Fairytales of New York

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I’ve just got back from New York, the city where every street has a song named after it, and every vista is a still from a movie. So since I am yet to get over the jet lag and I took so many photos that I am overwhelmed at the thought of uploading them, here as a lazy alternative to a real blog post is a list of my favourite New York films. What are yours?

1. Annie Hall

I could have had any of about eight Woody Allen films, but Annie Hall is the best of them and one of the New Yorkiest, and Annie is the New Yorkiest heroine ever, despite being from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Also, it features my favourite ever line from a film, if I had to choose – you know, the one about the eggs*.

(Actually, I did have to choose my favourite line from a film recently, for work, but I thought the one about the eggs would make me look a little weird and neurotic, and I’ve only been there three months and I don’t need them to know that already. So I went for Sloane Peterson’s “Sooner or later, everybody goes to the zoo” from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which sounds profound but, I think, isn’t.)

2. Ghostbusters

Like Annie Hall, would probably make the list of my favourite films ever (actually, so would about half of this list). After nearly thirty years (I know!), still perfect. And really a love poem to New York City, as implicit in its luscious locations as it is explicit in Winston Zeddemore’s “I love this town!”.

3. The Taking of Pelham 123

A proper thriller, set mostly in the bowels of Manhattan’s subway system, with occasional glimpses above ground, where the steam jets that shoot out at street level echo the spikes of tension that increase as the film goes on. If you haven’t seen it, rent it today (I am, in case you’re unsure, talking about the 1970s version and not the recent remake, which I have not seen).

4. King Kong

The 1933 version. Not entirely a New York film, but it makes the cut for that incredible final scene. I also quite liked the 1970s version, and even the Naomi Watts version was OK. It’s just a really really great story. But the Empire State Building was only two years old when they made the original, which adds an extra frisson to the battle between nature and mankind that lies at the heart of the film.

5. Laura

Not just because we have the same name, but because this is the sexiest, dreamiest, most elegant piece of noir you’ll ever see and because it offers a glimpse of high society in 1940s New York, which might just be the most glamorous time and place that ever was. As it happens, Laura is showing at the BFI on the Southbank until the end of next week, so if you live in or near London, do try to go.

6. Dog Day Afternoon

There are films which I think are exemplary, one-off pieces of film-making and which I might watch every couple of years (2001, Badlands) and films which I watch at every opportunity because I love them like you love your slippers, and most of all I love the characters (Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and then there are films which are both, and Dog Day Afternoon is one of them. Set on a hot, steamy day in Brooklyn, it tells a short but brilliant story which is laden with atmosphere, and it’s one of the films I always immediately lend to people who haven’t seen it, because it is a film everyone should see, today if possible.

7. Crocodile Dundee

There’s a dispoportionate number of 80s films in this list, but that’s because the 80s were an exciting time to be in New York City. When I first saw Crocodile Dundee I was half-entranced, half-terrified by the androgynous, highly-hairsprayed characters making up some of the supporting cast, but as an adult I just find them impossibly alluring, and it breaks my heart a little bit that I will never go clubbing in New York in the 1980s.

8. Coming to America

Like Crocodile Dundee, this film is better now than it was when it first came out, because it speaks so elequently and appealingly of a particular New York that doesn’t really exist any more. Plus, the mean Queens apartment that Prince Akeem rents now looks like a palace compared to the eggbox-sized spaces that people really live in. And, well, it’s just still funny.

9. Q: The Winged Serpent

Monster! In New York! I can’t tell you precisely why this is so good; you just have to watch it.

10. Splash

Slash was in competition with Big and Arthur for the tenth spot, because like those films it shows you the New York we all grew up with; the fantasy version of the city that we knew before we ever went there. But it wins because when I saw it I, too, thought “Madison” was a beautiful name for a girl, and couldn’t understand why Tom Hanks didn’t agree.

Not making the cut are films I love which use New York as their backdrop, but which aren’t really about New York (Synecdoche New York, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rope, The Apartment, Rear Window, West Side Story) and films which make New York look like the worst place in the world (Taxi Driver, Mean Streets). I also haven’t made room for Goodfellas, which would have been eleventh if I had been making a longer list.

*  “I thought of that old joke, y’know… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because most of us… need the eggs.”

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2 thoughts on “Fairytales of New York

  1. sw says:

    All great films, but I think my list of top films about NYC may be a bit darker… (maybe I am a bit influenced by being from NJ).

    Ones to mention:

    The Linguini Incident
    After Hours
    Kids
    Fame
    Do the Right Thing
    Wall Street

    • elsiem says:

      While I was making the list, I wondered whether Do The Right Thing and Wall Street would be on it had I seen them, which to my shame I haven’t. I must rectify that. And yes, I’m sure it makes a difference where you come from. I didn’t really believe New York existed when I was little.

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