New York in Genres is finally here and I would like to thank 16 participants who contributed their time and skills to make this post happened. I am grateful to each and every of you for taking part and sharing your passion for film.
My gratitude also goes to people who promoted the event by tweets, plugs and placement of the event banners at their blogs. A special mention goes to Sofia of Film Flare who created her own great banner for NY in Genres. And another special mention is to LAMB that aided in the promotion.
As you may know, recently I've asked you in the poll, if you'd like the series to be hosted once per month or once per two months and you decided in the favor of the latter, which I totally support. Therefore, if you are interested in taking part next time, keep an eye on updates in September. Also, if you aren't a regular reader, but would like to get informed about the next In Genres, just drop me an email and I'll let you know when we'll be having one.
Anyway, now let's have a look at the variety of films set in New York City.
*All the credit goes to contributors as stated.
**I covered a few genres that were not taken but my recommendations are poorly written due to lack of time, sorry.
The biggest reason why I chose this film for this blogathon was that this was the first time that I felt, like many others before and after me, that New York was indeed a magical place. Okay not Hogwarts-esque magical, but those scenes of Spider-Man swinging around the sky-kissing buildings of the Big Apple are actually enchanting. There is this sense of exhilaration that not many films have captured so brilliantly and that too in a place like New York, “concrete jungle where dreams are made” and whatnot. Not only that, this is still a very fun superhero movie, though after the avalanche of other movies of the genre ever since, it does look a little tame. It did however, reaffirm my belief in Tobey Maguire, who really is a brilliant Peter Parker, and god I love Willem Dafoe as a villain! Also for those wanting a breath of fresh air from the “real world” comic book films, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is just that, from back when things had a more playful side to them.
A Motown-infused remake of The Wizard of Oz, in which the titular fantasyland resembles New York. Based on the smash Broadway musical. Filmed all around town, from Coney Island to Shea Stadium to Lincoln Center and more, many popular city landmarks get transformed into something both strange and familiar at the same time. The result is quite spectacular, and pleasing to anyone who's ever walked these streets and imagined them as being magical. The movie as a whole is a bit cheesy, but worth watching for the settings and the music, if nothing else.
I recommend Oliver & Company (1988):
I admit that I don't remember much from this film, since I've seen it only once and a while ago. However, taking in consideration that the majority of Disney offerings are enjoyable little (or big) things, I would still advise this movie for viewing, especially if you have kids, to enjoy an animated re-imagining of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist". In this interpretation, we follow the life of a kitten lost on the mean streets of New York, who finds himself in a mob of dogs, but will he find a warm and caring shelter?
Paul S. from Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies recommends The Age of Innocence (1993):
Celebrated director Martin Scorcese provided a sumptuous feast for tired eyes and minds with his sumptuous adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize-winner novel.
The tale of the illicit love between upstanding lawyer Newland Archer (Daniel Day Lewis) and his fiancé’s unconventional cousin Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), is beautifully played out, against the backdrop of the splendour and hypocrisy of New York high society in the 1880s.
Oscar nominated Winona Ryder takes the acting honours as Newland’s, not as innocent as she seems, wife May. But the real stars of the piece are the authentic sets and costumes, Elmer Bernstein’s wonderful score and the beautiful cinematography of Michael Ballhaus.
I recommend Gia (1998):
Although it's just a film made for television, Gia is a rather decent movie watching that dwells on the tragic life and death of Gia Carangi, a top fashion model, popular in the 1970's. Beautiful Angelina Jolie gives a fantastic performance, preventing the movie from being completely mediocre, and the combination of styles (parts of film resemble a documentary) makes the picture more interesting.
I recommend My Man Godfrey (1936):
Quite a witty satire, aimed at social status, this film sparkles with the help of insanely smart dialogue and irresistible stars, William Powell and Carole Lombard. A NYC socialite finds a homeless man, makes him a butler at her house, and tries to get his attention. This funny premise spills into a hilarious and clever cinematic outcome.
Bullets over Broadway is 1994 comedy starring John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Tilly, Chazz Palmiteri, Jim Broadbent and Mary Louise Parker. Written and directed by Woody Allen it tells the story of young writer who finally has his shot at success – he will get the necessary resources to show his play on Broadway but only if he gives one of the parts to mobster's girlfriend - annoying and spoiled Olive, whose acting is so bad he is sure it will bury his play.
