The most New York films about New York

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver in 1976.
Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver in 1976.
Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock
Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver in 1976.

The most New York films about New York

Here’s what to watch during the endless bummer of COVID-19.
June 14, 2020

Being stuck at home sucks, and – despite the onset of Phase One of reopening New York’s economy – most businesses are still closed. Even when it’s legal, many of us won’t be going to any house parties, bars or restaurants until we’re vaccinated against the new coronavirus anyway. Right now, though, staying at home can mean spending a lot of time scrolling through photos and videos of police attacking anti-racism protesters, articles about COVID-19 outbreaks in Arizona and Texas, and other unhappy news. 

Luckily, we have television, and technology that delivers movies to us on demand. And New York is the subject of so many great films – even vastly out of proportion to its share of the American population. There are demographic and historical reasons, according to experts. “The creative community lives in New York or Los Angeles, by and large,” noted Eric Alterman, a historian who teaches a class about New York City at Brooklyn College. “The movie industry was heavily Jewish for the longest time. Between the end of World War II and 1969 there were about five movies with Jewish lead characters. But if you make a movie about New York, you’re making a movie about Jews without saying so. So it was another way for the Jews of Hollywood to speak about their values and what they care about without making the characters Jewish.”

Even though Hollywood has changed, New York’s diversity remains a major reason that it inspires many filmmakers. “There are so many subcultures that are unique to New York: We have the fashion industry here, we have Broadway here, the record industry, the publishing industry,” said Alterman. “We have more different ethnic groups. They are themselves interesting and so is the interplay among them.” 

So, City & State thought it would be a good time to compile a list of the films that best capture New York. 

Here are the parameters: These are only narrative films, not documentaries. Television shows are not included, but miniseries are. The movie has to be about New York, not just set or filmed here. Classic films set in New York, including “The Godfather,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The French Connection,” “The Squid and the Whale,” “Requiem for a Dream” and “When Harry Met Sally,” therefore didn’t make the cut. 

It also wouldn’t make sense to have a list too heavily dependent on a few great filmmakers who are from here – hence the absence of classic Martin Scorcese flicks such as “Raging Bull” and “Mean Streets” and Spike Lee’s “Crooklyn” and “25th Hour.” 

Other hard cuts had to be made simply because too many movies are about the same particular slice of New York. That meant leaving good – but not all-time classic – mafia movies such as “Donnie Brasco” on the cutting room floor, along with famous films depicting the financial industry, such as “Wall Street” and “American Psycho.” 

We also made the totally arbitrary cutoff of only including post-World War II films, on the grounds that no one on staff knows much of anything about movies older than that. 

You may be disappointed, as we were, to learn that all the suburban-ennui movies you think are set in Westchester, such as “The Ice Storm” and “The Stepford Wives,” actually take place in Connecticut. 

We’ve organized the list by region, including both a category for New York City as a whole and individual categories for movies that are more borough-specific.

Buffalo

“Buffalo ‘66” – Just after Billy Brown (Vincent Gallo) is released from prison after a five-year stint he makes plans to have dinner with his parents and his wife – which he doesn’t have. Brown then takes it upon himself to kidnap teenage dance student, Layla (Christina Ricci), and forces her to pretend she is his wife. Layla then begins to grow fond of Brown, which is, of course, deeply problematic. Perhaps the best film actor and director Vincent Gallo has ever created, “Buffalo ‘66” is a stellar collage of visually fascinating scenes that engage with its themes of loneliness, vulnerability and rage. 

 

Catskills

“Dirty Dancing” – In this romantic comedy classic, privileged Frances "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) takes a trip with her family to a summer resort in the Catskills, where she falls in love with the resort dance teacher, Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). A poignant film about the class tensions between the haves and have-nots – and a classic slice of life in the “Borscht Belt” when Jewish families from the New York City area vacationed there en masse – “Dirty Dancing” still holds up today. But we won’t lie to you, Castle’s dance moves are the star of this film, which was actually shot mainly in North Carolina and Virginia, not the Catskills.

Upper Hudson Valley

 

“Nobody’s Fool” – The 1994 adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel of the same name has two stars: a late-career (and still devastatingly handsome) Paul Newman, and the fictional town of North Bath, New York. Russo has suggested that North Bath is a composite of several towns – likely in the Mohawk Valley, Upper Hudson Valley and Capital regions – including Ballston Spa. From its opening shots, “Nobody’s Fool” shows the hallmarks of a small town in these parts of New Yorks, complete with Victorian homes and the rough-around-the-edges bar that serves as a haven from the town’s perpetually snow-covered streets. The movie also depicts North Bath as a depressed town – a fact some actual Ballston Spa locals took issue with back in the ’90s. But the one inarguably realistic part of this depiction? A pair of characters desperate to escape a punishing upstate winter for Hawaii.

