In the comment thread for yesterday’s “Hustlers and Fools” riff, which was mainly about Adam Sandler‘s performance in Uncut Gems, “pmn” mentioned that for all their hormonal or mannered sloppiness, directors Josh and Benny Safdie are at the very least “New York filmmakers” in the classic mode, and that this kind of attitudinal persuasion “seems like a dying breed as New York has morphed into a giant strip mall. The Safdies seem to be able to zero in on the last few pockets of character left in the city.”
To which I replied: That’s a significant thing. As the classically scrappy, Sidney Lumet-like depictions of 20th Century Manhattan (urgent, pugnacious, edgy, ethnic, pointed, blunt) are becoming more and more eroded and diluted and sanded down by corporatism and skyrocketing rents, the value of high-personality New York movies like Uncut Gems (which, don’t get me wrong, I found infuriating for its complete lack of interest in exploring anything but how it feels to ride on the back of a gambling edge-junkie tiger)…the ethnic, pushy atmosphere of such films is starting to seem more and more valuable as the social forces, aromas, attitudes and pulsebeats that fed into your classic 20th Century NYC culture are starting to lose more and more of their influence as the corporate, tourist-friendly strip-mall aesthetic creeps in and influences and even to some extent dictates the cultural tone of that town, certainly as far as Manhattan is concerned.
When was New York City really and truly a classic Lumet-like culture? The ‘80s were the last authentic gasp. The corporate clean-up began in the Mayor Giuliani era of the ‘90s. The peak era of feisty Manhattan movies ran from the late ‘40s to late ‘80s.
What are my all-time favorite New York flavor movies? The top two are Lumet’s Prince of the City (’81) and William Friedkin‘s The French Connection (’71). Followed by Sweet Smell of Success, Naked City, Midnight Cowboy, Do The Right Thing, Taxi Driver, Serpico, Manhattan, The Godfather, King of New York, Dog Day Afternoon, Bad Lieutenant, Detective Story, On The Waterfront, Across 110th Street, Shaft, Patterns, Metropolitan, Saturday Night Fever, 12 Angry Men, Marathon Man, After Hours. But NOT West Side Story — too antiseptic and Robert Wise-y. And NOT Fame. And NOT Breakfast at Tiffany’s or The Devil Wears Prada.