5. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories marked the first film in Baumbach’s career to be distributed by Netflix. Following three adult siblings who reunite in New York over their ailing father, The Meyerowitz Stories is another film with which the director explores family dysfunction and reconciliation with the past.
Danny Meyerowitz, unemployed and recently divorced, decides to move in with his father, a retired professor and has-been sculptor. When Danny’s father is hospitalized, his sister Jean and half-brother Matthew come to Manhattan to help care for the sick patriarch. Soon, animosities and resentments boil to the surface as these siblings confront their dissimilar upbringings and its negative effects on their adult lives.
The Meyerowitz Stories presents one of Baumbach’s most troubled portraits of an upper-class family do-date, displaying a raw bitterness between its main characters that is compellingly realistic. The siblings played by Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel deliver comedic yet emotionally painful performances that breathe life into the down-to-earth plot of the film.
More so than with some of Baumbach’s other films, this one powerfully presents the lasting effects of emotional damage accumulated during formative childhood years and how that manifests itself in the lives of adults who do not reconcile with their past. Relatable yet original, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is one of Baumbach’s greatest films concerning the globally experienced dysfunctions of family life.
4. De Palma
The only documentary to be featured on this list, Baumbach co-directed De Palma with Jake Paltrow in 2015. As the title suggests, the documentary is made of interviews with the American Filmmaker Brian De Palma, the iconic director responsible for creating films such as Carrie, Scarface, and Mission Impossible.
Entirely made up of footage of De Palma himself and scenes from the director’s films and other classic films he references in his interview. Showing no signs of over-editing that documentaries can fall into, Baumbach and Paltrow put De Palma together with a respectful precision that shows honor to the seminal filmmaker. The documentary is structured around the timeline of De Palma’s long career, allowing him to speak of his memories and great collaborations as he created his films through the years.
The insightful simplicity with which Baumbach and his co-director present De Palma is honest and admirable. There are no bells and whistles, just candid authenticity that allows the viewer to learn from Brian De Palma and his prolific career. This documentary achievement on behalf of Baumbach and Paltrow is almost a great lesson in American film history that should be noticed by all film buffs.
3. Frances Ha
Baumbach’s 2012 film Frances Ha marks one of the greatest collaborations between the director and his real-life partner Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote and stars in the film. Shot in black-and-white, in reference to iconic New York set films such as Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Frances Ha is a quiet, comical and approachable film in which the titular character navigates growing up and finding success in an unpredictable world.
Twenty-seven years old, Frances is trying to break into the world of contemporary dance, no easy task in New York City. The film begins with Frances living with her more-successful best friend Sophie and the two spend their days inseparably enjoying their youth. When Sophie breaks the news that she will be moving out, Frances is faced with change both financially and socially that forces her to re-evaluate her position in the world and where she would like to be.
Often considered to exemplify elements of the mumblecore sub-genre, Frances Ha is a film where everything and nothing happens. This slower pacing may be challenging for many viewers, but is ultimately so successful in conveying the dissolutions and tribulations of entering adulthood. Again, Baumbach’s sense of comedy based in realism is on full display in this film, with hilarious moments of Frances making poor decisions in exhibition of her youthful ignorance.
One of Baumbach’s most iconic works to-date, Frances Ha is a film that can powerfully resonate with young adults figuring out their path in the modern world, where there is no how-to manual.
2. The Squid and the Whale
Released in 2005, The Squid and the Whale accumulated much critical success for Baumbach, culminating with a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars. It is a semi-autobiographical film for the director, telling the story of two teenage boys coping with the divorce of their parents during the late-80’s. Conveying the chaotic and emotional toll that is experienced by a family in transition, The Squid and the Whale treats its story with an honesty and humor that makes it one of Baumbach’s most successful films.
Mainly set in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn to no surprise, the film visually references a New York of the past by shooting this film on 16mm film with its textured footage. Many scenes are shot with a handheld camera which helps to convey the sense of instability in the boy’s shifting lives. Some of the cast includes familiar faces such as Jesse Eisenberg, Jeff Daniels, and Laura Linney.
The entire cast delivers performances that create actualized characters that speak true to real life. Characters may be likable in one scene and detestable the next, but Baumbach does well in exploring the causative sources of his character’s decisions. Since its first screenings The Squid and the Whale has been so largely appreciated for its narrative and visual integrity, definitely propelling Baumbach’s filmmaking career. Original, tragic, hilarious and relatable,The Squid and the Whale a film to be seen.
1. Marriage Story
Without a doubt, Baumbach’s greatest achievement thus far in his busy film career has been his most recent film, 2019’s Marriage Story. Universally acclaimed shortly after taking the fall film festival circuit by storm, Marriage Story has brought Baumbach much praise since its release, ultimately receiving six nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards. This film is a heartbreakingly sincere look into a young family experiencing a challenging shift in life in the face of a divorce.
Played by the wildly talented Adam Driver and Scarlett Johanssen, Charlie and Nicole live in present-day Brooklyn with their young son. Charlie is a moderately successful avant-garde theater director and Nicole is his lead actress and muse. The film’s first scene shows the couple in divorce counseling, so their decision to separate is clear from the beginning. Nicole decides to return to her hometown of Los Angeles to expand her acting career, and the bulk of the film lies within the complications as the former couple tries to maneuver a bicoastal divorce without negatively impacting the life of their son.
As with nearly every Baumbach film, Marriage Story is driven to a place of empathetic realism with its amazing screenplay and breaktaking performances. While other of his films include many characters who are in-and-out of the storyline, Marriage Story finds an immense strength in its incredible focus on Nicole, Charlie, and their son, allowing viewers to strongly connect and understand these three central characters and what they are experiencing. Unlike his other work that is usually based in New York or Los Angeles, just one or the other, Baumbach captures both coasts with his established style in Marriage Story, almost in an expansive manner that speaks to the real complications of divorce that are experienced by families across the country.
Noah Baumbach has always presented insightful reflections of the real world in his films, but with Marriage Story he taps into the individual and family perspective in a poetic fashion that easily outshines his other work. Conveniently available to watch on Netflix, Marriage Story is Baumbach’s masterpiece film that definitely should not be missed!
Noah Baumbach is undoubtedly a director who has a concise and astute style of filmmaking that has gained him much respect and popularity. Since bursting onto the scene in the mid-90’s, the New York director has presented clever and comical films that entertain audiences as well as asking deeper questions with their compelling characters and intricate stories. While some of his films are more successful than others, each one is distinctly unique while also maintaining connections to Baumbach’s one-of-a-kind filmmaking. In regards to contemporary American directors working today, Baumbach is among the greatest and his entire filmography is one worth exploring.