City Lights: New York City


Welcome back to City Lights, a series about films that feature particular cities. Today, we hit one of the greatest film cities of them all: New York, New York!

We're not exactly spoiled for choice here, so I added an additional qualification for myself: films feature the city as its primary setting, or represent an aspect of city life. Even so, I've ended up with a list that not only shows off my favorite New York movies, but includes some of my favorite movies of all time.


I just saw Sweet Smell of Success a couple of weeks ago, and my love for it grows with every passing thought. As I wrote in my review of it: "I don't think even Woody Allen has taken better advantage of the city of New York. The neon lights have never seemed quite so sinister. Like J.J's omnipresent glasses, they watch over events both seedy and magnetic."

This is New York before they cleaned up Times Square, a downtown that attracted lowlifes and power brokers looking to indulge in their worst selves.


From beginning to end, All About Eve captures the rhythms and cadences of the New York theater and all the vultures circling around it. As with Sweet Smell of Success, the only person with real power is the critic, in this case, Addison DeWitt. All these theatrical personalities live their lives and act out their petty coups like they have any control in their lives, and ultimately, loving the theater means worshipping Addison. The only one who seems immune to Addison's power is, oddly enough, Margo herself.


Everyone has their guilty pleasure romantic comedy, and Serendipity is mine (I am not even slightly ashamed). There's something magical about a rom-com that takes the preposterously coincidental nature of the genre and integrates it into the plotline.

So who cares whether they know each other, like each other or anything else, all that matters is that they find Love in the Time of Cholera and ice skate to the sweet dulcet sounds of Nick Drake. Along the way, they hit every New York tourist trap.


Annie Hall: There are probably other Woody Allen films that do a better job of showing off the city, but this is my favorite (I didn't particularly care for Manhattan. Blasphemy, I know!). Since I first saw it, I've seen it about ten times, and each time I love and appreciate new facets of the film (I really, really hate my "first impression" review of it, it's embarassing and jejune).

Annie Hall was the seed that grew into a full-fledged obsession with Woody Allen, whose films seem almost entirely guided by love: love of women, love of himself, and love of film. Because of that, he teases out the best aspects of the settings he chooses.


When I was wee, I was obsessed with this movie. The toy stores, the rube goldberg-like schemes to get Marv to fall on his face, the general being a fucking kid set free in New York! I was always drawn to the mischievous characters in fiction, whether Kevin or Dennis the Menace or the tomboys of Enid Blyton books.

But I'll be honest, this movie introduced me to New York. I learned of the Plaza Hotel and Central Park and Duncan's Toy Shop and Carnegie Hall. At 8 years old, New York was nothing more than a mythical place. This movie made it come alive.

Honorable Mentions: Planet of the Apes, King Kong

Tell me, what are your favorite Big Apple films?

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9 Responses to “ City Lights: New York City ”

  1. This is probably an odd choice but Little Manhattan is a big favourite, it's a sweet love story that is a take on any Woody Allen New York film (with Manhattan being the obvious comparison) but with 11 year old's. There is something so heartbreakingly wonderful about this tale of first love mixed in with the potential divorce of Gabe's (Josh Hutcherson- who's all grown up now, which kind of weirds me out) parents. 
    Another one is Please Give which I saw when I returned from my first trip to New York last year so this one is probably wrapped up in sentiment. But I loved the film and it just made me want to be back there all over again.
    Ghostbusters 1 and 2 from when I was a kid because everything looked so huge, plus the ghosts were also pretty damn cool.
    These are the ones that initially spring to mind and I'm sure there are many more.

  2. Breakfast at Tiffany's 

  3. I haven't seen Little Manhattan, but it sounds delightful! I remember there was a Muppet take on Manhattan on youtube as well:

  4. I considered that! But the movie has considerably cooled in my love over the years.

  5. This is brilliant and bizarre all at once. The Muppets really do rule everything.

  6. this is such a good idea.  i would steal it if i am ever decisive enough to make lists.

    just between woody allen and scorsese there's manhattan, manhattan murder mystery, husbands and wives, afterhours, bringing out the dead, new york stories.

    and a lot of times the fact that a movie takes place in n.y. automatically elevates the quality of the movie for me, such as otherwise mediocre movies like mr. jealousy, keeping the faith...

  7. I don't know. you are right we are spoilt for choice here. Off the top of my head I will say:

    The Naked City
    Taxi Driver (mainly because of the representation of the rot and decay of the city during the 1970s)
    When Harry Met Sally
    Warriors (see Taxi Driver, although a bit more surreal)
    Kate and Leopold

    (remember these are off the top of my head)

    One problem I have in narrowing the list is that even some movies I would not consider among my favorites have the ability to show NYC is such an appealing and engaging manner.

    Woody Allen NY pictures always seem to capture a NYC that is kind of foreign to the NYC I knew as a child.

  8. That's interesting about Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese actually said exactly the same thing in the PBS special on Woody Allen.

  9. I love the way Nora Ephron captures NYC in You've Got Mail.


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