Capital Region

“Synecdoche, New York” – Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, known for writing surreal and beautifully striking films such as “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” created one of his strangest films for his directorial debut. “Synecdoche, New York” takes place across the state, as Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) leaves his post as a community theater director in Schenectady, to launch his next new play on Broadway after receiving a MacArthur grant. For Cotard’s play he recreates an enormous model of New York City and has actors recreate mundane, slice-of-life conversations throughout it for well over a decade, while his personal life slowly crumbles. 

North Country

“Escape at Dannemora” – The shots of the frozen tundra of the North Country in winter during the opening credits set the tone for this riveting Showtime miniseries, based on actual events from 2015, that is as much about the lives of prison guards as it is about the prisoners at Clinton Correctional Facility. 

Westchester

“Show Me a Hero” – Despite its reputation as a bubble of homogenous suburban affluence, Westchester County actually contains pockets of opulence, poverty and everything in between. One of the best portrayals of local politics ever filmed, the HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero” is the meticulously recreated true story of the 1980s federal ruling to racially desegregate housing in the Westchester city of Yonkers, and the furious opposition from the city’s white residents, who insisted that they weren’t racist – they just didn’t want their property values to go down. Oscar Isaac gives a charming, tragic performance as the young Mayor Nick Wasicsko, who campaigned against desegregation but eventually became its fiercest champion – at great professional and personal cost. It’s easy to say, “Oh, that happened decades ago, it couldn’t happen now”– except the exact same fight had been playing out at the county level until a few years ago, when the Trump administration abruptly ruled that Westchester’s flimsy efforts to build affordable housing were good enough.

New York City

“The Naked City” – Shot in the summer of 1947, this police procedural was groundbreaking because it utilized over 100 locations, mostly in Manhattan. “Producer Mark Hellinger's decision to shoot the film there was a bold one,” said Steven Adler, professor emeritus of theater at University of California San Diego, who teaches a class on New York film, and also is the uncle of one of this story’s authors. “Filmmakers had largely abandoned (New York City) for extensive location shooting because of the ambient noise, the crowds (and lack of adequate crowd control), and the tremendous amount of red tape that the producers needed to cut through. It wasn't until 1966, when Mayor John Lindsay created the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, that location shooting became a much simpler and more streamlined process.” The story, about a fashion model murdered in a fashionable East Side apartment, “is set in stark contrast to the tenements of the Lower East Side where the killer lives,” said Adler. “The film, which won an Oscar for best black-and-white cinematography, succeeds brilliantly in portraying a hot, crowded city that fulfills the narrator's summation at the end of the film with the famous tagline, ‘There are 8 million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them."

“Serpico” – In the 1960s and ’70s, the NYPD was rife with corruption. Frank Serpico was an atypical New York City cop, who chose to live in Greenwich Village and refused to take bribes. Based on a true story, starring Al Pacino, it’s a classic artifact of New York’s grimier days. 

“Goodfellas” - Few films about the city’s Italian-American mafia have measured up to director Martin Scorsese’s classic “Goodfellas” – including Scorcese’s own. From the famous tracking shot of entering the Copacabana night club to wise guys looting trucks full of goods and serving time, the film captures all of the ins and outs of being a made man with Scorcese’s innovative filmmaking techniques. Based on a real wiseguy’s memoir, it also perfectly captures through music, costumes, sets and location shots the milieu of mid-century Italian neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, and even a rich town on Long Island. 

“Rear Window” - This might be the ultimate quarantine movie. The classic thriller by Alfred Hitchcock features Jimmy Stewart as a bored photographer confined to his apartment after an injury, who starts snooping on his neighbors and becomes convinced that one of them is a murderer. The movie takes place in Greenwich Village, but any New Yorker who’s ever lived in a big apartment complex with a courtyard will immediately recognize the way you get to know all your neighbors from a distance – their habits, their quirks, their dirty laundry – without really getting to know them at all. Watch this one on as large a screen as you can; the courtyard comes to life like a real, physical space, and you feel like you’re there, stuck in the apartment with Stewart, looking out his window and solving the mystery alongside him.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” – This inventive animated superhero outing ditches white Queens kid Peter Parker in favor of Afro-Latino Brooklyn kid Miles Morales as the new friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Like his web-slinging predecessor, Miles is an outsider, forced to abandon his public school friends after his working-class family won a lottery to get him into a prestigious private school. With its portrayal of gentrifying Brooklyn and New York City’s fractured education landscape, the movie may be a cartoon, but the city has never felt more real.

