Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago, but I spent four years during my mid-twenties in New York City – attending art school, working odd jobs, eating way too many bagels and korean noodles, walking everywhere, crying over boys, and cementing some pretty incredible friendships. I even hung out at the Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint before it became a chain and went all Girls.
It was one of those formative experiences that will always be a part of me, and lately I’ve really found myself missing the city and its unique energy. Good thing I’m heading to NYC, oh, ah… TODAY.
In honour of my visit, I’ve compiled a personal top 6 list of evocative films set in the Big Apple. Major caveats: it’s in no real order, and doesn’t adhere to any particular aesthetic criteria or even represent my opinion of the ‘best’ movies to take place in NYC. Let’s just say that these picks all conjure some kind of specific sense of the city for me, whether accurate or imagined.
Taxi Driver. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Manhattan. If you’re expecting these, you’ve come to the wrong list, my friends.
Image above: “I’m so embarrassed, I’m not a real person yet.”
1. Frances Ha (2012) Present-day NYC through the eyes of the struggling 20-something creative, shot in beautiful black and white. At the film’s most exhilarating, the “undate-able” Frances runs through the streets to the soundtrack of David Bowie’s “Modern Love” (in homage to a scene from Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang, in case that sort of thing matters to you). At its mostmundane, she lounges on her fire escape and chats with her best friend. It’s pretty much perfect, really.
“Can you dig it?”
2. The Warriors (1979) I’m fairly sure I never in a million years would have watched this movie, if not for my dad insisting when I was in junior high. A cult classic about fictional NY gangs, the Warriors are framed for murder and over the course of a night they must traverse the city, make it past the many other hostile gangs and the police, and return to their home base of Coney Island. It depicts NYC at its most campily inhospitable and, from a kid’s perspective, I assumed the city was just one giant mess of graffiti, dangerous subway platforms, and creepy men in leather vests. Image from Pyxurz.
“I’m staying! You hear that, New York? THE FROG IS STAYING!”
3. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) Broadway dreams, showbiz clichés, low-paying luncheonette gigs, purse snatching in Central Park, lunch at Sardi’s with Liza Minnelli, Mad Men as enacted by frog puppets… it is all here, and it is hilarious.
“We didn’t miss it. This IS it.”
4. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008). A long night spent traipsing around NYC, accompanied by a great soundtrack (Chris Bell, Band of Horses, Bishop Allen), culminating in a kiss at sunrise in Penn Station, is a night well-spent. The sense of possibility, excitement, sweetness, and (mostly) innocent adventure just feels quintessentially New York, to me, in the way that I once experienced it.
“Don’t you know tricks are for kids?”
5. Kids (1995) Ick. To this day I’ve not seen this movie in its entirety, but if ever you needed a skin-crawling cautionary tale involving unsupervised, amoral urban teenagers, this is it (basically the polar opposite of #4). It may very well be the reason I never did drugs, didn’t lose my virginity til I was 19, and was kind of afraid of New York City til I actually moved there. Feels like it deserves a spot on the list, though, for its ability to elicit all these strong responses, even now.
“You see, that’s the funny thing – I can’t have a baby because I have a 12:30 lunch meeting.”
6. Baby Boom (1987) Shout-out to Sarah Stringer — girl, you know what I’m talking about. Diane Keaton might justifiably be mortified were she to realize that children of the ’80s view this as her iconic NYC film character moment. Sorry, Annie Hall, but we have an eternal soft spot for J.C. Wiatt.
Work-aholic female business exec is faced with caring for an unexpected child, loses her job and leaves Manhattan for small-town Vermont, then launches her own empire making organic baby food. So, it’s basically the story of my life. Just kidding. All the “Big City” tropes of the late 1980s are here – power-lunches, city apartments full of black leather and chrome, big shoulder-pads, and tiger moms with even bigger hair, hanging at the playground while discussing their toddler’s resumé submission to the coveted Upper East Side pre-schools. But will J.C. give it all up for a slower pace? Lean in, ladies – this one’s practically a classic.
Is there any other city on earth that’s been the source of such a wealth of cinematic inspiration? What NYC films have resonated with you? (and don’t let my avoidance of the high-brow stop you from going there)