Tagline: Whatever you hear about midnight cowboys is true.
Synopsis: Joe Buck, good looking, good natured, but not very bright, leaves his small town life, dead end job, and inner demons (a mix of sexual abuse and Christian oppression) behind in chasing his dreams at making it big in NYC as a hustler. Quickly, this Texas Greenhorn finds that he's the one being hustled. Alone in a lonely city, Joe allows himself to be befriended by Ratso Rizzo, an ailing but still fast talking, small time con-man. Ratso is also in desperate need of companionship and the two form an unlikely union. One which is tested as Joe, finally on the cusp of achieving his dream, must now decide between moving on or sticking with his sickly friend.
Our Take: The movie that started it all. The first modern American film. The first to truly profile drugs, sex, violence, and document life in the most hopeless of underbellies. Still one of the top 3 New York movies of all time. Schlesinger, through his use of colors, or as seen in a series of quick distorted flashbacks, lack there of, his trippy montages, plethora of zooms, and rapid fire cuts makes sure to put his finger prints all over this one. Yet he never steals attention away from his two leads. Instead, Schlesinger only adds to the story, while painting an even more depressive picture of Times Square during the drug crazed 1960s.
1970 - THE OUT OF TOWNERS (Arthur Hiller, director) (Paramount)
Genre: Fish Out of Water Farce
Tagline: When they take you for an out-of-towner, they really take you.
Synopsis: Middle-aged businessman, George Kellerman, from suburban Ohio is on the verge of landing a much sought promotion. One that will finally move him to corporate headquarters in NYC. In celebration, he and his wife Gwen (already happy with life in Ohio) go on an all expenses paid for, dream vacation to the Big Apple. Weather, union strikes, crumbling city infrastructure, unlucky timing, criminal elements, political protesters, and a general NY attitude all conspire, however, to make sure that this dream vacation becomes the nightmare trip from hell.
Our Take: A throwback movie. One which, after Midnight Cowboy but especially after Joe (our second favorite flick of 1970) feels like it came from the proverbial "kindler and gentler" times. One which also, on paper at least, seems to go after New York at every turn. In reality, Hiller is simply tweaking us. And doing it so innocently that it's hard not to love.
1971 - THE FRENCH CONNECTION (William Friedkin, director) (20th Century-Fox)
Genre: Cops and Robbers Drama
Tagline: Doyle is bad news - but a good cop.
Synopsis: Hot-headed police detective, Popeye Doyle, and his more collected partner, Cloudy Russo, have a hunch. Small time hood, Sal Boca, suddenly rolling with big leaguers, is up to something. After putting Sal's candy store under surveillance, they find that Boca (through Corsican mobsters who control the French port of Marseilles) is about to land the most lucrative heroin score NYC has ever seen. Doyle and Russo must find Boca's French connection, Alain Charnier, before the deal is completed. They must also find the suave, savvy, but murderous Charnier before Charnier's crew find Doyle and Russo.
Our Take: Friedkin seems to travel through time in making this. His use of grays and shadows has a '50s noir feel. The more unconventional shots captures its time well, while the occasional jumpy hand-helds makes it feel like a present day cop flick. All of it comes together in creating a dreary setting lit by an exciting cat and mouse chase. This even if its most famous chase scene seems overdone and dated by today's standards.
1972 - FRITZ THE CAT (Ralph Bakshi, director) (American Int. Pictures)
Tagline: He's X-Rated and Animated!
Synopsis: NYC college student, Fritz (a tom-cat) simply out for good times with cheap drugs and cheaper females gets in over his head one night when the cops (played by pigs) bust his dorm room. On the run, Fritz sees himself as a counter culture revolutionary. A road trip and spiritual journey allows Fritz to hook up with elements of both the Hell's Angels and Black Panthers while making his way to California. Their over the top lust for violence however later awakens Fritz from his dreams of revolution. Instead, Fritz realizes that he should simply stick to what he knows best, sex and drugs, while letting the rest of the world sort out their own battles.
Our Take: The first anti-counter culture, counter culture movie. One which seeks to offend all, yet remains honest in pointing out the basics; guys love good times. Great pre-disco sound track capturing the NY music scene as well. Just about everyone ranks The Godfather as the year's best film, let alone the best NY one. But Fritz is truer in message. Animated star Peter Griffin sums it up with one line: "The Godfather insists upon itself." Where as Fritz never takes itself too seriously while simultaneously taking us on an even wilder ride.
