Where the greatest New York films were filmed.
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Last week we floated the theory that the classic black and white thriller "King Kong" might be the ultimate New York flick. This week we're countering that with a film much more recent, and perhaps a bit more near and dear to our hearts. We went to the Empire State Building because of Kong, but we looked for the carriages in Central Park because of 1984's "The Muppets Take Manhattan."
Here's why the childhood classic, about a frog and a dog and a chicken and a, well, whatever Gonzo is, trying to make it in New York, could be the ultimate NYC movie:
Because starry-eyed arrivals are best young, cute and undefeated. If you haven't seen the movie, the Muppets arrive direct from college where they have written a musical called "Manhattan Melodies." That they had never been to New York before writing the show is no deterrent; nor is their eventual moment of dissolution when they all go off to get menial jobs to achieve their dreams. Adorable menial jobs, that is, like working in a movie theater alongside the Swedish Chef. (Your poppin' corn is... 3-D!)
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It may seem strange that our leading contender for Classic New York movie doesn't primarily take place in New York City. But when you think of the original 1933 "King Kong," do you picture the cliff of Skull Island or the Empire State Building? Our point exactly.
Here's why the ape epic paved the way for characters from Annie Hall to Miranda Priestley to appear on the streets of New York:
Because where else would Kong fit in but on Broadway? Whether he's the main attraction or fleeing his captors, Kong takes his place amongst the current luminaries acting on the Great White Way--Oscar-nominated actresses like Laura Linney, stage giants like Patrick Stewart and singing divas like Patti LuPone.
No wonder most tourists who visit the city make a point of seeing shows, even if they would never go to a musical in Indianapolis or Tucson or Fargo.
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With the release of the "Sex and the City" movie, a new wave of tourists is poised to enter the Big Apple with one question in mind: Where would Carrie shop? But she's hardly the first person who has looked at the fleet of taxis and seen a shopping-bag-friendly mode of transportation.
Of course with the influx of cheap-chic mall stores like H&M and Forever 21, New York trends reach the rest of the country much faster than they used to, but there's nothing like indulging in a little retail therapy in New York. Let these movie scenes get you started:
Tiffany & Co., as seen in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Sex and the City." Fully 90 percent of the foot traffic in this grande-dame store on weekends is comprised of curious tourists, not engagement-ready moguls. Still, even if you can't afford the wares, window shopping is free. (BYO croissant.) 727 Fifth Ave.
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This week we took a hint from reader Eva, who recommended the 2006 movie "Trust the Man." On her blog Eva described "Trust the Man" (as well as another romantic comedy, "Prime") as potential successors to former Classic Movies topics "Annie Hall" and "When Harry Met Sally," calling them "smart movies about the way people really relate to each other." So how do people really relate to each other? No surprise: Dysfunctionally.
"Trust the Man" opens with a montage of stage-setting, Allenesque New York locales -- Washington Square Park, Abingdon Market in the West Village, East 10th Street and Stuyvesant Place. By luxuriating over these places, even with no apparent characters in them, writer-director Bart Freundlich is connecting the well-off, Village-dwelling characters in this world to their filmic predecessors.
These people have money, but it doesn't make them happy: Tom (David Duchovny) is not adjusting well to being a stay-at-home dad while his wife Rebecca (Julianne Moore, who happens to be Freundlich's wife) opens a play at Lincoln Center, so he cheats on her and doesn't seem to feel guilty about it. Meanwhile, Rebecca's younger brother Tobey (Billy Crudup) is feeling the pressure from girlfriend Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an aspiring children's book author, to settle down. As someone wise described "Hannah and Her Sisters," people meet, people cheat, people love and people leave.
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When "You've Got Mail" opened in theatres and made a jillion dollars, we were young, naive non-New Yorkers. Why wouldn't a children's book store owner (Meg Ryan) and a publishing magnate (Tom Hanks) meet on AOL and eventually fall in love?
We had a screen name, we were fairly sure how it worked. Well, the Internet has changed a lot since then, but this movie is still a prime Sunday-afternoon cable pick--and its sense of Upper West Side geography pretty sound.
