Top 10 New York City Movies From My West Coast Point Of View
My love for The Big Apple goes back to my early memories as a little boy and talks with my father. He told me of the most magical city in the world that existed a very long ways from our home in California. It had the tallest buildings in the world that looked like regal giants. It was a city where all of your dreams could come true. That was his New York City.
It quickly became mine too as Dad would sit at the side of my bed and instead of reading a book to me or with me he would tell me stories. The true life recap of his memories as a little boy following the New York Yankees in the 1920’s and 30’s. The most beautiful stadium ever being The House That Ruth Built. And that crown jewel lay in amongst more treasures than could be mentioned from Times Square and the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty. My love and infatuation was forever born and remains steadfast to this day.
I have never been to New York City. I will someday. All of my life I have frequently visited it vicariously through movies. When Jess asked me if I would like to do a Top 10 New York City Movie post my jaw dropped. I was stunned beyond belief yet thrilled and honored past my wildest dreams. It took me quite a while to put it together because I wanted to write it from a very unique perspective. A writing technique I learned a long time ago was to write a story to one person. Well, I wrote this one to the citizens of New York City. No pressure there, huh?
These are my Top 10 New York City Movies of all time. I’ve included trivia questions for each along with the starring actors. My brief synopsis is the unique part in that I describe how I see your city in each specific movie. I included what things I want to see or go do or eat at from specific places that were included in each movie. Then I proposed a question at the end of each so that both myself and anyone visiting your beautiful city can take away and learn from them!
Well, here goes…please enjoy!
10 The French Connection (1971)
Question – To learn about the characters and get into their roles who did Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman go on patrol with for a month?
I always had hoped to eat at Ratner’s on the Lower East Side where Bugsy Siegel used to dine but I heard it closed down some ten years ago. To explore Bushwick and Harlem on foot and eat in long time family eateries. Yet for me the biggest memory of the film was the famous car chase. I would so hope the city would have a real-life fan car ride at speed from the Bay 50th Street Station, under the West End Line and climaxing at Stillwell Avenue and 86th Street. Is the elevated train still in use today and have many of you been to that intersection?
Answer – The real life Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso (both also had cameos) who made the bust. Hackman became disgusted at the sights he saw during this patrol. In one incident he had to help restrain a suspect in the squad car and later worried that he would be sued for impersonating a policeman.
Gene Hackman – Det. Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle
Fernando Rey – Alain Charnier
Roy Scheider – Det. Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo
Eddie Egan – Walt Simonson
Sonny Grosso – Bill Klein
Director William Friedkin
9 Once Upon A Time In America (1984)
Question – To prepare for his role as Noodles who did Robert De Niro request a private meeting with?
Of course, I am going to give a shout out to New York City’s actor poster boy; De Niro. McSorley’s Old Ale House by Saint Mark’s Square would be a must visit and hopefully sit on a bar stool where Abe Lincoln or John Lennon once sat and had a pint. Then I would head over and have a sit on a park bench to admire the Manhattan Bridge at dusk. Is it as romantic as it looks?
Answer – Crime boss Meyer Lansky who denied the request.
Robert De Niro – David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson
James Woods – Maximilian ‘Max’ Bercovicz
Elizabeth McGovern – Deborah Gelly
Joe Pesci – Frankie Manoldi
Burt Young – Joe
Tuesday Weld – Carol
Treat Williams – James Conway O’Donnell
Danny Aiello – Police Chief Vincent Aiello
Richard Bright – Chicken Joe
William Forsythe – Philip ‘Cockeye’ Stein
Jennifer Connelly – young Deborah Gelly
8 Ghostbusters (1984)
Question – Most of the scenes with the Ghostbusters racing around the city and driving in the Ectomobile were done on the first day and without permits. What happens when someone who looks like a possible security guard approaches the vehicle with Dan Aykroyd behind the wheel?
Ahhh, the summer of 1984 was Ghostbusters and the Ray Parker, Jr. mega-hit of the same name. I want to visit Columbia University but I heard the Tavern on the Green has now closed that I also wanted to see. Next would be 55 Central Park West and then the New York Public Library. I would be channeling my inner Venkman, Ray and Spengler by cruising to Lower Manhattan in Tribeca and visit the Hook and Ladder #8 Firehouse. Have you experienced actually going inside and meeting what are said to be the friendly firemen?
