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40th Anniversary

The New York Canon: Movies

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ANNIE HALL, 1977
Many films of Woody Allen—a symbol of New York’s Jewish heritage whether he likes it or not—could have been here, but this was the one that made so many of us so happy, certain that even if we didn’t end up with the girl or guy of our dreams we could still celebrate our inner fools. The films to come would be tonier (Manhattan), more thrillingly fanciful (The Purple Rose of Cairo), and more scorching (Husbands and Wives). But for daft pleasure, the courtship of Woody and Diane has few peers.


SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, 1977
It began with Nik Cohn’s, uh, fanciful article in this magazine, but the fib—and John Travolta’s cock-of-the-walk moves, and the Bee Gees—fueled the movement. Suddenly, Bay Ridge swarmed with pomaded Italian guys who would soon find themselves aligned with the Village People.


AN UNMARRIED WOMAN, 1978
Michael Murphy told Jill Clayburgh he was leaving her for a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl and she threw up. She got her own back—plus Soho boho Alan Bates. But Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) took the dad’s side against moms who leave their kids to find themselves (if they ever existed). Meryl—in her movie breakthrough—sold it.

ALL THAT JAZZ, 1979
Broadway and film treasure Bob Fosse fashioned his own relentless, amphetamine-like syntax to rat-a-tat-tap out his own epitaph—his death onscreen (and, one suspects, in life) a consequence of said relentlessness and amphetamines.

MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, 1981
Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory proved good talk wasn’t cheap.

SMITHEREENS, 1982
The selfish opportunistic club girl gets what’s coming to her, a vision candy-coated in Susan Seidelman’s next East Village–set movie, Desperately Seeking Susan—which fostered the illusion that Madonna had screen presence.


TOOTSIE, 1982
A pain-in-the-ass New York Method actor (Dustin Hoffman) finds his inner female powerhouse. Worth every bit of the tsuris that went into making it.

WILD STYLE, 1983
The seminal hip-hop D.J. break-dance graffiti doc that gave those subway squiggles an irresistible backstory (and backbeat).

THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, 1984
An ingenious John Sayles premise: the black alien who merges with the underclass—and is even more alienated.

STRANGER THAN PARADISE, 1984
Jim Jarmusch proved that minimalist form plus minimalist content could add up to a maximalist artistic statement of anomie, East Village style.

PARTING GLANCES, 1986
An indie gay (AIDS-oriented) feature that inspired a new breed of filmmakers (the ones that survived, anyway).

SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY, 1987
The only movie here you can’t officially see (song rights pointedly withheld). But Todd Haynes’s Barbie-doll weeper made this New York–based gay deconstructive ironist a legend.


WALL STREET, 1987
In the age of Milken and Boesky, right and wrong dueled it out in the head of stockbroker Charlie Sheen—except lefty melodramatist Oliver Stone gave the good lines to the devil, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Generations of greedheads had a brand-new role model.

FATAL ATTRACTION, 1987
Suburban married man Michael Douglas fucks Glenn Close in the inferno that is the meatpacking district, thus bringing about the stewing of his child’s pet rabbit and the invasion of his (no-place-like) home. After cheering her bloody demise, couples argued over which was more dangerous, AIDS or indignant feminists.

THE ARGUMENT STARTER
SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, 1989
The film itself has zero connection to New York, but New Yorker Harvey Weinstein was nearly laughed out of Sundance for paying $1.1 million to acquire it, and when it broke through commercially, it changed the fortunes of Miramax, lower Manhattan (as a production-distribution powerhouse), and American indie cinema forever. And New York had a new King Kong.

DO THE RIGHT THING, 1989
The hopped-up She’s Gotta Have It (1986) was Spike Lee’s ticket to celebrity. But this “joint” was his swing at the moon. Evenhanded? Nah: Malcolm X trumped Martin Luther King. Noisy whites feared it would inspire copycat vandalism. Instead, it helped Dinkins vanquish Koch. Lee was triumphant. (See Q&A, here.)


KIDS, 1995
Larry Clark’s kids weren’t all right: They hung around Washington Square Park doing drugs and having sex and getting AIDS.

GIRLFIGHT, 2000
Karyn Kusama’s you-go-girl Rocky, with Michelle Rodriguez as a pisser who boxes her way out of the male-dominated projects, busting noses and egos.

25TH HOUR, 2002
Spike Lee added a post-9/11 backdrop to the existing script of a drug dealer (Edward Norton) having a last look around before prison. Did that addition work? It’s debatable. But the hero’s dazed mournfulness captured the city’s mood.

UNITED 93, 2006
Too soon to dramatize 9/11? Maybe not soon enough. It was as much journalism as art—perhaps a rough draft for the 9/11 New York works of art to come.


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