“Shadows” – If “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” paints 1950s New York City in shades of pastel, “Shadows” delivers a grittier and grainier (think 16mm black-and-white) portrait of the city in a story about race relations, three siblings and their group of friends. Hugh is a jazz musician, Ben is an aspiring trumpet player and Lelia an aspiring writer. As we follow the siblings, who are black, through jazz clubs, dive bars, bohemian literary parties and a trip to the Met, we understand that Ben and Lelia’s experience in the city is different from Hugh’s because they are light-skinned and most people assume they are white. The film turns on a tense scene in which Lelia’s love interest, who is white, realizes she is black after meeting Hugh, and leaves abruptly. Considered one of the earliest examples of American independent cinema, the 1959 film – featuring up-all-night diners and cocktail parties where New Yorkers stand elbow-to-elbow discussing existentialism through clouds of cigarette smoke – is now a time capsule in more ways than one.

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” – Remember back when it felt perfectly normal to stand with your face shoved into a total stranger’s armpit? Yeah, we miss the subway, too, and no film has showcased it better than 1974’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.” The classic thriller stars Walter Matthau as a New York City Transit cop trying to rescue a train car of hostages – while negotiating with MTA officials just doing their best to keep the rest of the subway system moving. Since the subway has barely been updated since the ’70s, the film’s underground suspense sequences still hold up remarkably well today.

“The Wedding Banquet” – Director Ang Lee’s first feature, from 1993, is a comedy about a yuppie from China who is hiding his gay identity from his family. “Lee examines the possibilities of reconciling the clash between cultures, generations and sexual orientations, so the implicit backdrop of polyglot, multicultural New York City provides a strong foundation,” said Adler. 

“The Wolf of Wall Street” – Based on the true story of penny stock broker Jordan Belfort, who grew up in Queens and whose corrupt dealings allowed him to live a life of luxury, with a mansion on Long Island’s North Shore, and partake in bacchanalian celebrations. The film’s depictions of life as a Wall Streeter, albeit an especially corrupt one, gives great insight into a bygone era full of ostentatious opulence, quaaludes and cold-blooded brokers. It’s also hilarious, a comedy masked as a drama. 

“The Muppets Take Manhattan” – Kermit the Frog proved to be an unexpectedly relatable avatar for the many who have come to New York City with huge aspirations only to experience dashed dreams and empty pockets – and yet still be swept up by the city’s allure. What New Yorker hasn’t gazed at a sea of lights from a rooftop, like a lonely Kermit from the Empire State Building observation deck, and simultaneously felt so small yet so alive? The reality check continued for the lovable frog: He’s kicked out of Sardi’s, turned into a Madison Avenue advertising agency’s prop, and subjected to ear-splitting sounds of rage simply dismissed as “it’s New York” (it’s naturally Ms. Piggy in a fit of jealousy). Even then-mayor Ed Koch joined in on the fun with a cameo.

“Taxi Driver” – From the opening shot of a taxicab shrouded in billowing steam from a manhole cover, set to Bernard Herrmann’s chilling soundtrack, this film epitomizes the menace of 1970s New York. The filth, from the streets outside to what the cab driver has to clean off his backseat when ending his shift every morning, is omnipresent. Scorcese directed, De Niro stars with Cybil Shepherd, and the classic New York tough guy question, “You talkin’ to me?” was made famous right here. 

Bronx

“A Bronx Tale” – With Robert De Niro, doo-wop and enough gangsters to fill the backroom of an Italian social club, “A Bronx Tale” is like a small-scale Goodfellas, taking place entirely in Belmont – a neighborhood better known as the Little Italy of the Bronx – where the film’s writer and star Chazz Palminteri grew up. It’s a too-dramatic-to-be-true take on Palminteri’s real life, growing up in the ’60s and daring to date a black girl at a time when Italian guys and black girls were supposed to stay on different sides of Webster Avenue. And despite being filmed mostly in Queens, it seems every red sauce joint on Arthur Avenue still displays the movie poster. 