1973 - MEAN STREETS (Martin Scorsese, director) (Warner Brothers)
Tagline: You don't make up for you sins in church. You do it on the streets.
Synopsis: Charlie is a small-timer trying to work his way up the ranks of Little Italy's mean streets. His uncle, Giovanni, a connected mobster, looks out for him, but Charlie is simply too thoughtful and too filled with Catholic guilt to ever become made. Still he tries pleasing his uncle despite having even bigger problems. He's secretly dating Teresa, a girl with epilepsy, who Giovanni considers a freak. He's also secretly best friends with Teresa's cousin, Johnny Boy, a hot headed loser who's up to his ears in debt and is also looked down upon by Giovanni. When Johnny Boy goes too far in mocking the very mobsters that he's in debt to, Charlie's loyalties are put to the ultimate test.
Our Take: Discounting some smaller work, this is the film which truly introduced the world to both Scorsese and De Niro. Not a great flick (1973 was a weaker year within the "1970s Golden Age") but still a memorable introduction. At times raw in technique, at times naive in story, but still great in foreshadowing future greatness.
1974 - THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1, 2, 3 (Joseph Sargent, director) (United Artists)
Tagline: We're going to kill a passenger a minute until NYC pays us $1,000,000.
Synopsis: Four gunmen, known only as Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Brown, train-jack a crowded Pelham line (IRT #6) subway, demanding one million dollars in return. Police Lt. Zachary Garber, a grumpy, politically incorrect member of the force nearing retirement, must cut through endless NYC red tape while negotiating with and meeting the demands of the four. He must also do this in one hour, before the gunmen start killing off the many hostages. Finally, Garber must figure out how exactly they plan on escaping from the now heavily guarded tunnel. A hunch gives Garber reason to believe that one of the gunmen is a disgruntled former motorman. One with a "motorman's trick" up his sleeve.
Our Take: Solid take on New York when the city seemed like it was imploding. The endless bureaucracy, the grit, the mayhem, mixed in with several doses of silly humor shows us, for good and bad, a different world. Sargent gives a workmen like effort in using a major crime to document the city's major problems. Straight forward, not as big on the camera experimentation as we'd like, but still fun and filled with great shots of our city's dark tunnels. We'll see how the upcoming remake matches up.
1975 - DOG DAY AFTERNOON (Sidney Lumet, director) (Warner Brothers)
Tagline: The robbery should have taken ten minutes. Four hours later it was like a circus sideshow. Eight hours later it was the hottest thing on live TV. Twelve hours later it was all history. And it's all true.
Synopsis: Vietnam veteran, former bank teller, and first time crook, Sonny Wortzik, a married father of two, ineptly leads two friends (one of whom leaves early and takes the get-away car with him) in robbing a neighborhood bank. Sonny's mission, to get enough cash to pay for his gay lover's sex change operation. Sonny and his lone remaining accomplice, Sal Nuturile, dim witted but loyal, become holed up in the bank (which has very little cash to begin with) along with their hostages, after the cops are tipped. With the noise and glare of SWAT teams, live TV news cameras, and cheering anti-establishment crowds, Sonny must now negotiate his way to safety.
Our Take: A story so ridiculously New York, it had to have been true. And it was. Without many fancy devices, without even much of a soundtrack (the endless violins of Lumet's Serpico kills that one for us) Lumet pitches a perfect game in making an understated yet flawless film. Reigned in, this is unquestionably Pacino's greatest performance ever. Our 2nd greatest NY movie ever as well. Amazingly, Lumet came up with an encore to match the following year.
1976 - MARATHON MAN (John Schlesinger, director) (Paramount)
Tagline: Is it safe?
Synopsis: Thomas "Babe" Levy is a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia. Book smart and physically fit (an avid runner) Babe is also naive. He's completely unaware that his older brother, Henry "Doc" Levy (who poses as an international oil exec) is working for a covert government organization. Under the guise of simply paying Babe a visit, Doc returns to NYC. This while suspecting that Nazi war criminal, Christian Szell has slipped into the city from a well guarded South American safe-haven. Doc's suspicions prove true. Szell is in town, looking to retrieve a fortune stored away in a safety deposit box. When Doc is killed, Babe finds himself caught between rogue government agents protecting Szell, and the elderly Nazi himself. All convinced that Babe is in on Doc's plans to capture Szell.