Well, sound with one big exception, and it's not that the Upper West Side is full of pretty people living decent lives. The bookstore Kathleen owns, the Shop Around the Corner, doesn't exist. Why location scouts didn't bother to find another of the many, many independent children's books in the city (like Books of Wonder or the Bank Street Bookstore) is beyond us, but you can see the storefront which stood in for Kathleen's shop at 169 West 69th Street. (It sells cheese and antiques.)
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We may have already visited the Land of Woody Allen once in this series, so you'll have to forgive us for doing it again. But no one has chronicled New York so thoroughly in his career; he may be making movies across the pond right now, but Allen will always be associated with New York City. No wonder the Academy had him make a rare Oscars appearance in 2002 to introduce a montage of clips of New York.
"Annie Hall" is not as travel-worthy as "Manhattan," particularly because many of the locations, like movie theaters like the Beekman Cinema (1254 2nd Ave.) and the Thalia (250 West 95th St.) have both been lost to Bergman fans the five boroughs over.
But Coney Island, the site of Allen's character Alvy Singer's childhood home, remains as does the Astroland amusement park there--for one more summer anyway, as it was recently bought out by a developer.
The 59th Street Bridge makes an appearance, and while it makes little sense that Alvy would trek all the way downtown to play tennis with his friend at the Wall Street Racquet Club (South Street at Pier 13), maybe he got a sadistic thrill out of beating those Wall Streeters in person. As for Annie, she lived on 70th Street between Park and Lex--very fashionable for such a bohemian!
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We've been sick this week and thus our attention span, when not doing shots of Nyquil, has dwindled down to naught--just like the budgets of a million would-be filmmakers trying to tell the quintessential New York City Story.
But don't despair! All you really need is one great location shot to put your viewers in NYC, as the following big-budget movies make perfectly clear:
"Vanilla Sky" (2001) -- Yeah, the original Spanish movie is better, but we'll never forget that memorable non-spoilery shot of Tom Cruise standing in a deserted Times Square. This isn't a special effect either; Cameron Crowe was allowed to block off the entire square for three hours, his one chance to get this shot.
"Coyote Ugly" (2000) -- This below-average sleepover movie has more than a jigger of truth to it: The adventures of naive bartendrix Piper Perabo at the dive were loosely based on a story in GQ magazine by author Elizabeth Gilbert--who's now famous for Eat, Pray, Love.
"Night at the Museum" (2006) -- You might not spot Dick Van Dyke or Ricky Gervais there, but even the bumblings of Ben Stiller can't take away from the grandeur of the American Museum of Natural History, as seen (in a sadder context) in 2005's "The Squid and the Whale." The rest of the film may as well have been shot in Rupert Murdoch's basement.
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Now that the Oscars are over, we're back to classic New York movies. Check out our map--just don't call it Sheldon.
1989's "When Harry Met Sally" begins in Chicago, but the story of a woman and a man who become friends over several years is at its heart a New York story, shaped by the experiences writer Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner as singles and divorcés in the city.
Harry and Sally may have lived uptown, but most of their adventures head downtown, like that memorable meal at Katz's Deli (205 E. Houston Street). You could have what she's having, but we recommend the pastrami. Their encounter at a bookstore should drive you to support the indie Shakespeare and Co. (downtown location at 716 Broadway), maybe even order some flowers from the local Plant Shed (2750 Broadway) instead of 1-800-FLOWERS.
Too broke from buying and furnishing your way-too-deluxe uptown apartment? Remember the admission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a "suggested donation." Maybe visiting these sites aren't great date material, but on the other hand, Harry and Sally started as friends first...
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When we say "Brooklyn" in 2008, you probably think of hipsters, Park Slope mommy wars or Jay-Z. In the seventies, audiences everywhere were transported to a different Brooklyn, where Tony Manero (John Travolta) lived to rule the dance floor with his slick friends in "Saturday Night Fever." Whether you love the Bee Gees or think disco is the soundtrack to hell, you've probably done the "Stayin' Alive" strut down the street at least once... Admit it!
