The Movies of NYC

During the summer, Turner Classic Movies is spotlighting films in a series they’re calling European Vacation. Inspired by that idea, I decided to make my lists for the months of July and August a type of summer vacation. Thursdays in July, we’ll go to 4 great U.S. cities through the movies, and Thursdays in August we’ll go to 5 great European countries through the movies. This week’s list is the best New York City movies. That doesn’t mean the best overall movies that happen to be set in NYC but the best portrayals of the city in film.

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10. When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

The scenes that take place at Christmastime see Harry and Sally out and about in many different parts of the cities and always some wonderfully decorated parts of the city but for the most part not the biggest tourist attractions. It takes us into what the city looks like at Christmas that most tourists don’t get to see even when they’re there at Christmas.

 

9. All about Eve (1950)

The competition, obsessiveness, vanity, and glory of the Broadway stage has never been captured better than this, shown through the eyes of the great Bette Davis and Anne Baxter characters.

 

8. The Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Like When Harry Met Sally…, we get another glimpse into the city at Christmastime. Except for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at the beginning, it’s not so much the sites of the city that we’re taken to but the attitudes of the people. The movie portrays the fight between the materialistic narcissism associated with Wall Street, all big business, and the stores like Macy’s represented in the movie vs. the basic human goodness that the movie wants us to see in most of the city (and every city for that matter).

 

7. The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), & The Godfather Part III (1990)

From the olive oil company that Vito started to Michael and Kay walking down some of the most iconic streets of the city, the whole trilogy takes us on trips to Italy, Las Vegas, Hollywood, and Cuba. But NYC is the center of the whole story, where Vito’s criminal life begins and where the Corleone dynasty ends.

 

6. Elf (2003)

More Christmas in NYC with the delightful Will Farrell comedy where Buddy the Elf goes to the “magical land of New York City.” Buddy’s hilarious way of seeing the sites in his North Pole gear full of misunderstandings about what’s going on around him is one of the happiest trips to NYC the movies have ever given us.

 

5. An Affair to Remember (1957)

The Empire State Building is one of the most romantic spots on earth thanks to Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. She didn’t quite make it to the top where they were supposed meet because as she says, “I was looking up. It was the nearest thing to heaven.”

4. Moonstruck (1987)

Norman Jewison’s comedy takes us to Little Italy. We see the homes, the shops, and the food that looks so good we can almost smell it. For one part of the movie, we’re taken out of Little Italy to the Metropolitan Opera, and yes, it’s at Christmastime again. The movies love NYC at Christmas! We see the trees outside the theater, the majesty of the theater itself and the chance to hear just a little bit of Puccin’s La Boheme. Moonstruck gives us a tour of very limited, specific parts of NYC that we get to know very well.

 

3. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Though more excited about the siren on the fire truck than much of the city, Longfellow Deeds shows the excitement of the city common to tourists. Frank Capra uses this to spread his idea of the American dream where America can only be seen as a great nation when the people of its cities, the people its small towns and rural areas, and immigrants are all welcome in any part of the country and able to come together despite their differences. The way that all comes into play in NYC is something very special. I’ve sometimes thought of Capra’s Americana as something overly sentimental and cheesy, but that was before the current presidential administration. Frank Capra’s vision of what makes America great is something we can all use right now.

 

2. King Kong (1933)

The movies have never given us a view of the Empire State Building quite like the one in King Kong. With Faye Ray in the ape’s hands screaming and fighting for life knowing that it’s completely dependent on whatever the ape decides to do, we get a unique picture of the city and possibly the greatest single scene of a movie ever shot.

 

1. On the Town (1949)

Chip (Frank Sinatra) makes it his goal to see everything there is to see in NYC during the one day leave his navy crew has. After just a little over an hour and a half, we feel like we’ve pretty much seen it all with Chip and his friends. A broader view of the city than any movie has ever offered, so broad that I can’t even begin listing the sites they see and the things the day, and the very reason it’s the number one NYC movie.

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