Our Take: With Taxi Driver also released in '76, this was our toughest decision. And hey, here's the one and only time where we might actually be wrong. Especially since this storyline has enough holes to drive a truck through. Well, at least two speeding cars which both ultimately crash into a truck, through. Still, an absolute classic none the less. Schlesinger once again depicts the grit and grime of the times while also slowly creating a dark, Hitchcock-like thriller. Our tie breaker? "Is it safe?" is a creepier question than "You talkin' to me?" Now if only we could find a snarky way to justify not awarding Sidney Lumet's Network. Maybe this is the one and only year for three Vinny's.
1977 - SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (John Badham, director) (Paramount)
Tagline: Where do you go when the record is over?
Synopsis:Tony Manero is an "almost" 20 year old punk. Still living at home he is caught between constantly squabbling parents, while also stuck in a dead end job and a rough set of bigoted, chauvinistic friends. His only escape is dancing at the local discotheque. There he is king. It's also where he meets Stephanie Mangano, the only girl who can match his dance moves. Slightly older, Stephanie is already planning her way out of the backwards neighborhood. With contempt, violence, rape, and suicide serving as his backdrop, Tony sees that he too needs an escape plan.
Our Take: The movie which gave birth to the music that the '70s are most famous for, but also shied away from the classic '70s movie look. Simultaneously it's also the first true "Me Generation" film. Rather than giving us an underdog living outside the margins, here Badham makes it cool again to root for the ignorant yet attractive popular kid. But don't let that or the Bee Gees' cross-promotions fool you. This is just as dark and just as good as many of the traditional '70s Golden Age films. It even sneaks into our "all-time" list of top 5 NY movies.
Synopsis: Recent college grad, Susan Weinblatt, is enjoying young adulthood while working as a photographer and sharing an apartment with her best friend, Anne Munroe. When Anne suddenly leaves to marry a guy she's only recently met, Susan is forced into a journey of self-discovery. One which deals with her loneliness, financial problems, and evolvement as an artist while growing as an independent woman in the Big Apple.
Our Take: 1978 marked a transition in New York and its movies. Post-Lindsey/Beame, post-bankruptcy scare, post-blackout, post-Son of Sam. Studio films capturing a city on the edge were being replaced by the same Hollywood blockbusters still prevalent today. Against that, and inspired by indie-icon John Cassavetes, came a new wave of independents. Weill gives us one of the first of these. A character study about a young, artistic, female trying to make it on her own. Although at times dated, the basic "friends growing apart" storyline, theme of adjustment, and cinema verite feel is almost 15 years ahead of the Indie Revolution which truly blew up in the early 1990s.
1979 - KRAMER VS. KRAMER (Robert Benton, director) (Columbia Pictures)
Tagline: These battles leave no winners.
Synopsis: A workaholic ad exec, Ted Kramer, is taken completely off guard when his neglected wife, Joanna, walks out, leaving him alone to take care of their seven year old son, Billy. Things do not go smoothly as Ted struggles to raise a son he doesn't truly know and fights to hold on to his now fledgling career. All the while Billy is resentful of his dad for his mother's departure. Just as the two adjust to each other and establish a true, loving, father-son relationship, Joanna resurfaces, asking for custody of Billy. Ted refuses to give up custody and a bitter court battle ensues. One that neither parent is prepared to have.
Our Take: History has been kinder to Woody Allen's painfully dull and equally pretentious, Manhattan, but we can't tell why. Granted the overall feel of this one seems dated now, but at the time Benton's piece challenged the perception of both the roles of fathers and mothers. And did so while being even handed. This is also one of the first films to show the rebellious Baby Boomers all grown up. Going through the same bourgeois family dysfunction that their parents struggled with a generation earlier. Regrettably for intelligent viewers everywhere, it's a Yuppie theme which has been done to death ever since.
Synopsis: During the post WWII years, a bull raged in the Bronx. His name was Jake LaMotta. A prize-fighter who never stopped for any bell, LaMotta was just as vicious in battering his own wife (Vickie) and brother (Joey) as he was against any boxer. While his thirst for violence eventually made him a somebody in the ring (LaMotta defeats Sugar Ray Robinson and later Marcel Cerdan to win the middleweight crown) it left him a bum in real life. LaMotta finds that his toughest opponents are in bouts against his own jealousy and paranoia. Sadly, these are not bouts he can win.