The movie is one of Allen's best, featuring Oscar winning performance from Wiest, as an aging actress and true diva, and many funny lines as well as clever script, filled with irony, sarcasm and poignant observations. It also takes us behind the curtains of the Broadway show, not only showing the production process but also the way the writer needs to struggle and compromise in order to get what he wants. And it achieves all of that with Allen's usual style and wit.
William Friedkin's Best Picture-winner follows Detectives "Popeye" Doyle and "Cloudy" Russo through the streets of New York, as they pursue a Frenchman who is trying to make a quick, discreet drug deal by smuggling cocaine into the U.S. inside a car. The gritty, handheld cinematography of the film shows the tough side of New York, while capturing its raw beauty as well. It's a thrilling series of chase sequences, interrogations, and stakeouts, all of which are set against the backdrop of the Big Apple, with a pounding jazz score to boot. Crime in New York has never been depicted quite like it is in this quintessential 1970s film.
Sometimes it’s hard not to watch something and not think about how different directors might have shot it differently (personally still holding out for a David Lynch directed Bond movie) and these were my first thoughts, as I first watched this fascinating documentary. Even more so when we are first introduced to Philippe whose passion for life and his world view, couldn’t help but make me think of the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, a feeling no doubt caused by the world view of Philippe, who could not only be played by Dominique Pinon, but himself is like one of their characters brought to life, as he speaks so enthusiastically about his obsession with the twin towers and his dream to tightrope walk between them, even how he tells his story, is similar to their style, as he makes even the most mundane of situations, such as waiting in a dentists office a fascinating situation, while at the same being complemented by the re-enactments directed by Marsh, which again have that Jeunet and Caro feel to them.
Told almost like a heist movie, the story of this astonishing feat is told via a mixture of talking heads, photographs, stock footage filmed by the group and re-enactments, which make for a full picture of not only the sheer scale but the planning which went into it, while also looking at the stunts, which lead up Philippe’s twin towers stunt, which many would later consider “The Artistic Crime of the Century”.
When you think of a filmmaker who consistently revisits New York as inspiration for their movies, you most likely think Woody Allen. Some indie cinephiles may even think of Edward Burns. Let’s not forget about Spike Lee who has an uncanny knack for brilliantly using New York City as a backdrop to some of the most socially conscious, gritty, and humanistic films ever. One lesser known but equally powerful Spike Lee joint is 25th Hour, a film that depicts the last day of freedom for a drug dealer named Monty (Edward Norton) before he turns himself in to serve a seven-year prison term. What we learn from watching his last hours as a free man is that he is more complicated than we assume he is; he is both nice guy and bad guy. We see him re-examine his life, the choices that have brought him to this point, and his relationships with the dubious characters around him - his keen girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) who may or may not have ratted on him to the police, his teacher friend (Philip Seymour Hoffman) obsessed with a student (Anna Paquin), and his morally questionable friend on Wall Street (Barry Pepper). We question their influences on him as he does. We weigh his alternatives to prison as he does (does he go on the run? commit suicide?). And through this, we see Monty’s vision of New York as the action unfolds on the fast-paced city streets, inside the club culture, and finally, in a memorable movie ending, in the quiet suburbs.
Kevyn Knox from The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World recommends Chelsea Girls (1966):
When I first saw this film it was at a screening held by my annual hometown film festival (Harrisburg PA's Arts Fest Film Festival if we are naming names). At the start of this film by New York pop art icon Andy Warhol, there were one hundred of us in that screening hall. By the time it finally ran its three and a half hour course, there were twenty-five of us left. What I am trying to say is, that like many experimental films, especially the lengthier ones such as this, this is not a film for everyone. Nothing much happens here other than a bunch of Warhol's faithful hanging about in various NYC locales, but it is definitely an intriguing piece of filmmaking. Shown on two side-by-side screens simultaneously, with action going in and out at various intervals, there is no doubt this is an experimental film, but as I said before, it is quite intriguing to sit through, and I am glad I was one of those twenty-five brave souls who did just that.
