With JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year arriving on DVD/Blu-ray in the UK, Top 10 Films takes a look at some of the finest movies set in New York City…
Throughout the history of cinema, the city of New York has played host to a number of award winning films, from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the diverse boroughs of The Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens. Its latest product is the 80s-set A Most Violent Year, which follows the life and struggles of small-time businessman Abel Morales in the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of Brooklyn and Queens, and arrived on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download in May.
The ethics of an honest man collide with the brutal violence of 1980s New York, a time when the city is experiencing a spike in criminal activity. Small businessman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) fights to make himself a living, support his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) and protect his interests. Always looking for a way to expand his business, Abel nevertheless strives to keep things honest and to do things by the book. However, when he becomes the target of opportunistic thieves, he takes matters into his own hands to track down those responsible. Directed by America’s latest visionary, JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year echoes classic New York crime thrillers whilst fostering immediate respect as an independent drama of its own significant merit.
Some more great films set in New York…
Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese)
Also available on Blu-ray for the first time from the 18th May, this classic crime drama directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, showcases the Little Italy district of New York following the trials and tribulations of Charlie (Keitel). Driven by a deep rooted desire to become a gangster like his uncle (Cesare Danova) but a conflicting one to live his life like St. Francis, Charlie (Harvey Keitel) takes on the erratic, unbalanced Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) as a personal penance, intervening to ensure Johnny Boy pays off his debt to the local loan shark Michael (Richard Romanus). Despite promising girlfriend Teresa (Amy Robinson) that once he strengthens his standing in the criminal underworld they’ll be able to leave Little Italy, his dealings with Johnny Boy only work to further trap him in the world he wants to leave behind.
12 Angry Men (1957, Sidney Lumet)
This trial film tells the story of a jury made up of 12 unnamed men (identified by number) as they deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant, “The Boy”, in a New York courthouse on the basis of reasonable doubt. Eleven of the jurors vote for conviction, each for their own reasons. The sole hold-out is Juror #8, played by Henry Fonda. As Fonda persuades the weary jurors to re-examine the evidence, we learn the back story of each man. Notable for its almost exclusive use of one set, the jury room, 12 Angry Men’s increasing tension is built impressively by sweaty close-ups, gritty monochrome realism and one-set claustrophobia. Fonda’s doubts about the accused’s guilt gradually overcome the rather less-than-democratic prejudices of the other eleven members of the jury.
The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is often considered to be the ultimate gangster film and a touchstone for Western cinema. The Sicilian Mafia family, the Corleones, headed by “don” Vito (Marlon Brando), control New York in the late 1940s era of organised crime. When “Don” Vito barely survives a gunshot wound courtesy of a drug-trafficking rival, his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) takes it upon himself to avenge his father and re-establish Corleone supremacy in New York. The Godfather’s vision of the city is fittingly grounded in real locations, from Manhattan’s New York State Supreme Court steps to the Calvary Cemetery in Queens.
Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese)
Often considered one of the greatest films of all time, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver takes us around New York in Travis Bickle’s (Robert De Niro) yellow cab. Mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran Travis becomes a night time taxi-driver in New York where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action. When he attempts to save a preadolescent prostitute (Jodie Foster) in East Village, Manhattan, things get bloody.
Do The Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)
Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing is an inspired insight into the racial and social tensions in a black neighbourhood of 1980s Brooklyn. Tensions spiral out of control on the hottest day of the year when Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) and Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith) boycott Sal’s Pizzeria for the lack of black people on his Wall of Fame. Lee has his finger on the pulse of society in his portrayal of the contemporary racial confrontations in 1980s Brooklyn, making Do The Right Thing one of the most important films of the era.
American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron)
Christian Bale at his terrifying best as Patrick Bateman, the impeccable, perfectionist Manhattan investment banker turned psychotic serial killer. Adapted from the novel of the same title by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho is a picture of the 80s-era vapidity and entitlement in New York. The film shocked audiences upon release with scenes of graphic and gory murders and disturbing, violent sex scenes (Jamie Dornan take note). Bale’s creepy nice-guy façade makes you wonder if you’ve unknowingly met an American psycho yourself…
Gangs of New York (2002, Daniel Day-Lewis)
Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio go head-to-head in a Martin Scorsese historical epic, Gangs of New York, the tale of a power-struggle in nineteenth-century New York City – a time when the city earned its identity as a cultural melting pot and an epicentre of political corruption. In 1846, as waves of Irish immigrants poured into the New York neighbourhood of Five Points, a number of citizens of British and Dutch heritage who were born in the United States began making an open display of their resentment toward the new arrivals. After the murder of his Irish father (Liam Neeson) by Bill “The Butcher” (Day-Lewis) of the “Native Americans” gang, Amsterdam (DiCaprio) returns to avenge his father and bring the Five Points back to the Irish immigrants gang, “The Dead Rabbits”.
Birdman (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)
A Hollywood superhero has-been attempts to turn back the clocks and restore his integrity by directing a play on Broadway. Birdman is filmed with distinctive style; a single shot portraying comically painful and indulgent conversations concerning the integrity of the art of acting in the concourses of a backstage Broadway theatre – however we are also treated to an hilarious detour onto busy Times Square when Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is locked out of the theatre dressed in only a snug pair of y-fronts. Birdman cleaned up at this year’s Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Director for Iñárritu.
King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005) – Stolen ape climbs Empire State building
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – Faith-affirming Christmas classic
West Side Story (1961) – Ten-time Oscar winning musical update of Romeo and Juliette
Serpico (1973) – Al Pacino at it again
The Godfather Part II (1974) – Better than Part I?
Saturday Night Fever (1977) – John Travolta breaks out of the boroughs with that dance move
Prince of the City (1981) – Undercover in NYPD
Ghostbusters (1984) – Manhattan has an otherworldly pest problem. Bill Murray at his comedic best
As Good as it Gets (1997) – Unlikely yet heart-warming romance between Helen Hunt and obsessive-compulsive Jack Nicholson
Requiem for a Dream (2000) – Gritty tale of drug-addiction on Coney Island
The Terminal (2004) – Tom Hanks takes temporary residence in JFK airport
Frances Ha (2012) – Baumbach comedy-drama about the girl who wants to dance
The Wolf of Wall Street (2014) – Raucous insight into the world of 1980s Wall Street bankers. DiCaprio’s Oscar remains elusive…
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from 18th May, courtesy of Icon Film Distribution.