Our Take: If Midnight Cowboy starts the "1970s Golden Age," Raging Bull ends it. The last, and according to many, the best of them all. Scorsese polishes the darkness he examines in Taxi Driver and delivers a tighter but just as experimental (particularly the smoky, often blocked, and out of frame shots, capturing boxing's very real brutality) piece of poetry. Like Taxi Driver, Scorsese pays just as much attention to sound as he does his constantly moving camera. All while his ticking time bomb (once again played masterfully by De Niro, who this time provides an even greater on screen transformation) is about to go off. As in Taxi Driver there is no clean, definitive Hollywood conclusion once that does happen. A '70s classic that takes place in the '40s and '50s but ends up being the best movie of the '80s. Unquestionably one of the top 5 NY movies ever made.
1981 - ARTHUR (Steve Gordon, director) (Orion/Warner Brothers)
Tagline: The most fun money can buy.
Synopsis: Multi-millionaire, Arthur Bach, is an alcoholic British playboy who never grew up. Nearing 40, his family threatens to cut him off unless he agrees to an arranged marriage to heiress, Susan Johnson. Susan has Arthur's best interest at heart but Arthur's problem is that he doesn't love her. Still, he agrees on going through with the wedding until meeting Linda Marolla, a working class girl from Queens whom he does fall for. Arthur must now decide between following his heart, or breaking the heart of Susan while also losing his fortune and being banished from his own family.
Our Take: What can we say, 1981 was a weak year. Aside from Raging Bull's last hurrah, the '70s were officially over. In its place, a more shallow, formulaic, mass audience chasing style of movie making that would return to the lots of Hollywood after its brief foray on the streets of New York. With the Indie Revolution still in its infancy, we're left with Arthur. Still, although certainly not great, it's not at all bad either. Sadly, this comedy leaves us wondering what the young Steve Gordon would have done next had he not died shortly after its release.
Tagline: Between the innocent, the romantic, the sensual, and the unthinkable. There are still some things we have yet to imagine.
Synopsis: A young newbie writer from the south named Stingo moves to Brooklyn in 1947 where he meets Holocaust survivor, Sophie Zawitowski, and her loving fiancé, Nathan Landau. Unlike Sophie, an immigrant from Poland, Nathan is a local who never had to live through the Holocaust. Still Nathan is obsessed with its sickening atrocities. As Stingo develops a friendship with the couple, he documents not only the horrific ghosts of Sophie's tragic past, but also the obsession which is also slowly killing Nathan's mental health. Stingo sees first hand that even the fortunate few who did physically survive the concentration camps (or in the case of Nathan, even someone who was never forced into a camp) can never truly escape the scars left behind.
Our Take: Hauntingly beautiful or beautifully haunting? Either way Pakula is blessed as Streep gives perhaps the single greatest on screen performance. She does so while also elevating the game of all around her. One thing about the 80's, between all the junk, it was a decade dotted with some truly emotional, highbrow epics.
1983 - THE KING OF COMEDY (Martin Scorsese, director) (20th Century-Fox)
Genre: Dark Comedy
Tagline: ...and when it's all over, one of them won't be laughing.
Synopsis: Rupert Pupkin is a bad stand up comedian. 34, still living at home and not having realized his dream of becoming famous, he's also crazy. Not mean or violent, but still devoid of any reality. Pupkin spends half his time in a fantasy world where he chums around with "A-listers" like talk show host, Jerry Langford, the king of late night. Unable to ever truly befriend Jerry and land a spot on his show, Rupert takes matters into his own hands. With the help of his female friend, Masha, an obsessed Langford stalker who might even be crazier than Rupert, the would-be comedian realizes that it's better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.
Our Take: A far less violent, but even more bizarre Taxi Driver for the '80s and beyond. Scorsese doesn't do much with the camera this time, making it harder for us to distinguish Pupkin's reality from his fantasies. It all adds up to another story of a loser, this one, obsessed with the celebrity culture which began taking shape at the time. This loser is so embarrassingly pathetic, however, it's almost hard to watch. While De Niro is brilliant as ever, Lewis, is every bit as good in essentially playing himself; an on-camera clown/off-camera asshole. And maybe it is because this story has no nice guys, that it was originally panned by critics. Fortunately, most now view this as one of Scorsese's best efforts. It scores an extra point for a quick cameo by, The Clash.
Synopsis: Willie is a 20-something year old poker playing hipster during the pre-hipster times of early 1980s Manhattan. He is surprised when he gets a visit one day from a long-lost, and rather pretty, younger cousin named Eva who has just arrived from Hungary. Despite his going nowhere lifestyle, Willie still views Eva as a cramp to his style. Not exactly welcomed, Eva leaves to stay with an elderly Aunt in Cleveland. A year later Willie and his hipster friend Eddie decide on taking a roadtrip and visiting Eva. Bored out of their minds in Cleveland, they then decide to continue their roadtrip. With Eva now joining the guys, the three head south, each looking for action in sunny Florida.