“Wild Style” – Every true New York hip-hop fan knows the snippet of dialogue over the sounds of an elevated subway train in the background from the intro to “Illmatic” Nas’ legendary debut album. And every really real New York hip-hop fan knows where it comes from: “Wild Style,” the 1983 movie about the early days of hip-hop and graffiti in the South Bronx, which features cameos from hip-hop, break dancing and graffiti innovators including Fab Five Freddy, Lee Quiñones, Lady Pink, the Rock Steady Crew, the Cold Crush Brothers and Grandmaster Flash. 

“Hangin' with the Homeboys” – Not every African American or Latino young man from the South Bronx in the 1980s became a break dancer or DJ. Some, like the foursome from Trinity Ave. in this fun, coming-of-age film, worked in supermarkets, or collected welfare, and went out on Friday nights with nothing but the hopes of having a good time hanging with their homeboys and maybe meeting a pretty girl. Featuring John Leguizamo in his first role. 

Brooklyn

“Do the Right Thing” – If one film captures the essence of New York City in 1989, it’s Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” the story of a block in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn on the verge of explosion. It’s hot, the poor folks don’t have air conditioning and some of the mostly black neighborhood residents are getting fed up with the Italian-American pizzeria owner, the Korean-American grocer, the Puerto Ricans playing their salsa and, especially, the white cops. Featuring breakout performances by Rosie Perez, Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito and John Turturro, among many others. Public Enemy even made their greatest hit, “Fight the Power,” as a theme song for the film, which blasts out of the boombox that will ultimately kick off an interaction with the cops that will unfortunately seem all too relevant today. 

“The Landlord” – In 1970, the criminally underrated director Hal Ashby made a dark comedy about a young WASP from the suburbs who decides to buy a “tenement house” – now called a brownstone – in Park Slope, a then-largely black neighborhood in Brooklyn. But to renovate it into his dream home, he’ll have to kick out his eclectic cast of tenants. It’s a satire about race relations in 1970, but it’s also a snapshot of Brownstone Brooklyn at the very beginning of gentrification. 

“Smoke” – Come back 25 years after “The Landlord” and the neighborhood has changed. Now white middle-aged writers live there. In this case it’s novelist Paul Auster, who wrote the screenplay and whose on-screen avatar hangs out with an old-school cigar shop owner played by Harvey Keitel. The story kicks off when the protagonist meets a black teenager from the Gowanus projects, a mile away and a world apart.

“Saturday Night Fever” – Tony Manero (John Travolta), from conservative, blue-collar Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, has just one creative outlet that helps him escape his dull day-to-day life: disco. Come for 1970s classic BeeGees hits, such as “Stayin’ Alive,” but stay for the heart-wrenching family drama, scenes of the city and the leisure suits. 

“Unorthodox” – The ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish sects in Brooklyn are a source of fascination to outsiders, and if you want a lighter, true story about a group of young Hasids smuggling drugs in the country, you should watch “Holy Rollers.” But if you want a nuanced look inside an arranged marriage in a religious fundamentalist society with extreme sexual repression, watch “Unorthodox” for a mind-blowing experience. 

“The Little Fugitive” – Released in 1953, the experiment in independent filmmaking by urban photographers Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin and screenwriter Ray Abrashkin was shot in Brooklyn. “Using a strapped-on handheld 35 mm camera – Engel didn't like using a tripod – that was built for him by a friend, Engel shot the film mostly with natural light, without sound (the sparse dialogue was dubbed in later in the recording studio), and without professional actors,” said Adler. “Engel, with apparent ease, captured a sweet story about a runaway 7-year old who hightails it to Coney Island. The film, which revels in the humanity of Coney Island … was so influential that François Truffaut credited the birth of the French New Wave to this film.” Coney Island, Adler noted, “has been featured in so many films over the years … because it has always represented a fantastical place of escape and transformation.” 

Manhattan

“Annie Hall” – Who is the prototypical Manhattanite but Woody Allen, an up-from-the-outer-boroughs neurotic intellectual? And who is the prototypical love interest for the Jewish New Yorker but the WASP transplanted from the Midwest? The scenes shot on location throughout Manhattan are like a love letter to the borough, and Allen’s disdain for the superficiality of Los Angeles is the archetypal New York attitude. Why did we choose “Annie Hall” instead of “Manhattan”? Because “Manhattan” is a movie about New York, but it’s also about a 42-year-old Allen dating a 17-year-old high school senior – which not one character in the film seems to find problematic, but modern-day viewers might find it distractingly so. 