Answer – He took off driving and if you look carefully you can see Aykroyd doing his best road rage impression.
Bill Murray – Dr. Peter Venkman
Dan Aykroyd – Dr. Raymond “Ray” Stantz
Sigourney Weaver – Dana Barrett
Harold Ramis – Dr. Egon Spengler
Ernie Hudson – Winston Zeddemore
Rick Moranis – Louis Tully
Annie Potts – Janine Melnitz
Director Ivan Reitman
7 Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Question – What really happened during filming of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge scene?
I saw this movie with my parents because I refused to stop nagging them until they took me. I came out of it with one mindset – to learn how to disco dance and channel my inner Tony Manero. Grand Union supermarket and Fisherman’s Corner no longer exists. I would make my first stop at Phillips Dance Studio on West 7th Street and Bay Parkway. Next, I would have to stop at White Castle Burger on 92nd Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn and Lenny’s Pizza on 1969 86th St in Brooklyn while listening to “Night Fever”. Have any of you been to the bench vista of the Verrazano Bridge located on the Shore Promenade?
Answer – Donna Pescow was not told there was a landing platform a few feet below for Tony, Double-J and Joey. Therefore Donna’s reaction to them falling, and her facial expressions turning from horror and shock to outright anger, were real, and her next line, “YOU FUCKERS!”, was not scripted.
John Travolta – Anthony “Tony” Manero
Karen Lynn Gorney – Stephanie Mangano
Barry Miller – Bobby C.
Joseph Cali – Joey
Director John Badham
6 Manhattan (1979)
Question – At the time Director Woody Allen said one of the best director quotes for a representation of any New York City movie. It is the crux of New York City and the entire foundation of my post. What was it?
There was no way I would do a Top 10 New York City Movie post and neglect neither Woody Allen nor the movie Manhattan. At least not with any expectation to arrive in town and leave in one piece. Finally we get to walk through the Upper East Side, West Side and Midtown. This movie alone would take me a couple of days to fulfill my list! The American Museum of Natural History, Hayden Planetarium, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Staten Island Ferry, the Queensboro Bridge and Park Avenue. Yet again, one I really had looked forward to would have been Elaine’s Restaurant which has now closed. Have you been to either of the museums and did you like them?
Answer – Allen, “I presented a view of the city as I’d like it to be and as it can be today, if you take the trouble to walk on the right streets”.
Woody Allen – Isaac Davis
Diane Keaton – Mary Wilkie
Michael Murphy – Yale Pollack
Mariel Hemingway – Tracy
Meryl Streep – Jill Davis
Director Woody Allen
5 Mean Streets (1973)
Question – Who is the lady closing the window in the very last shot of the movie?
Actually a lot of this movie was shot in Los Angeles (I know….boooo…hissss) but it’s De Niro in a New York City classic. He’s your guy and deserves all of the recognition and accolades from the city in my opinion. I had great visions of wanting to at least check out Volpe’s Bar in NoLita but it’s closed. I will have to make up for it with a walk down Mulberry Street and eating some of the best that Little Italy has to offer. I will wind up my tour with stopping by in respect to St Patrick’s Old Cathedral. Do you visit the restaurants in Little Italy often?
Answer – That is Martin Scorsee’s mother, Catherine.
Harvey Keitel as Charlie
Robert De Niro as Johnny Boy
David Proval as Tony
Amy Robinson as Teresa
David Carradine as Drunk
Robert Carradine as Boy With Gun
Martin Scorsese as Henchman
Director Martin Scorsese
4 Wall Street (1987)
Question – There is an added slant to this trivia question for those paying attention to this year’s Academy Award nominations. When Bud Fox enters Gekko’s Office for the first time and the doors close behind him what can you hear?
This was the first feature film to show a character using a cordless portable phone and wow was I digging Gekko talking on his on the beach at sunrise. Finally I get to cruise down to Times Square which is one of the many iconic tourists attractions to me. Then a pan-seared 16 oz Irish Gaelic Steak in a creamy Irish Whiskey and peppercorn sauce with a McCallan’s 18-year-old malt afterwards at PJ Moran’s in Midtown. Wrap it up with some drinks at 21 Club in Manhattan and that would be a very happy night. Are the views from the apartment and townhouse rooms overlooking the city as breathtaking in real life as they are in the movie?
