The Nanny Diaries features Scarlett Johansson as an anthropology grad who, arriving in New York, imagines herself walking past dioramas of the city’s various subcultures. For a review of that movie, click here. For our guide to how accurately (or implausibly) other films have tackled New York worlds, see below.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
Jennifer Garner is a teen trapped in the body of a fabulous fashion editor. What’s everyone else’s excuse?
Only in a Woody Allen movie would starlets and models ever deign to sleep with their zhlubby interviewers.
The Paper (1994)
Ron Howard’s underrated newsroom melodrama. Bonus points for the reporter who admits to not reading his own paper.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Still the last word on the sycophancy and two-facedness of the media world.
It was supposed to be satire, but now Sidney Lumet’s wicked take on the dumbing down of TV news reads like prophecy.
Finding Forrester (2000)
Sean Connery convinces as a reclusive, Salingeresque genius author. Never seems to do any writing, though.
Ed Harris looks, acts, and sounds like Pollock, but it’s hard to buy the scene where he discovers drip-painting by accident.
It helps that this bio of an art-world enfant terrible was directed by another art-world enfant terrible: Julian Schnabel. Demerits for David Bowie’s Warhol wig.
Mr. Shawn devotees took issue with the New Yorker editor’s portrayal. But Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote was spot-on.
(Photographs from top: Columbia/Everett Collection; Everett Collection; Miramax/Everett Collection; Sony Pictures Classics/Everett Collection)
Coyote Ugly (2000)
Tries to do for New York what Showgirls did for Vegas. Thanks, Jerry Bruckheimer.
Party Girl (1996)
Look, we adore Parker Posey in her breakout role, too. But she charges for parties and mooches off everybody. How did this girl get so popular?
Al Pacino’s inadvertently comical undercover foray into gay S&M. Don’t miss the cop-in-jockstrap interrogation scene.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Based on a fabricated article (in New York Magazine—sorry, folks). But faithful to late-seventies working-class Brooklyn disco, nonetheless.
John Cassavetes’s vérité classic about Beat-era partying: blank walls, smoky rooms, and bad drunks.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
Tom Hanks as a Wall Street mover and shaker. Right. (Nor are we buying Bruce Willis as a journalist—but that’s another category.)
Trading Places (1983)
Yes, it’s set mostly in Philly. But it gives a fairly concise explanation of how the trading floor works.
Boiler Room (2000)
Give it credit for laying bare the adorably Neanderthal world of Long Island brokerages. Until it turns into The Firm.
Wall Street (1987)
Slick Michael Douglas ended up being the prototype for real-life slimeballs to come.
Barbarians at the Gate (1993)
Based on a true story. Plus: Jonathan Pryce’s uncannily icy portrait of ruthless buyout tycoon Henry Kravis.
(Photographs from top: First Look Pictures/Everett Collection; 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection)
Coogan’s Bluff (1968)
Pure red-state fantasy: The NYPD would lock up Clint Eastwood’s nutty visiting Arizona sheriff in no time flat.
Donnie Brasco (1997)
Laudably unglamorized. Johnny Depp plays the real-life cop who infiltrated the Bonanno family in the seventies.
Prince of the City (1981)
Corrupt-cop epic that the DEA reportedly asked to use as a training video.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Devastatingly detailed—right down to the Transit Police’s “noive centah.”
New York, New York (1977)
Martin Scorsese’s ode to old-school musicals was shot on L.A. soundstages. Nothing rings true— except maybe the alcoholism.
King Kong (2005)
The scenes of vaudevillian Naomi Watts backstage are pure hokum.
Quiz Show (1994)
Robert Redford takes some serious dramatic license with the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that led to the fixing of a hit fifties game show.
We take exception to the fact that Dustin Hoffman’s character still gets an audition after calling his director a “macho shithead.”
All That Jazz (1979)
Bob Fosse’s self-portrait of an overworked, overmedicated, oversexed choreographer-director.
(Photographs from top: Everett Collection; Everett Collection; Universal/Everett Collection)
It makes no pretense to authenticity, true, but c’mon: Ben Stiller, male model?
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
Faye Dunaway plays a controversial fashion photographer, and her apartment is Halston-heyday authentic. Still, the burning-car shoot? A little much, even for this world.
Funny Face (1957)
Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn are in it, yet we’re most taken with Kay Thompson’s hilariously brassy turn as an editor modeled on Diana Vreeland.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Whatever you may think of this film, it got a lot right, including the look of a certain Vogue editor’s office.
(Photographs from top: Everett Collection; Barry Wetcher/Courtesy of 20th Century)