“The Wackness” – From the Upper East Side apartment to the beach house on Fire Island, from the therapist’s couch to the Jamaican weed dealer to drinking 40s in Central Park, “The Wackness” is the best movie about growing up in Manhattan in the 1990s – yes, even better than “Kids,” although a shoutout goes to “Landline,” which features Edie Falco and John Turturro as an archetypal Upper West Side couple. 

“Midnight Cowboy”: You know how New Yorkers supposedly shout “Hey, I’m walkin’ here,” at cars that dare interfere with their jaywalking? That line originates with Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo, a classic New York hustler, in this 1969 drama about a male prostitute from the sticks, played by John Voight, who prowls the streets of Midtown looking for wealthy women to take advantage of. 

“The Devil Wears Prada” – They may not be New Yorkers yet, but recent college graduates with big dreams have long clogged the streets of Manhattan. In “The Devil Wears Prada,” one such hopeful barely survives her first boss. Meryl Streep plays Miranda Priestly (who is Anna Wintour), the cruelly brilliant editor of Runwaymagazine (which is Vogue). The movie is a close-up of the New York fashion world: elaborate photoshoots in Central Park, a gala at the Natural History Museum, clandestine meetings at the St. Regis, all seen through the eyes of an aspiring new arrival. 

“The Sweet Smell of Success” – This film noir from 1957 stars Burt Lancaster as an unscrupulous newspaper columnist and Tony Curtis as a press agent who will do anything – anything – to get his clients’ names in Lancaster’s column. Filmed in and around Midtown’s mid-century nightclubs, the movie’s gorgeous black-and-white nighttime photography is a time capsule showcasing the area at its most vibrant – before it descended into the decay of the 1970s. Today, the film is also a fascinating look at the heyday of newspaper journalism, when top columnists wielded tremendous power, and when meeting deadlines meant physically tracking people down in the middle of the night in time to make the early edition. 

“Super Fly” (1972) – “Shaft” may be better known, but the greatest 1970s blaxploitation film set in Harlem is “Super Fly.” It belongs in the Hall of Fame just for its glorious soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield, but it’s also a sharply executed genre film about a smooth, glamorous drug dealer with awesome outfits. 

“Basquiat” – What could be more New York than a half-Haitan American, half-Puerto Rican graffiti artist from Brooklyn, who moved to the East Village – sometimes sleeping in Tompkins Square Park – and brought street art into the world of fine art? Directed by painter and Greenwich Village resident Julian Schnabel, with Jeffrey Wright starring in his first performance on film, the moving Jean-Michel Basquiat biopic embodies the essence of Manhattan’s 1980s downtown art scene. 

“Crossing Delancey” – If “Annie Hall” is about being a Jewish New Yorker who moves uptown and never looks back, “Crossing Delancey” is about being a Jewish New Yorker who is drawn back to the shtetl. Izzy Grossman wants to be a literary type: She works in an Upper West Side bookstore and has a crush on a famous author. But her old-world “bubbe” on the Lower East Side wants to set her up with Sam the pickle man, a handball-playing nice Jewish boy from the neighborhood. This is 1980s New York, with grandmas taking self-defense classes and fearful of answering the door in their own apartment and crazy people ranting in the Gray’s Papaya, but also a place of wonder and discovery. 

“Raising Victor Vargas” – The year is 2002, and Victor – who is Dominican-American – is about 17 years old, sharing a bedroom with two siblings in his grandma’s Lower East Side walkup apartment. It’s summertime, and he never has a shirt on because there’s no air conditioning in the apartment and he wants to show off his chest for all the ladies from around the way – especially one Judy Gonazalez. Funny, charming and filmed entirely with amatuer actors, it’s a much realer story about being a New York Latino than “West Side Story.” 

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” – This biopic of author, literary forger and quintessential New Yorker Lee Israel, played by Melissa McCarthy, harkens back to the days when a struggling writer could afford to live on the Upper West Side – the early ’90s. Granted, it’s a fly-infested walkup and Israel is months behind on rent. A movie for the well-read, it gives viewers a tour of well-known city bookstores including the Housing Works Bookstore (renamed Crosby Booksellers for the film), Argosy Bookshop and Westsider Rare & Used Books, all filmed on location. It also provides viewers a small window into the city’s gay scene in the early ’90s. Israel and her friend Jack Hock (Richard Grant), who in the movie is portrayed as a homeless gay grifter, are regulars at the legendary gay bar Julius’ (also filmed on location). Eagle-eyed viewers can see an ACT UP pink triangle in the window, endemic of the HIV/AIDS crisis still ravaging the city’s gay community and that Hock himself fell victim to in both the movie and real life.


