What’s your favorite film that takes place in New York City? The question might be a tough one to answer, considering how many movies are made here. Where I live in Brooklyn, I often see signs posted on street lights, announcing an upcoming film shoot. Days later, those long movie set trailers line the block. So not only are there thousands of existing films, dating back to the dawn of cinema, there are new films constantly being made that feature NYC as a backdrop, or even as a main character in the story.
Right now, the Criterion Channel is screening a series called “New York Stories” that showcases a century’s span of films, set in the five boroughs. The earliest one, from 1917, is Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant. And the most recent one, from 2019, is The Hottest August, directed by Brett Story. The films were chosen because they capture “the mix of grime, glamour, and anything-can-happen energy that has made the Big Apple an unforgettable canvas for generations of filmmakers.”
Scrolling through the list, you will likely see some old favorites, like the 1960 classic The Apartment, directed by Billy Wilder. Or something more recent like Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha or Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Or maybe you remember the romantic comedy from 1987 - Moonstruck, starring Cher and Nicolas Cage. One of my favorites, Little Fugitive, tells the story of a young boy who spends the day in Coney Island. It was shot in the early 1950s in black and white. I’ve even had the pleasure of watching it at a retrospective on the big screen.
When I found out about the Criterion Channel’s NYC series yesterday, I decided to watch a New York film I had never heard of before - Eyes of Laura Mars. The thriller stars Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones. It came out in 1978 and shows the gritty NYC of that era. Dunaway plays a photographer, and in the beginning of the film, there’s a show featuring the art of Helmut Newton (something I realized at the end when the credits rolled.)
Even if you don’t have access to the Criterion Channel’s screening service (it requires a paid subscription), you can still read about the films they chose for the New York Stories series. Some of the titles might be available for free via the public library or other online streaming services. Maybe you will discover a new favorite!
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