Our editor, Henry, moved to New York City recently so we’re taking a look back at some of the films that best capture the Big Apple.
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!” croons Dean Martin over the opening credits of Moonstruck, one of the quintessential pieces of Italian-American and New York City cinema. With a quick shot of the Brooklyn Bridge at night underneath a gorgeous moon, the audience is immediately pulled into director Norman Jewison’s romantic world, one that turns Brooklyn into a playground for lovers old and young. The film is steeped in the culture of New York’s most populous borough, and its use of real Brooklyn locations has even prompted the creation of a walking tour based on the story. As Loretta Castorini (Cher, who walked off with Oscar gold for this performance) and Ronny Cammareri (a one-armed Nicolas Cage) fall in love, despite her engagement to his brother, the the old world brought over by the Italians (old pictures, plastic covered furniture, carefully tended to dining room tables) and the new world of America (the glamorous Lincoln Center features prominently in one scene) clash, and eventually blend into a unique yet familiar depiction of a world that has slowly begun to fade. It’s as good a depiction of Brooklyn as you could ask for, and one that would only later be matched by Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. –Cole
When recommending this classic heist film to people I always struggle with whether or not I should spoil the twist about Sonny Wortzik’s true intentions for holding up the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. I won’t do so here, instead I’ll just tell you about how great it is.
Lumet’s film both hits like a sledgehammer and is surprisingly downbeat for such a tight heist story. This is no Ocean’s Eleven level plan, and once the guns come out there are a lot of people simply shouting at each other. It’s a taut hostage situation, one that is looked upon by both police trying to circumvent the robbery and the Brooklyn public, largely disillusioned with the role of the police in New York. As Sonny screams in the name of the Attica prison riot and the crowd explodes in applause, the film and the audience are completely revitalized. There’s a lot more at stake in this bank than money, what Sonny is fighting for and what the people are cheering on is change. Change that sadly has not come in the nearly fifty years since. Dog Day Afternoon became one of my favorite films almost immediately, and it’s one of the quintessential American stories. –Jen
The first half of Julia Loktev’s 2006 drama/thriller Day Night Day Night takes place entirely within a small hotel room, where the unnamed main character is being prepared to become a suicide bomber. The second half follows her through Times Square as she sets out to enact the plan. It’s an incredibly unnerving film, because the audience is given absolutely no insight into her background or motivation and essentially spends half of the film anticipating a horrific act of violence. Loktev and cinematographer Benoît Debie take a “guerilla filmmaking” approach, which lends the film an eerie, realistic quality, especially the scenes in crowded Times Square. It’s disconcerting that the first film that pops into my head when I think of New York is one so disturbing, but it’s so unique and unforgettable that it’s seared into my mind forever. – Kern
I had initially considered writing about The Wolf of Wall Street for this Staff Selects, given that the whole thing was prompted by my move to New York and I do live on Wall Street now, plus Scorsese is the king of the New York movie. But somewhere in the middle of the obligatory rewatch, I realized the film that really captures New York City for me and the one I had to write about is Elf. I can’t really say whether it was watching Elf or visiting the city for the first time that started the dream of moving here, but nothing else really comes close to being that foundational. As with all great Christmas movies, Elf comes from a Jewish writer and a Jewish director and riffs on the oft-told story of an outsider coming to the city that was probably made most famous previously by Midnight Cowboy. It’s an absolute delight that never fails to make me smile cheek to cheek at every single joke, but it’s also the film that made dozens of trips through the Lincoln Tunnel feel like fun and that made the grime of the streets seem charming. Where gum on the street would seem disgusting in any other city, here it’s a reason to think of Buddy. The guys handing out flyers for strip clubs aren’t representative of something seedy but a reminder that Christmas is coming soon. So many films depict New York as violent and dangerous and dirty, and honestly all of that was the bigger reason for moving here because I have spent far too long being bored, but Elf shows what it’s really like to see the city for the first time as a bum from nowhere and it continues to make every street magical. – Henry
Staff Selects benoit debie cher day night day night do the right thing dog day afternoon elf jon favreau julia loktev martin scorsese moonstruck nicolas cage norman jewison oceans eleven sidney lumet spike lee the wolf of wall street will ferrell