Thursday, 26 January 2012

New York at The Movies

The city so nice, they named it twice.  Concrete jungle where dreams are made.  The Big Apple.  The city that never sleeps.  There's only one New York.  Capital city of the world.  Home to the Bronx, Manhattan Island, Queens, Wall Street, Tribeca, the Knicks, Woody Allen, what was the World Trade Centre, the Empire State Building, Times Square, The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn and Central Park.

Taking 31 media and performing arts college students to the great city on Monday presents many challenges but it's always a priviledge to walk the streets of one of the most filmed cities in the world.  With a 3 hour tour of film and TV locations, it's also a chance for me to reflect on some of my favourite 'New York' movies.

The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971)  Working class, alcoholic, determined but bigoted New York cops Vs gentleman French upper class drug dealers in an incredibly gritty New York of the early 70s where you could walk in a bar and every guy in there would be carrying knives or drugs.  Gene Hackman gives a great un-starry performance as Popeye Doyle giving full commitment to the role including doing much of the driving for the still nail-biting celebrated car chasing a train sequence.  Very unexpected ending too.

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) More scum needing sweeping from the streets with another icon of the 70's doing the dirty work.  This time De Niro gets tooled up, shaves his head, taunts a mirror and takes on the pimps to save a young prostitute.  So far, New York looks like a pit of depravity so let's move on.

Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979) The first Woody film I've actually really liked.  How things have changed in the few years since Taxi Driver with this tale of middle class, intellectual art buffs bed hopping to the sounds of Gershwin.  New York is suddenly transformed in my eyes to a beautiful, wealthy playground for the priveleged few who only have to be concerned about the next art gallery they will visit and the next partner they will screw.  Great opening shots of the city and Allen at his most witty and honest.  Self-indulgent but romantic, funny and moving.

Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) Featuring the opening in the New York public library that also provides refuge for the cast of The Day After Tomorrow and ending with the giant Marsh Mallow Man trashing the streets of New York, this film and it's sequel are filled with iconic New York imagery.  The Statue of Liberty is even made to walk the streets in the sequel.  What could be more New York?

Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) One hot, hot summer day in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn as temperatures and tempers soar and racial tensions simmer before boiling over.  Mostly complex characters, a difficult message and challenging represntations for many viewers, it's a film that requires repeat viewings to appreciate it's depth.  Apart from the 'evil' cops, there are no good guys or bad guys here, just ordinary people figuring out what the 'right thing' to do is.

Kids (Larry Clark, 1995) Shocking, depressing look at the lives of New York kids wandering the streets, spreading Aids, taking drugs, screwing each other literally and figuratively.  It's a diffincult and at times disgusting watch.  Director Larry Clark is a strange director who lingers on young flesh in disturbing ways and there is often the sensation that his documentary style is revelling in the antics of his young cast.  Nevertheless the film has a powerful, shocking end that delivers a hard-hitting message.

Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) Set around the former glory but now decaying sights of Coney Island, the cinematography and editing in this film grip you from the very start even if the downright depressing tale of the downward spiral of a group of drug addicts doesn't.  Bleak but beautifully shot, it makes Coney Island look worth a visit. 

Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003) The typical representation of New York as a pretty hostile place, especially when it's people are confronted by a bit of a wierd looking outsider (see also Borat) is clearly demonstrated here.  Buddy arrives to find out his Dad (who works at the Empire State Building) is on the naughty list, the yellow cabs don't stop, the gum on the sidewalk isn't free candy and snow fights and horseman rangers are a risk in Central Park.  This list had to include a Christmas in NY movie.

Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007) I hate musicals but when Amy Adams' lost princess breaks into song, it's enchanting, hilarious and the sequence in Central Park is a spellbinding showcase of what makes this oasis of green in amidst the grey jungle of the rest New York so truly wonderful.  Amy Adams is sweet, funny and beautiful and Central Park becomes a magical place when she sings and the crowds dance along to her tune.  It's enough to make the hardest New Yorker's heart flutter.  Check it:

Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008) Shamelessly riffing on 9/11 imagery, this could easily be seen as a tasteless 9/11 exploitation movie.  And it is.  But unfortunately for any people still senstive to the tragedy, it's also a great little monster-movie that shows New York under attack from God-Knows-what.  The handheld camera technique is used brilliantly and the destruction of New York is incredibly visceral and frighteningly real.

Honourable mentions must go to; Spiderman and particularly the original trailer that had Spidey catching crims with a web slung between the Twin Towers, and Wall Street and the greed is good excesses of two Sheens and Michael Douglas' still relevant evil bastard Gordon Gekko.

Also a quick shout must go to Rage Against The Machine's Michael Moore directed music video for Sleep Now in the Fire in which they occupy Wall Street way before it became the in-thing to do.  See it here:


  1. I picked up The French Connection in my local movies store today... Didn't buy it though, kind of wish I had of gotten it now!

    Judging by this list alone New York is obviously a fantastic place to have movies!

  2. Great list matey. New York is home to so many great movies. It must be hard to choose.

    interestingly we had a guest list a while back of NY movies, and none feature on your list.... :-)

    Love seeing Elf in there!!

  3. Wonderful article about a wonderful city. I suppose my love of New York, as envisaged through cinema, is heightened because I have never been there. There's a sense of romance and mystery about the place that comes from the work of Woody Allen, Scorsese and films like Ghostbusters, After Hours and a host of others.

    Some great highlights here - of course, I love The French Connection and Taxi Driver. Do The Right Thing was great for taking us away from the iconic sights and into the heartland.

  4. Nice list! Although I feel like the hype of the city can be overrated at times, I will agree that it's one of the most filmed cities, as well as just a great place TO film movies.

    I've seen four of the films you listed (probably all the recent ones, now thinking of it). I liked the list. So many different types of films, from musicals to monster movies to classics. Nice variety in there.

  5. @Matt I've only just seen it and enjoyed every minute. It's well worth a watch! Simple story but some complex characters.

    @Scott Interesting I'll take a look at the list. I looked at some others before I did this and there's quite a few that repeatedly came up that I haven't seen like When Harry Met Sally and Working Girl

    @Dan I need to see After Hours, was just reading about it a few days ago and it sounds really interesting. NY is captivating, it's crazy to see all the sights from films up close and for real!

    @Kristin I highly recommend all these films, yeah it is a really good range actually now you mention it. From a kids film (Elf) all the way to Kids (which is definitely not for kids!!!)

  6. Thats a nice list of quality films Pete. I especially enjoyed the RATM video at the end. It's unfortunate that NY will be so sad following their upcoming Super Bowl loss to the Patriots this Sunday. :-)

  7. @3guys1movie Thanks, yeah love that video! Saw that the Superbowl was coming up. That means we get a whole load of new Superbowl film trailer/ads woohoo!


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