A compassionate and intimate tale of friendship, Little Men is the latest movie to cast its eye towards the Big Apple and the madcap adventures that bubble from it. Amid an ever-changing urban landscape, we take a look at 10 recent movies that capture the energy, creativity and diversity of one of the world’s great cinematic cities.
Little Men is out now on Colony at https://www.wearecolony.com/little-men.
Two young boys of differing sensitivities; outspoken and charismatic Tony (Michael Barbieri – recently cast in the new Spider-Man franchise) and introspective, artistic Jake (Theo Taplitz), form a connection when Jake’s parents (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle) move into the apartment above Tony’s mother’s (Paulina Garcia) shop. Set against the backdrop of a gentrified Brooklyn neighbourhood, their innocent and fledgling friendship is ultimately thwarted by parental – and financial – conflict. With subtle powers of observation, director Ira Sachs manages to depict the scope of New York and to a larger extent, adulthood itself and the sometimes crushing nature of finding one’s place in it. As warm and whimsical as it is wrenching.
Speaking of finding one’s place, Appropriate Behaviour deals the notion of identity when you’re not quite sure who you are. Written, helmed and personified by Desiree Akhavan, who peppers the script with anecdotes from her own life, the main struggle centres around her character Shirin coming out as bisexual to her Persian parents. Careening from one hipsterish setting to another whilst getting herself into a series of sticky situations, both professional and romantic, Akhavan explores the choppy waters of one’s twenties with biting wit and welcome originality.
Watch Appropriate Behaviour here, plus see interviews with Akhavan discussing what is was like filming in New York, on Colony.
A list about modern New York movies wouldn’t be complete without including Greta Gerwig. She fights, dances and effervesces her way through Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, a monochromatically photographed homage to the French New Wave, by way of Manhattan. It’s no wonder she has become the go-to-girl for screwball narratives of millennial ennui and existential crises. As with any charting of one’s late twenties and the inherent humiliations that go with it, comparison to Lena Dunham’s Girls is inevitable, not helped in this instance by Adam Driver’s presence in both. This is perhaps more playful and coy than the brazen comedy for which Dunham is famed, and that goes a long way in ensuring its charm.
Love Is Strange
There’s a recurring theme of displacement throughout this list, echoed by a situation in which two aging Manhattanites and lovers; Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), find themselves in. Forced to find separate accommodations after losing their shared New York apartment, their subsequent experiences of loneliness, prejudice and adaptation, and coming out the other side wiser and more resilient, Love Is Strange becomes a manual for how to survive in the city. Also directed by Ira Sachs, Love Is Strange matches Little Men in its ability to examine the frailties and fallibilities of human behaviour.
Time Out Of Mind
To prepare for Time Out Of Mind Richard Gere took to the streets of New York and begged. Few recognised this homeless man as the Pretty Woman heartthrob; testament to his transformation. Oren Moverman’s immersive direction chooses to observe, rather than fictionalise the experience of homelessness. The pace might be slow, but it allows us to better perceive George’s plight. As he attempts to claw his way back into the system and reconnect with his wearied daughter (The Hunger Games’ Jena Malone), the repetitive, degrading rhythms of survival seep beneath your skin. A powerful film, filled with small moments and insights, rendered with the utmost compassion. Watch it here.
What Maisie Knew
New York as seen through the eyes of a wide-eyed and neglected 6-year old. Maisie (a stunning, unaffected performance from newcomer Onata Aprile) is caught between a hostile custody battle between her selfish parents (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan). Carted between courtrooms and classrooms, the camera remains positioned at Maisie’s level, and what she experiences, we too experience. The result is a tender, heart-breaking and all-too-real vision of a messy divorce. And how in a contemporary society, where technology, fame and vanity often complicate human relationships, the next generation will unlikely come away unscathed.
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig reunite to deliver a spirited and zany comedy that sees a socially-awkward teenager Tracy (Lola Kirke) get a whistle-stop introduction to New York, courtesy of her ferociously flamboyant and often flaky, step-sister-to-be Brooke (Gerwig). In Tracy, Brooke finds someone to indulge her fantasies of opening a family-restaurant. Whilst Brooke finally gives Tracy’s fledgling writing ambitions the flailing protagonist that it needs. The result is a depiction of generational malaise that’s never been quite so uproarious, and cringe-worthy.
Margin Call depicts a New York on the brink of collapse. Its starry, ensemble cast (including Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto and Stanley Tucci) form a hierarchy of well-dressed, terse-speaking bankers. Each of whom have varying levels of understanding of the unstable formula upon which their company trades and the havoc it’s about to wreak. The joke being that the higher up the company they are, the less they appear to have. In its dissection and deciphering of the financial crisis from a pre-fallout perspective, writer-director J.C Chandor (who has gone on to make All Is Lost and A Most Violent Year) depicts a New York fuelled by power and marred by greed. It plays like a taut thriller, made all the more startling for how close it comes to the truth. And yet in his exploration of the callous, corporate machinations that enabled the 2008 economic meltdown, he manages to find a beating heart.
If New York is dazzling, exhausting and at times surreal, then Birdman is equally so. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu expertly captures the magic and spirit of the city that never sleeps. Infamously shot in a continuous tracking movement and accompanied by a frenetic jazz score, the film follows an embittered, washed-up actor (Michael Keaton) as he attempts to revive his career (brilliantly meta) by adapting a Raymond Carver play for Broadway, all whilst haunted by the titular superhero that made him famous. The drama might play out in the confines of a theatre, but the themes it tackles – artistry, family, legacy and fear of failure – resonate far wider. The recipient of 2015’s Best Picture Oscar is a marvel of a film.
If Little Men deals with gentrification in a way that’s quiet, subtle and somewhat hopeful, Nasty Baby does it in a way that’s reminiscent of swallowing a bitter pill. Kristen Wiig stars as a nurse and soon-to-be surrogate for her gay best friends, which sounds like the ideal setup for an indie hipster comedy. Yet Nasty Baby pushes more boundaries than that. It portrays how the bohemian bliss of the characters’ Brooklyn neighbourhood might have more insidious implications for those who no longer belong. Watch it here.