Saturday, September 03, 2011

When Cities Become Supporting Characters in Film

I’m headed to the Big Apple this weekend to take in a little tennis at the U.S. Open. My imminent trip got me thinking about films that pay tribute to cities by featuring them predominantly as though they’re another character. One filmmaker who comes immediately to mind as one whose films are often linked to their locales is Woody Allen. Allen has used New York City as the locale of several films like Manhattan, Annie Hall and Bullets Over Broadway. London was the backdrop for Match Point and Scoop, and Spain the locale for Vicky Christina Barcelona. His film Midnight in Paris was shot in, well, Paris.

Allen’s films are typically philosophical, dialogue-heavy and character-driven, but they’re also odes to the cities in which they take place. Allen’s films almost capture the tangibility of the place they’re in and they’re beautifully shot so that you almost feel, as you watch the film, that you’ve been taken there. Sometimes it’s not the acting or the directing that make a movie, but the cinematography and the scenery that captures the imagination of moviegoers and leaves a lasting impression. Movie locales can play so powerful a role that thinking of the movie taking place in any other location would compromise the overall effect of the film.

Here are a few notable films which capture cities unforgettably.

Ghostbusters – New York

Fargo - Minnesota

Lost in Translation – Tokyo

L.A. Confidential – 1950’s L.A.

Y tu Mama Tambien – Mexico City

Slumdog Millionaire – Mumbai

Angels and Demons – Vatican City

Stealing Beauty – Tuscany

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - London

Before Sunrise – Vienna

The Departed – Boston

Milk – San Francisco

In which films do you think cities have been well captured? Let us know in the comments section.


  1. Night and the City - London
    The Third Man - Vienna
    Zodiac - San Francisco
    Bullitt - San Fancsico

  2. Anonymous12:25 pm

    the Coen brothers use of Minnesota as a character of sorts in "Fargo" is amazing. That movie is brilliant and alot of that is due in big part to the landscape and its incorporation into the movie.

  3. Chloe - Toronto
    Six Degrees of Separation - New York
    The Score - Montreal
    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Las Vegas
    Ferris Bueller's Day Off - Chicago
    Short Cuts - Los Angeles

  4. Warsaw - The Decalogue
    Krakow/Paris - The Double Life of Veronique
    Tokyo - Lost In Translation
    Brooklyn - Do The Right Thing
    Toronto - Exotica (though in a far different way than Chloe)

  5. TrishZ9:31 am

    Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain - Paris
    (though apparently the interior shots were filmed in studio in Germany)

  6. TrishZ9:35 am

    Oh! and also...

    Blade Runner - L.A. :)

  7. Some movies do exploit the city, using their beauty. Just posted the film locations I would like to visit. Some of them are :

    The Beach - Phi Phi Island, Thailand
    Rio (animation) - Rio de Janeiro
    Mamma Mia - Greece

  8. Lots of great locations cited - thanks everyone! I also thought of:

    Gone Baby Gone/The Town - Boston
    Rear Window - New York
    In Bruges - Bruges

  9. Cedar Rapids - Cedar Rapids.

    Just kidding, I have no idea - haven't seen it yet.

    Dig the idea for the post, though. You and CS nailed most of the ones I'd mention - the glaring omission for me was Ferris Bueller, which is practically tourism ad for Chicago.

    For a new addition, how about Drive >> L.A.?

  10. @ Dylan - I hadn't heard of Cedar Rapids. Googled it though, and I might have to check it out.

    I'm glad you like the post idea. Ah yes, Ferris Bueller does showcase Chicago well. Good one!

  11. Anonymous2:22 pm

    Collateral Damage - L.A
    Lost in translation - Tokyo
    Frantic - Paris
    When Harry met Sally -NY
    Ronin - French cities


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