This is the ninth post in the “The Best Films Set In…” series. This week, Chris Elena makes a first attempt at listing his favourites. The setting can be a place (like Tokyo), a location (like the beach), or a time (like Winter). In these posts Chris is going to pick his 5 favourite films that are set in that particular place/location/time and explain why he likes them. Up this week is The Best Films Set In…New York!
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
In what might just be one of the most powerful movies ever made, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver feels closest to a love letter to the city he adores, fears and admires. The city itself just about shares the role of protagonist along with De Niro. The streets are dirty, dark, fierce, yet even with some of the shady inhabitants (who Travis Bickle so greatly detests) roaming around, there’s still beauty to be found. This film IS New York.
Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
If we’re talking love letters to New York, here’s one of the greatest…yet Shortbus is only remembered for its naughty bits. This speaks more about the inhabitants of New York and how they’re still piecing together what happened to their beloved city after 9/11. It always hits home how strong community is in New York despite all the blows it’s taken…. Pardon the pun.
Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
Speaking of the inhabitants in New York, here’s the favored city seen through the eyes of Spike Lee…and it’s hot as hell. We see a community descend into madness throughout the course of one day. Race, morality and respect are questioned and challenged, and there is dancing and energy in the streets. This is the New York many imagine, and it just goes to show how its dedicated locals will always stick together and endure the city as one. Now that’s the truth, Ruth.
The Wackness (Johnathan Levine, 2008)
Now this is how you encapsulate the 90’s. No boy bands or Nirvana mentioning, but instead we follow a teen walking the streets of a sepia-looking New York, selling weed with the help of his therapist (Ben Kingsley, in one of his best performances), who listens to hip hop, and hopes to lose his virginity sooner than later. Coming of age dramedies don’t get better than this, The Wackness is the true pinnacle and not once forgets the influence of the city that surrounds these characters.
Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
More of a universal word on the media and its ruthless ferocity. What many call a satire (yet writer Paddy Chayefsky merely calls truth), this is perhaps the greatest screenplay ever written. Despite being a commentary on the media and television as a whole, New York is embraced and acknowledged, most memorably in the scene where the local New Yorkers shout out their windows “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”, filling the congested city air with anger, sadness and frustration.
There were MANY this time around that didn’t make the cut. Eyes Wide Shut being the main one. Other notable mentions were: Serpico, Watchmen, The Royal Tenenbaums, Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai, Manhattan, Planet Of The Apes, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Escape From New York and about 570 others. They were all amazing suggestions yet there were only room for five. So, what did I miss?
By Chris Elena