"Saturday Night Fever" was shot largely in the working-class community of Bay Ridge it portrayed, including external shots of the Manero house at 221 79th St. Sadly, the disco where Tony worked it, 2001 Odyssey, has since become what looks like a parking structure on Google Maps, but before that it was a working gay club called Spectrum.
You can still climb on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, but Jaunted does not endorse doing this. The Brooklyn of the '70s has almost disappeared, but "Saturday Night Fever" lives on.
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There are those who would not consider "The Godfather" a classic New York movie because many of its scenes, including all the ones we WON'T be spoiling, take place outside of New York City. Still, where would the Godfather himself (Marlon Brando) be without the city in which he does business?
One of the Don's favorite stomping grounds is Little Italy, in particular the Mietz Building (128 Mott Street) which helps to hide some of his less-savory activities. Son Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) holds a significant meeting at Louis' Italian American Restaurant in the Bronx--an actual restaurant at the time of filming. It's now a yarn store.
Of course business isn't the only reason a Corleone will come to the city. Mama Corleone (Morganna King) does her Christmas shopping at the old Best & Co. on Fifth Avenue, and Michael meets his non-famiglia girlfriend (Diane Keaton) at the St. Regis Hotel for a little romp.
Even Jersey-centric scenes like the wedding which opens the film and a funeral near the end were shot on Staten Island and in Queens respectively. Guess the Port Authority office which doles out film permits made them an offer they couldn't refuse. (Sorry; we held off as long as we could!)
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Tess (Melanie Griffith), the heroine of 1988's "Working Girl," wants a future bigger than Staten Island and the temping pool. She may not be as highly educated as her bosses on Wall Street, but she's a fast learner, and when her smarmy boss Katharine (Sigourney Weaver) is put in traction after a ski accident, Tess sees it as her opportunity to get ahead. No one will stand in her way--not even a cute trader named
Han Solo Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford).
Woody Allen's opening shots in "Manhattan" reference genteel Central Park, while Mike Nichols' in this film capture Tess's windy, cold commute. The Staten Island Ferry is a short, but free alternative to the classic Circle Line tour of Manhattan. While the lobby of Tess's office actually belongs to the 7 World Trade Center building (destroyed on September 11), the office scenes were shot at 1 State Street Plaza--rather convenient to the ferry, in a rare case of movie geography reflecting real-life geography.
The venue where Tess crashes the wedding is the City Midday Club, which used to be an exclusive Wall Street hangout until it closed in 1997. Katharine lives in tony Irving Place, while Tess and her good-for-nothing boyfriend (Alec Baldwin, with his downwardly mobile chest hair) live at Richmond Terrace and York Avenue.
[Photo: Yahoo! Movies]
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We're admittedly stretching the definition of "classic" to feature 1992's "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York." It's personal, though. It was this movie, along with Disney's "Oliver and Company," that shaped our understanding of New York City as kiddies. (And it's really hard to pick out locations when you're distracted by a Billy Joel-singing cat.)
"Home Alone 2" is a perfect example of how most New York-set movies are made: studding the shoot with a few classic New York locales that non-New Yorkers can recognize. Thus, trouble-maker Kevin McCallister stays at the Plaza Hotel, where no one we know has ever stayed (possibly because they were freaked out by Tim Curry's scary concierge), swings by the Twin Towers and prays that his family will find him at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
What we know now: Kevin's uncle must have been loaded, because his Upper East Side townhouse, however dusty, is now probably inhabited by a "Gossip Girl" follower, and no bum is as friendly as the pigeon lady Kevin runs into near the Gapstow Bridge in Central Park.
Sadly, the movie's primo toy store Duncan's Toy Chest is fictional, but it's based on the real-life across-from-the-Plaza store FAO Schwartz, which has also made appearances in movies like "Big" and "Mighty Aphrodite." It's still a great place to take kids; last we checked, there were several larger-than-life armored stuffed bears to celebrate the release of "The Golden Compass," though sadly no stuffed Daniel Craig.