Cherokee aka @greasemeupwoman from Can You Dig It? recommends Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992):
After the hilarious shenanigans of Home Alone, where an on-top-of-his-childhood-acting-game Macaulay Culkin plays Kevin McCallister, a feisty - sometimes bratty, but always charismatic - kid who gets left (as the title suggests) home alone thanks to his family seemingly forgetting his existence, you’d think that there wouldn’t be room for a sequel. Surely his parents couldn’t forget poor Kevin for a second time, without child services knocking on their door, right? Wrong. In typical bad film-parental fashion, on a family trip to Florida, Kevin is yet again left behind - but this time, he accidentally boards a plain to New York; creating the basis for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Instead of being in the confides of his house alone, Kevin has a WHOLE CITY to enjoy, and by god does he does - until he comes across his arch nemesis’ from the previous Home Alone outing, Harry (Joe Pecsi) and Marv (Daniel Stern), that is. Cue the fun and the terrifying Bird Lady.
Alan from The Great Movie Project recommends Beastly (2011):
I need to point out that I didn’t think this was a good movie, but I loved the concept of a modernized fairy tale where all the original omens and warnings are left intact. We’ve managed to forget that fairy tales were originally a method to teach children how to behave appropriately. They were a way to give a bit of bite to parents’ warnings about what happens when you misbehave. Beastly shows us quite a bit of that, as the wealthy and selfish young lead runs afoul of a witch in, as I recall, a dirty NYC back alley straight out of a Law & Order episode. The witch places a spell on him, bringing his inner beauty (or lack thereof) to the surface, and requiring him to survive and find love within two years, or remain that way forever. With all the magic going on, it’s hard to notice the backdrop, except for a few of the seedier scenes, but New York features large throughout the movies, and if you pay attention you get a decent tour of the city that you wouldn’t get from a tour guide. It’s not all bright lights and Broadway. The lead learns that being a spoiled jerk isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, but does he do it in time? I’ll make you sit through the movie to find out.
Many films begin with their protagonists waking up in the morning. The Naked City opens with New York going to bed. And what a beautiful sight that is.
We didn’t need the narrator to tell us this would be a different kind of film. Its peculiarity is clear from the opening credits, where he calmly lists the names of the ones involved in making this film, instead of your average and boring credits roll. For a brief one a half hour we will follow the investigation of the mysterious murder of a beautiful woman, now at the hands of an experienced and charismatic homicide investigator, and his young, lively and romantic apprentice. But more that a homicide, it’s the story of the daily routine of the eight million people that inhabited Manhattan in the 40s, and consequently, a tale of the city’s own life, with images that are nothing short of haunting. Eight million people waking up at the same time, fighting for an inch on the subway, victimized by acts of violence, living like ants trapped in a hot can. It makes you wonder why they don’t move. I guess there’s really something special about New York.
I recommend Gangs of New York (2002):
An infinitely re-watchable masterpiece from Martin Scorsese himself is, hands down, one of the best visions of how NYC was built and one of those films that come to mind first when you think of the Big Apple in movies. I believe that this film is quite underrated and if you haven't seen it yet but are reading this now, consider it a sign, or simply a good advice to get hold of the movie as soon as possible.
This dark thriller cum horror directed by Roman Polanski was released in 1968 and features one of the most iconic hair dos in recent history, as well as being a very well acted, suspensful yet slightly silly horror film.
Mia Farrow (who makes the part live and sports the aforementioned hair style) and John Cassavetes play a young married couple moving into their very first apartment in what is in real life the Dakota building overlooking Central Park (John Lennon was murdered outside it). They meet mysterious elderly neighbours, the Castavets, the wife played marvellously in a quirky performance by Ruth Gordon, who take them under their wing. Soon, however, strange things begin to happen…
If you like your horror films and can stand a bit of supernatural devilment, then do give this film a go. The characters and acting lift the film above a lot of inferior movies in this genre and the New York apartment will make you want to up sticks and move there!
Trevor Greetham from Northwest Movies recommends The Last Days of Disco (1998):
The Last Days of Disco may be the most unironic film I have ever seen. Whit Stillman gives a musical style that is generally seen as stain on music new life and in doing so makes a highly enjoyable film. Revolving around the lives of Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) and Alice (Chloë Sevigny), two aspiring publishers involved in Manhattans early 1980’s disco scene, the film is a series of zany vignettes taking place in a swirl of neon lights and pulsating music. It may sound cheesy but due to Stillman’s signature deadpan wit and down to earth treatment of the genre, The Last Days of Disco turns out to be one of the most entertaining films about disco since it died.
