A Guide to Awesome New York Period Movies

Like any other self-satisfied, elitist New York asshole, I love watching movies about or that use New York City heavily, especially if they’re period pieces or actually filmed in a bygone decade. But what if you’re fairly new to this genre of sorts and you’ve already watched Annie Hall, Manhattan, The Warriors, The French Connection, Mean Streets and the Godfather I & II? Here are some flicks that are set in or use New York heavily that might not occur to you:

Pre-1900s


The Age of Innocence

This Scorsese directed film adapted from the novel by Edith Wharton gets a double “boner”, if you will, from me. One, because it’s a beautiful pre-1900s culturally critical period piece, and two, it takes place in New York!

1920s/30s


Bullets Over Broadway
Though you’d think of this more if you wanted to see a great comedy, you definitely can’t take the story out of the context of New York. Plus, in my opinion, it’s the last awesome Woody Allen movie of his later period that was really good before he started going to absolute shit pre-Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

1950s
All About Eve
Again, you just can’t take this plot and these characters out of New York. Marvel at the absolutely superb Joseph Mankiewicz script and snap your fingers in Z-formation in accordance with Bette Davis’s awesomeness.

1960s

The Apartment
A total New York classic starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley McClaine at her most charming. I can’t remember exactly where the said apartment is located, but I have a memory of it being very West Village. Also, probably one of the more naturalistic portrayals (of the time) of working at an office in the early 60s.

Midnight Cowboy
I know this one’s a classic film, but have you actually seen it all the way through and outside of a film class? Though depressing, a really awesome look at urban New York and the whole 60s psychedelic youth culture thing.

1970s
The Out-Of-Towners
Consider this a pre-Trains, Planes, and Automobiles (and for that matter, The Hangover 2, I mean, Due Date). Jack Lemmon is perfect as the dramatic, neurotic and borderline-horrible husband to an eternally patient and amazing straight-woman Sandy Dennis (why isn’t she in more movies?) through the most disastrous trip to New York City ever. Even though it’s premise can be taken as pro-suburbs, the film definitely has a little wink in its eye and much love for New York City, as there really seems to be a spotlight on great street scenes.  A perfect capture of New York’s unique brand of craziness.

Serpico
Ok, so this might be a little of an obvious choice, but I just saw it for the first time recently, and I had to at least mention it. Watch it especially if you wanna see old shots of Williamsburg, to laugh at Al Pacino’s crazy bohemian outfits, drool over his sexy facial hair, and have your envy go into overdrive at his super cute Greenwich Village studio.

The Goodbye Girl
For me, Neil Simon plays are really hit or miss. Though Barefoot in the Park would’ve been a better fitting choice just in terms of New York scenery/apartments, etc., I actually really fucking don’t like that play and Jane Fonda’s performance in the movie makes me want to rip out my eyes and ears. The Goodbye Girl isn’t as cutesy and campy (but, you know, it’s Neil Simon), and though I never thought I’d say this: features a young and sort of hot Richard Dreyfus.

Eyes of Laura Mars
This is kind of a ridiculous and sort of bad movie, but so, so beautifully shot. This is a definite must for those into fashion. Faye Dunaway is gorgeous as always, and all the prop photos used in the movie were actually taken by Helmut Newton and Rebecca Blake.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
I was very pleasantly surprised but his 2006 coming of age movie set in Brooklyn. It’s kind of like Goodfellas meets Kids. And don’t be turned off by Shia LeBeouf, he’s actually pretty good, as is RDJ, obviously.

1980s
Hannah and Her Sisters
Yes, it’s another Woody Allen movie about cheating and guilt. But if you’re sick of that, you can just instead focus on all the incredible shots of Soho before it got all commercialized.

After Hours
This is like THE quintessential downtown New York movie that a surprising number of people actually haven’t seen. Definitely watch this instead of Desperately Seeking Susan.

The Last Days of Disco
One of my all-time favorite movies, especially relevant for the post-collegiate with oh-so-practical Liberal Arts educations. Not only are they right on target with the early 80s New York vibe, but the CLOTHES. THE CLOTHES!!

1990s
Jacob’s Ladder
Though a bit heavy handed and religious, this movie is fucking FREAKY and uses New York in a really interesting and dark way in establishing the tone.

Party Girl
I think Ashley F. can recite this movie backwards. I remember daydreaming in California about this movie with its parties that were nothing like anything I’d ever seen in LA or San Diego, and are still inseparable in my mind from the idea of New York to me.  Again, this movie is perfect for the post-collegiate set, plus it totally makes you remember why Parker Posey became a New York an institution.

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About the author

Anna G - Caliburg Contributor

Anna G. is a Southern California native living in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn since 2005. Anna is constantly trying to unite her love of CA sunshine and the excitement of the New York urban jungle, all the while trying to keep her unwieldy credit card debt under control, and look fabulous at brunch, no matter how un-showered and hungover.