Cannes Film Festival, he had made 10 feature films and, to commemorate this great indie filmmaker’s career before Netflix releases his new film, here is a list that ranks all his filmography from “Kicking and Screaming” to the documentary “De Palma”, released in 2015.
So, here are all 10 Noah Baumbach’s films ranked from worst to best:
10. Margot at the Wedding (2007)
Written and directed by Baumbach, “Margot at the Wedding” is a family story about Margot and her son Claude as they travel to Long Island for the wedding of Pauline, Margot’s sister. From that moment on, we see the relations between the characters evolving, old marks coming back and new problems that start to appear.
Although having great actors in the cast like Nicole Kidman (Margot), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Pauline) and Jack Black (Malcolm), this can be considered the least interesting work in Baumbach’s career. The great setting and good moments of dialogue and family crisis are not enough to make this film as interesting as it could be. It’s also relevant to point out that Harris Savides’ cinematography was almost entirely shot with natural light and with old lenses, giving this strange but great look to the film.
As we’ll see on this list, Woody Allen is a great influence for Baumbach, and this movie has lots of this director’s traces, but by the end of projection there is still the feeling of something missing in this film.
9. Highball (1997)
Probably the most visually problematic of his films, Baumbach signed this movie as Ernie Fusco for directing and Jesse Carter for writing (the movie was written by Baumbach with Carlos Jacott and Christopher Reed) when it was released in 1997. Shot in less than a week, “Highball” is a film about a recently married couple that throws parties in order to build up their social life.
Many of this film’s problems are visual as we can see this was not a very expensive feature film to make. In an interview with The A.V. Club, Baumbach talks about why he removed his credit from the film: “And it was a funny script. But it was just too ambitious. We didn’t have enough time, we didn’t finish it, it didn’t look good, it was just a whole… mess. [Laughs.] We couldn’t get it done, and I had a falling out with the producer. He abandoned it, and I had no money to finish it, to go back and maybe get two more days or something. Then later, it was put out on DVD without my approval.”
Although with some funny moments and the characteristic clever dialogue of Baumbach’s work, “Highball” is really among the least interesting films in his career and, therefore, is number 9 on this list.
8. Mistress America (2015)
On “Mistress America” we are introduced to Tracy (Lola Kirke) a college freshmen in New York City that meets Brooke (Greta Gerwig), a girl who is about to become her stepsister. Adventurous and easygoing, Brooke seems to save her new sister from loneliness while they have some great moments together.
Having some traces of the Y-generation all over it, “Mistress America” is definitely an interesting portrait of youth, but on the other hand it does not seem to take care of all the themes it tries to approach.
Although “Mistress America” has great acting by Kirke and Gerwig, and some pretty amazing moments, this is a film that makes the spectator feel that was something missing, especially being released after “Frances Ha”, a huge success in both Gerwig and Baumbach’s careers.
7. Greenberg (2010)
This is surely the most underrated film in Baumbach’s career, and likely because people got it wrong. It follows the story of Roger Greenberg, a 40-year-old man who is not quite sure what he’s doing with his life, who agrees to housesit for his brother while he and his family are on vacation. Going from New York to Los Angeles after a period in an asylum, he soon meets Florence, his brother’s personal assistant who helps him around.
Slow paced and little more somber than the rest of Baumbach’s filmography, “Greenberg” is definitely a movie worth seeing. This character arc, connecting past and present, meeting old acquaintances once again and trying to figure it out if he is sabotaging himself, makes this a good character study in film.
With a great performance and subtle performances by Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig in her first collaboration with Baumbach, “Greenberg” is a difficult movie to watch, but still should be checked out by fans of the director.
6. While We’re Young (2014)
Following the story of a middle-aged couple going through a crisis in their relationship, “While We’re Young” stars Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver in good performances in this film about careers and the shock between generations.
Josh (Stiller) and Leslie (Watts) are a couple living in New York and everything seems to be fine in their lives, but things start to change when they notice that not being able to have children affects their lives more than they imagined. When they meet Darby (Seyfried) and Jamie (Driver), a young couple who looks up to them, some unexpected problems start to appear.
This is another example of a Baumbach movie that starts and develops amazingly well, but seems to lose it in the last half. The crisis between the generations and characters and the situations that move the story forward work great, but still, the narrative loses itself at the end of the second act, making “While We’re Young” number 6 on our list.