Answer – You can hear a wolf howl.
Michael Douglas – Gordon Gekko
Charlie Sheen – Bud Fox
Daryl Hannah – Darien Taylor
Martin Sheen – Carl Fox
John C. McGinley – Marvin
Terence Stamp – Sir Larry Wildman
James Karen – Lynch
Hal Holbrook – Lou Mannheim
Sean Young – Kate Gekko
James Spader – Roger Barnes
Director Oliver Stone
3 GoodFellas (1990)
Question – Why did Henry give Paulie the reaction he did upon his release from prison?
A couple more new places for me to visit in Astoria and Red Hook. I wanted to go to Maspeth and eat at the Clinton Diner or Salerono’s but they both appear to be closed. No problem because there is the Hawaii Kai restaurant or a juicy Jackson Hole burger. I would have to make a quick trip to New Rochelle (sorry, a Dick Van Dyke Show lifetime wish) then back to see the George Washington Bridge and the New York County Courthouse. A wrap for the night would be at the legendary Copa on the East Side. I would drift off pretending I was sitting next to any of Jerry and Lewis, Henry Belafonte, The Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Yogi, Mickey and Whitey. That would be a night to remember. Have you been to the Copacabana and was it as it grand as I’ve dreamed it to be?
Answer -Paul Sorvino’s slap across Liotta’s face was completely unscripted and ad-libbed. Hence Liotta’s shock.
Ray Liotta – Henry Hill
Robert De Niro – Jimmy Conway
Joe Pesci – Tommy DeVito
Lorraine Bracco – Karen Hill
Paul Sorvino – Paul Cicero
Samuel L. Jackson – Parnell “Stacks” Edwards
Catherine Scorsese – Tommy DeVito’s mother
Detective Ed Deacy as himself
Charles Scorsese – Vinnie
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ed McDonald as himself
Director Martin Scorsese
2 The Godfather (1972)
Question – What is the American Film Institutes #2 alltime quote?
I had a front row seat to a real life gangster when Joseph Bonanno and his sons were busted for a huge laundering operation right in my hometown of Lodi, California in the mid-70’s. I had seen both The Godfather and the sequel and my intrigue with New York was further heightened. I wanted to know what it was like to walk through Little Italy and Prince’s Bay to get the feeling of what it was like to be in the movie. Is there still a lot of thought to the mafia being active in the city today?
Answer – When Michael says, “My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
Marlon Brando – Vito
Al Pacino – Michael Corleone
James Caan – Santino “Sonny” Corleone
Richard S. Castellano – Peter Clemenza
Robert Duvall – Tom Hagen
Diane Keaton – Kay Adams-Corleone
John Cazale – Frederico “Fredo” Corleone
Talia Shire – Constanzia “Connie” Corleone
Abe Vigoda – Salvatore Tessio
Director Francis Ford Coppola
1 Serendipity (2001)
Question – What is the name of the restaurant where Sara and Jonathan have their drink? What is the drink? And what is now unique about that table where they sat at?
Growing up, my life-seen-through-rose-colored-glasses-mother blessed me with my favorite word ever in my life to this day: serendipity. Add that to my all time #1 bucket list city and you have magic. This movie was all that and more as I fantasized over what it would be like to stay at Waldorf-Astoria Hotel or meet the future love of my life on a winter evening stroll at the 5th Avenue skating rink. It doesn’t hurt that my biggest Hollywood crush, Ms Beckinsale, plays the leading lady. Is New York City as magical and romantic as I’ve always believed it to be?
Answer – That is the famous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate from the restaurant Serendipity 3 and the sitting is now called the Star Table.
John Cusack – Jonathan Trager
Kate Beckinsale – Sara Thomas
Molly Shannon – Eve
Bridget Moynahan – Halley Buchanan
Jeremy Piven – Dean Kansky
John Corbett – Lars Hammond
What do you think is the most iconic New York City movie that represents your city?