Six movies with urban settings—from east to west
Gangs of New York (2002)
Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz lead a stellar cast in this gritty, vividly violent story of old New York. Set in the 1860s Five Points district of lower Manhattan—an area ruled by various clans and gangs—this Martin Scorsese film is still strikingly relevant today. Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis) leads a gang whose malevolent intent is to prevent the entry of immigrants, preferably by force. Intensely directed and solidly acted.
Miami Blues (1990)
Long before Alec Baldwin impersonated the President and hosted salacious game shows, he was often cast as a pretty yet rugged leading man. Miami Blues is definitely not one of those movies. In this dark comedy with criminal overtones, Baldwin plays an unrepentant con-man and thief devoid of any moral compass. When he overpowers the cop (Fred Ward) pursuing him—taking his gun, badge and false teeth—he sets off on a one-man crime spree. Baldwin is strangely charismatic in this rather ugly role.
A controversial Oscar winner (too lightweight, said the critics), this musical movie based on the Kander and Ebb Broadway hit re-creates the feverish, tawdry intensity of Jazz Age Chicago. Focused on two women (Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones) accused of murder and their publicity-hound attorney (Richard Gere), the film is an indictment of our obsession with celebrity, but it’s also a rollicking, tune-filled good time. In smaller yet crucial roles, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, and Christine Baranski are all as good as the movie’s stars.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
A more conventional, literally old-fashioned MGM movie musical, Meet Me in St. Louis is unabashedly sentimental and innocent. Following the lives of the Smith family in the days leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair, Vincent Minnelli’s well-crafted movie hits all the notes you want and expect from a vintage musical: romantic, sweet, wistful, melodramatic. The score, mostly by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin, includes the classic holiday song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” sung by a dew-eyed Judy Garland.
L.A. Confidential (1987)
Based on a James Ellroy novel, this taut 1950s crime thriller helped launch the careers of its stars, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe. The pair play very different kinds of cops (one earnest, one brutish) who eventually unite to face down the labyrinthine political corruption rampant in the City of Angels. The rat-a-tat screenplay by director Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland won an Oscar, as did the performance of Kim Basinger as a prostitute look-alike of Veronica Lake.
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
After the untimely death of his beloved wife, architect Sam (Tom Hanks) and his precocious 8-year-old son Jonah (Ross Malinger) head to Seattle to start over. But Sam is still sadly stuck in the past. Jonah calls a radio advice show, which starts a fateful process to bring Sam together with unfulfilled reporter Annie (Meg Ryan). Briskly directed by Norah Ephron (who also co-wrote the screenplay), this charming and funny film succeeds on the appeal of its two stars, who are only brought together at the very end. The movie also features a delightful score with vintage songs performed by a disparate group: Harry Connick, Dr. John, Jimmy Durante, Gene Autry and Carly Simon.
And a shot…
Their Finest (2016) Screening Aug. 11 – 13 at Theatre N.
Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and Bill Nighy are three unlikely compatriots brought together during the London Blitz to make inspiring propaganda films to boost the spirits of the British public. Directed by Lone Scherfig, the film beautifully depicts the tense juxtaposition of daily life in the midst of imminent danger and loss. Both the war backdrop and the stiff-upper-lip British resolve are familiar cinematic tropes, but the story and character still resonate. For a full schedule and more information, go to theatren.com.