Our Take: Having learned to crawl and walk, by 1984 indie filmmakers were ready to run. Here Jarmusch leads the charge. A character study about emptiness, disconnect, and the journey for something better. A paradise never found, but one which in an anti-Hollywood sort of way is oddly uplifting in its search.
1985 - AFTER HOURS (Martin Scorese, director) (Geffen/Warner Brothers)
Genre: Dark Comedy
Tagline: When it's after midnight in NYC, you don't have to look for love, laughter, and trouble. They'll find you.
Synopsis: Clean cut, uptown, office geek Paul Hackett meets Marcy Franklin, an off of center, downtown girl one evening at a diner. Rather than spending another lonely night at home, Paul agrees to later hook up with her at her SoHo loft. He soon learns to appreciate his boring but safe life as his one night in SoHo leaves him trapped in an inescapable world revolving around the surreal and the bizarre. One which has Paul tied to an overdose death, an alternative S&M couple, clumsy cat-burglars, angry punk rockers, and a self-important neighborhood patrol seeking to kill Paul.
Our Take: There was a brief moment in time, after the gritty '70s but before the millionaires moved in during the '90s and beyond when SoHo was an eclectic party. Watching Scorsese show a stranger lost inside that party is genius. His frantic camera work, quick inserts and freeze frames work just as well in this kaleidoscopic comedy as they do in any tough-guy, mob flick.
Synopsis: The boring life of a recently divorced, straight laced banker, Charlie Driggs, gets a much needed jolt when he is "kidnapped" by bad girl, Audrey Hankel. Posing as Lulu, she takes Charlie on a wild weekend road trip to her home town in rural Pennsylvania. The fun and games take a violent twist, however, when they come across, Ray Sinclair, Audrey's ex-husband. Ray, an abusive ex-con wants Audrey back and is adamant about taking her. Charlie must decide whether to go back to New York alone, or fight Ray for the chance at going back with Audrey.
Our Take: Starts off feeling a bit like a soft core porn piece. Turns into a romantic comedy. Then, does another 180 and morphs into a thriller. And yet, none of it feels uneven. Demme has all of his actors on point, even the featured extras, who each add to the story. Like Fritz and Paradise, not quite a NY movie, but since it begins and ends here, we'll steal cred for this one too!
1987 - WALL STREET (Oliver Stone, director) (20th Century-Fox)
Tagline: Every dream has a price.
Synopsis: Stockbroker, Bud Fox, hungers to be a billionaire wheeler-and-dealer. He shies away from his working class roots (his father, Carl Fox, is a union leader for Bluestar Airlines) in chasing down his dream, but then uses his dad's inside information on Bluestar in courting a relationship with Gordon Gekko. Gekko, a Wall Street kingpin, invests heavily on Bud's inside info and takes the young stockbroker under his wing. Bud buys into the "greed is good" lifestyle until Gekko's buyout is exposed as simply another corporate raid. One that will leave Bluestar bankrupt. Guilt ridden, Bud must now orchestrate a way to bring Gekko down.
Our Take: Preachy, over the top, often silly, but Stone manages to make it all work and does so in a fun yet still very informative manner. Great in capturing its times and for coining the (unfortunately) timeless "greed is good" Wall Street mantra.
Synopsis: Isabelle Grossman is a single, Jewish girl who spends much of her free time with her grandmother, Ida Kantor. Isabelle also works at a trendy bookstore where she is introduced to Manhattan's upscale, literati. One writer in particular, Anton Maes, catches her eye, but Ida, old school in thinking, is not impressed. Instead, Ida hires a matchmaker for her granddaughter. Many objections later, Isabelle decides to humor her grandmother and meet the man whom she's been matched with, Sam Posner. Although intelligent and good hearted, Sam, a deli owner, is not quite what the arty Isabelle is looking for. Not at first.
Our Take: Shot with late '80s "A-listers" and placed in some generic setting would have made this film forgettable. Instead, Micklin Silver's beautifully understated cast, plus her ability to capture what the Lower East Side was like before the hipster/yuppie invasions makes it a hidden gem. Delancey is a rarity. A romantic comedy which is actually fairly intelligent and achieves its goal of being organically sweet.