Queens

“Good Time” – Describing “Good Time” as suspenseful would be the understatement of the century. In this heart-pumping and hyper-realistic film about a bank robbery gone awry, Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) spends the entirety of the movie trying to boost his younger, disabled brother, Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie), from the clink. Connie’s plot to free Nick takes him throughout lesser-known and underdeveloped areas of Queens and Rikers Island that rarely make it into glossy features about the city. 

“Coming to America” - Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) of the fictional African nation Zamunda decides to travel to New York City to find a bride. And in what borough does one look for a bride for a future king? Queens, of course. Akeem’s follies while trying to live undercover as a normal civilian, hoping to find a love connection, make this a classic comedy of the 1980s and the city it’s set in.

“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” – This movie couldn’t be more Astoria, Queens, if it tried. Based on the memoir of protagonist Dito Montiel about being a teenager in the 1980s, played by a young Shia LeBeouf, a diverse cast of teenagers get into trouble and a loving but overbearing father who wants to keep him close to home and argues there’s no reason to ever leave New York City because all the nations of the world can be found right here. 

“Entre Nos” – The story of Queens can't be described without the immigrants who populate the borough. "Entre Nos" describes the story of one downtrodden woman, Mariana (Paola Mendoza), a recent immigrant from Colombia who is left alone with her two kids in New York when her husband abandons her. Scraping by selling empanadas on the street and collecting cans, Mariana struggles to protect her children from their increasingly unstable life. It's a sadly common story in New York City – and all too real for Paola Mendoza, the leading actress and filmmaker, who based the movie on her mother's experience.

Staten Island

“Working Girl” – Few movies can convey a sense of time and place as well in two hours as “Working Girl” does in its first five minutes. In Mike Nichols’ 1988 romantic comedy, Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) is an ambitious working-class woman from Staten Island ready to shed the traces of her home borough – her accent, her hairstyle, her oiled Irish boyfriend Mick Dugan (Alec Baldwin) – that seem to keep her stuck in a career as a Wall Street secretary. Iconic shots of the Staten Island ferry passing by the Statue of Liberty help to make this a quintessential Staten Island film. But it also captures the rat race of late ’80s Manhattan in all of its finance-guy sleaze, and shows what women went through to succeed at that time – one somewhat benign example being the commuter career woman’s uniform of nylons and tennis shoes.

Long Island

“Bad Education” – Can even intellectual achievement be reduced to just another materialist obsession? In Roslyn, like so many well-heeled Long Island suburbs, where sending kids to the right colleges drives property values, it can. This is the riveting true story of one school superintendent but it’s really the story of what’s wrong with so many of New York’s affluent suburbs. 

“The Brothers McMullen” – Long Island isn’t all rich professionals who’ve settled down and obsess over their children’s SAT scores; there are also plenty of local, white ethnics, some of whom are hoping to transcend their blue-collar backgrounds and find their place in the wider world. “The Brothers McMullen,” which went on to win Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, was shot at filmmaker Ed Burns’ childhood home in Valley Stream and told the story of three brothers ruminating over their relationship woes and looking for that job in Manhattan. The film ably depicts that dividing line between “the city” and “the island”; the city is a place where most of the movie’s characters go, but in the end, the island is who they are.

“Sabrina” (1954) – Few films spotlight the hierarchical nature between the working and white-collar classes on Long Island quite like “Sabrina” does. The story revolves around Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn), the daughter of a wealthy Long Island family’s chauffeur, who falls in love with one of the family’s two sons, David Larrabee (William Holden), but fails to grasp his attention. Fairchild takes off for culinary school in Paris for two years, and when she returns as a more sophisticated version of herself (with a very French and very ugly poodle) she becomes the object of David’s affection. The film captures the old-school Long Island wealth made famous in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic “The Great Gatsby.” 

“Something’s Gotta Give” – Ah, the Hamptons. Endless beaches, farmers markets and thousands of square feet of vacation home in which to fall for your millennial daughter’s Baby Boomer boyfriend. “In Something’s Gotta Give,” Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson provide an escape from reality similar to how a trip to a summer home once felt. That is, before the pandemic-fearing year-rounders got a little hostile toward their well-to-do seasonal neighbors.

With Holly Pretsky, David Pirozzi, Alice Popovici, Kay Dervishi, Rebecca Lewis, Annie McDonough, Jeff Coltin and Zach Williams. 

Ben Adler
is City & State’s senior editor.
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.
Ryan Somers
is managing editor at City & State.
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