Weekend Binge: Lights, Camera, New York

Socio-economic dynamics, futuristic sci-fi flicks, and black-and-white comedies formulate the plot of our pop culture list of films that best portray the Big Apple.

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Film still from Frances Ha (left), Do The Right Thing (bottom right), and Person of Interest (top right).

Frances Ha (2012)

Frances Ha is a bittersweet celebration of life’s lows without seeming overtly melancholic. The film’s eponymous protagonist (artistically portrayed by Greta Gerwig), is an aspiring dancer apprenticing in a Brooklyn-based studio hoping to make it big in the Big Apple. But her life propels into a downward spiral when she gets dropped from the company’s roster, and her best friend and roommate decides to move out of their apartment to live with her partner. The 27-year-old is slammed with a double whammy of joblessness and homelessness. But she remains poised in the face of adversity, and dances her way, quite literally, around the city of dreams (even when her own aren’t realised) with a lightness only hope can afford. The Noah Baumbach-directorial is a black-and-white dramedy that is less a script and more a lesson in young adulthood.

—Pooja Naik


Person of Interest (2011-2016)

NYC is to the Man in the Suit what the Wild West was to the Man with No Name. In Jonathan Nolan’s sci-fi, IoT procedural, the Big Apple is seen through the eyes of an all-seeing, omnipresent surveillance machine that speaks via public pay phones. The various plotlines orbit each other around the city without trifling much with recognition by the viewer: computer genius Harold Finch’s (Michael Emerson) office is at the prestigious 101 Park Avenue; the streets and rooftops of the city (with the ubiquitous Manhattan skyline) are where a lot of its action sequences are shot; ex-Special Forces staffer John Reese (Jim Caviezel) tails targets past familiar delis and bodegas; business dealings and shakedowns go down at iconic parks; and Root (Amy Acker) and Shaw (Sarah Shahi) go on chatty shootouts on everyday thoroughfares. Several other landmarks make cameos including the Brooklyn Public Library, Guggenheim Museum, Roosevelt Hotel—and even the abandoned railway tunnels lying under the city.



—Prannay Pathak




Do The Right Thing (1989)

Arguably, Spike Lee’s most influential film, which he produced, wrote, and directed, Do The Right Thing is entirely set in Brooklyn, NYC on a block of Stuyvesant Avenue—part of which is now named Do the Right Thing Way. While the businesses pictured in the movie were on-location sets, the vibe on the street feels like a slice of 1980s Bed-Stuy; and the morals of the story are as relevant as they’ve ever been. The plot unravels over a single day, the hottest day of the summer, where racial tensions at a pizza joint gradually flare into a riot that hurts everyone in the community. The crux of the movie is built upon socio-economic tensions, drawing from Marxist theory, highlighting a host of problems that deal with the power structures and race. During the last acts the police arrive in the neighbourhood to restrain Radio Raheem, a young black man, and unfortunately, it is not hard to guess what happens then, because 30 years later it still happens now.

—Julian Manning


Hotel New York (1984)

This comedy by Jackie Raynal, French filmmaker, editor, actor, and programmer at New York’s Carnegie Hall Cinema and Bleecker Street Cinema between 1975 and 1992, might only have a runtime of under an hour, but it presents the city through a lens that is as unique as it is illuminating. 1980s New York is shown through the perspective of Loulou, a French filmmaker who moves to New York to present her work at the Museum of Modern Art. From the challenges of finding a suitable living space and the eccentricities of her flatmates to a humorous look at film critics, the workings of television networks and even marital bliss, the film portrays the spirit of New York succinctly through mostly the approach to life of its many residents. Aside from cameos by notable figures of the city’s arts scene, the film also features iconic cityscapes and experiences such as the Roosevelt Island Tramway. A brief but thoroughly enjoyable glimpse at the city that’s lost none of its charm decades later.

—Samarpan Bhowmik


Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Alexander Mackendrick took the sensibility of the grim and grubby film noir and set a delicious satire of the moral turpitude forever festering in those parts of the city that never sleep. Burt Lancaster plays the egomaniacal and vicious J. J. Hunsecker, mingling with his coterie in speakeasies (21 Club and Toots Shor) that come alive after hours, and manipulating his sister in his lavish apartment minutes away from Times Square. Tony Curtis is the wicked hustler Sidney Falco, an unscrupulous press agent who derives his charmless opportunism from the “neurotic energy of the city’s crowded sidewalks” as Mackendrick described them. These two men have a past, a messed-up power dynamic and scores to settle, and the nocturnal city rises like an omen behind them, as the dogfight ends in a delicious crash-landing.

—Prannay Pathak


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