Hannah M from Unpublished For a Reason recommends West Side Story (1961):
West Side Story may not be a very “realistic” musical, with gang members dancing and twirling all over the city, but it has a beautiful love story, gorgeous melodies, and some of the most wonderful dance numbers ever seen on screen.
The story is a modern retelling of the classic story of Romeo and Juliet, with 1950s New York City as the story’s backdrop. The Montagues and the Capulets become rival gangs, one Caucasian and one Puerto Rican. The famous balcony scene becomes a love song sung on an apartment fire escape. Leonard Bernstein’s incredible score is given life through Jerome Robbins’ intense choreography and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. (Sondheim is known in musical theater for his complex intellectual lyrics. Here they are simpler and more emotional, following the highs and lows of our protagonists, Tony and Maria, and their intense romantic relationship.) Musical highlights include the catchy rhythmic dance number “America,” the haunting love ballad “Maria,” and the charmingly goofy “Gee, Office Krupke.”
The characters sing and dance on rooftops, in parking garages, in soda shops, and up and down alleys and streets. The movie finds the musicality in New York City, bringing beauty even to this dark story.
I recommend Laura (1944)
A NYC detective falls in love with the woman whose murder he is investigating. This premise is intriguing on its own, but the film exceeds expectations with a very twisty plot, noir settings, and acting from incredible Gene Tierney.
I recommend (what a surprise) Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961):
It's just an incredible film and in my opinion it's even better that Truman Capote's novel that it's based on. Breakfast at Tiffany's is just an iconic piece of silver screen, iconic in everything, from Audrey Hepburn's black dress to her hairdo to her shades to the Cat without a name and so on. The movie is special because Holly Golightly is mad about New York that's why I can’t find a more appropriate film for the genre, although I considered a few others.
There are few "found footage" films that truly work, Cloverfield is one of them. It started off with a stellar advertising campaign. The first trailer for the movie showed an explosion in New York City, with the head of the iconic Statue of Liberty crashing into the streets. There was no title, just a release date. THAT is intriguing. The film holds up to its mysterious approach, and we rarely see what our cast is running from. That makes the final scenes that much more interesting. (And seriously, pay close attention to the very last scene, out the window particularly) The only time the shakyhand held camera bothered me was when they were running up stairs, which wasn't often.
Kevyn Knox from The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World recommends The Crowd (1928):
This American-made, German Expressionist-inspired film about a young man trying to live the American dream in New York City, is a beautifully shot film directed by King Vidor. From its classic opening shot (arguably one of the most influential shots in film history) throughout its often sadly tragic storyline, The Crowd shows the fallibility of that aforementioned American Dream and the eroding individuality that began rearing its ugly head in the 1920's. Nominated for an Academy Award in the first year of the annual ceremony, this classic film was one of the first films to be honoured by the Film Registry of the Library of Congress, as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". I would have to fully agree.
Kevyn Knox from The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World recommends The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912):
Directed by D.W. Griffith, the man that brought narrative cinema out of the dark ages of early cinema, this seventeen minute film is credited as the first ever gangster film. Starring legendary movie star Lillian Gish, in one her first films, The Musketeers of Pig Alley, was groundbreaking in not only Griffith's creative use of cinematography, but in the very way he told a story. Telling the tale of a husband and wife who fall in with some small time New York mobsters, Griffith took his film to the height of reality by using (at least the stories say so) actual New York street gangs as extras. Today the film is still considered one of the finest works of early silent cinema.
I recommend Raging Bull (1980):
Why don't we just list the majority of Marty's film in this post? Anyway, Scorsese/De Niro combo always works and this film is no exception. It's a great character study and I appreciated it the best.
L Crossley recommends Rear Window (1954):
Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller stars Jimmy Stewart as wheelchair bound photographer L.B. Jefferies, who whilst being confined to his Greenwich Village apartment, thinks that he witnesses a murder, and, with the help of his girlfriend Grace Kelly and nurse Thelma Ritter, tries to find out the truth. Rear Window displays New York in a unique way, as we only see what Jefferies sees, as for the entire run time, we do not leave his apartment. It is a film that, rather than focusing on the city it is set in, is more of a study of the people who live in that city, and we get an insight to several diverse lives, viewed through a pair of binoculars and a telescope. A suspenseful thriller, and Hitchcock at his best.
What do you think of these films? What are your favorite films set in NYC? What other movies would you recommend?