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If you were lucky enough to see Lily at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, you already know that Matt Creed’s debut feature is a quintessential New York movie. Shot entirely on-location in The Big Apple, Lily is loosely based on the real life experiences of star and co-writer Amy Grantham, who was diagnosed with (and beat) breast cancer at a young age. The diagnosis and the extended treatment process cause her to re-evaluate her life while dealing with the challenges and enjoying the benefits of living in NYC.
Lily is now available to watch on VOD, Vimeo, iTunes and other digital platforms. To celebrate their film’s release, we asked Matt Creed and Amy Grantham to each give us 5 recommendations of films that show off New York City in distinctive and diverse ways.
This film had a huge effect on me when I was 12. KIDS touched on everything I was into at the time: skateboarding, hip hop, punk, metal, girls, and weed. Plus, it made me want to move to New York City. On the flip side, the movie also scared the living shit out of me, especially in terms of AIDS and how fast it could spread. I wasn't allowed to see it in theaters because I was too young, but I stayed up until 3am when it premiered on HBO and recorded it on VHS. I shared my VHS copy with my friends, and some of their parents were really pissed. I was living in Ohio at the time and there were not many kids around who were into the counter-culture portrayed in KIDS. Anyone who was different was picked on and bullied, so it was comforting to see this film and realize that there were other kids like me out there in the world.
The Panic in Needle Park
In addition to Al Pacino’s incredible performance, this film (co-written by Joan Didion) captures a gritty and dark side of NYC. This was Pacino’s first leading role and only his second on-screen appearance. The film’s extremely dysfunctional love story centers around a couple who are both addicted to heroine. There is no music used in the film, which gives it a really authentic feel. Its ending is profound.
Though this film doesn't fully take place in NYC, I think of it as a New York film. The great Milos Forman's first American film, Taking Off explores the hippie counter culture movement in the late 60's and early 70's. It brilliantly juxtaposes the viewpoints of the displaced youths with those of their parents. The most memorable scene to me was the one in which a group of parents get together to smoke marijuana in an attempt to understand why their kids would run away. It’s so incredibly funny. Taking Off also marks the screen debut of Vincent Schiavelli who gives a great performance as the counselor who teaches the yuppie parents how to smoke a joint for the first time.
I really love this film from Amos Poe. It was made during the No Wave film movement of the late 70's and early 80's in New York City. While the acting is not the greatest, the story completely holds up, and the film is shot so beautifully in black and white 16mm. It almost looks like a Franz Kline painting at times. The film also features a cameo by a young Debbie Harry as well as performances by The Cramps and The Erasers at CBGBs. Other classic downtown location shots are great as well. Oh, and the lead character is named Max Menace—it doesn't get better than that.
The Little Fugitive
I discovered this film a few years ago, thanks to Jake Perlin of Cinema Conservancy. It was way ahead of its time and had a huge influence on the French New Wave. The Little Fugitive follows a young boy who runs away to Coney Island after he thinks he has murdered his older brother. He does not realize that his brother was playing a cruel joke on him by pretending to be dead. The film has that "Our Gang" feel to it because it features nonprofessional actors who essentially play themselves. The real star, however, is Coney Island itself!
Okay, bear with me. I grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. When I first saw Ghostbusters, the scene that really stood out to me was when Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) bangs on the window of Tavern on the Green and cries for help and nobody in the restaurant bats an eyelash. I was shocked! I thought that that was how people in New York really were. A terrible dog-monster could be chasing you and no one would even notice. That really blew my mind.
Also, I just love the first ghost scene in the New York Public Library and the whole Stay Puft Marshmallow Man thing. In New York, anything seemed possible. You can imagine my joy the day I was walking through Tribeca and randomly came upon the firehouse that was used in the film. To say I freaked out is an understatement.
"Chapter One: He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion." To this day, that pretty much sums up the way I feel about living here. The novelty has never worn off. There are more than a few Woody Allen films that make me think of NYC (Hannah and Her Sisters, Annie Hall, Broadway Danny Rose) but Manhattan is the one I go back to time and time again for the quintessential New York feeling in a film.
The opening montage set to the music of Gershwin really blew my mind. I had never seen anything like it. Central Park! Tall buildings! Taxis! Snow!! So many people on one street! I get goose bumps when I watch it to this day. As a teenaged girl, I was also inspired by Mariel Hemingway’s ability to hold her own in conversations with sophisticated adults. I wanted to move to New York immediately and to go museums and have "important" conversations about art and literature. Plus, that shot by the bridge? C'mon.
John and Mary
For me, this is a great New York film. First of all, it opens with a bunch of cool twenty something year olds in a bar in Greenwich Village talking about Godard's film Weekend for crying out loud. I am a lover of the French New Wave, so that scene pretty much sealed the deal for me. The fact that Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow star in the film was an added bonus. I loved getting glimpses of their two very different New York apartments. I think most people aren’t fond of John and Mary because of the use of flashbacks and the way the characters speak through external monologues, but I happen to like the film a great deal. It's a little gem from the sixties.
Paris Is Burning
I might have seen this documentary way before it was age appropriate for me. I remember it freaked me out a bit, mainly because I was so distraught about what becomes of Venus Xtravaganza. I was entranced by all of these younger kids hanging out at night, talking all sassy, and living these insane--and in many ways dangerous—lives. The glimpse this film provided of what it was like to live in NYC during the AIDS epidemic was both uplifting and sad at the same time. Also, Willi Ninja. I'll just never be that cool.
Kramer vs. Kramer
Kramer vs. Kramer utilizes so many great New York City locations that it has to be on my list. The one that sticks in my mind is the beautiful scene filmed on The Mall in Central Park, one of the first times I remember seeing Central Park in a film. I just remember thinking that it seemed to go on forever. I thought how lucky people in New York must feel to be able to go there whenever they wanted. How cool. I won't get into how overly excited I was the first time I went to JG Melon's uptown and was seated at the table where Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman met to talk. Let's just say I was pretty stoked and leave it at that.