9 Recent Movies That will Transport You to Pre-Pandemic NYC

9 Recent Movies That will Transport You to Pre-Pandemic NYC
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Do you ever find yourself watching a new-ish movie in 2021 and all you can think is whoa, no one is wearing masks! Then it registers: The movie is from two or three years ago, when the pandemic wasn’t yet a thing and no one could’ve imagined how we live now.

A year into this mess, it still happens to me quite often. But once the shock wears off, I appreciate the chance to remember walking outside and taking a deep breath, when you could travel through the city that never sleeps before it turned into the city that goes to sleep at 9 p.m. Here are nine films that will take you back to pre-pandemic New York City and make you feel like you’re right back there, breathing in that dank subway air.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

When you think of New York superheroes, Peter Parker’s Spider-Man probably comes first to mind (closely followed by Brooklyn’s own Captain America). Almost any Spidey film will deliver a nice dose of NYC scene-setting, but when you feel nostalgic about visiting the Big Apple, Tom Holland’s first starring turn in the role in Spider-Man: Homecoming is a perfect (live-action) choice.

The film offers a down-to-earth portrayal of city life, complete with colourful neighbourhood characters. (Spider-Man experiences a classic New York moment while chatting with the hot dog stand guy who shouts at him to “do a flip.”) Holland famously attended Bronx High School of Science in preparation for the role, giving himself some experience before attempting to embody an authentic New York City kid.

Where to watch: Netflix

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

For being animated, the NYC of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse never feels less than authentic. Like his alter-egos in a parallel dimension, high school kid Miles Morales is bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him a unique set of arachnid abilities, and Morales swings through an animated cityscape that’ll make you yearn for the ceaseless energy of New York City.

What sets this movie landscape apart from Spider-Man: Homecoming is that it is set in an alternate dimension. If you look closely, you will see ads for “Koca-Soda’’ instead of Coca-Cola — subtle hints that this is not the NYC we know. Yet even though it’s another dimension, seeing Morales run through the city dodging yellow cabs gives that same NYC feel.

Where to watch: Digital rental

On the Rocks

The first ten minutes of Sophia Coppola’s On the Rocks bleeds a certain type of New York City living, from the Strand bookstore canvas bags to the multiple scenes of characters trying to schedule coffee dates. This Apple TV+ original stars Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, and Bill Murray. Jones plays Laura, married to Dean, whom she suspects is having an affair; when she airs her suspicions to her dad (played by Murray) he takes the opportunity to act as her own private P.I., and the two set off on a journey around Manhattan trying to prove Dean’s guilt or innocence.

Despite her fabulous apartment, Laura is portrayed as a loving mum in the city, rushing around taking kids to school and to “mummy and me” classes. When you see her youngest hurl her sippy cup to the ground on the side of the street, you are immediately reminded of life in the city before COVID. (Today, that sippy cup would be thrown into the incinerator.) From kids touching all the elevator buttons to awkward New York office parties, you will be fully transported to before-the-pandemic times.

Where to watch: Apple TV+

To All the Boys: Always and Forever

Laura Jean and Peter Kavinsky are growing up. In the third instalment of the To All the Boys trilogy, our lovebirds are celebrating their final year of high school and contemplating how college may change their lives. On a senior trip to NYC, Laura Jean is faced with a big decision when she experiences the pull of the city for the first time.

To All the Boys: Always and Forever takes you on a tourist trip throughout Manhattan. Classic shots of Rockefeller Centre, the Empire State Building, and a stroll through Washington Square Park give you the sensation of being on vacation yourself. Manhattan is through Laura Jean’s eyes, as she falls in love with the sort of city nightlife that sadly doesn’t quite exist in 2021.

Where to watch: Netflix

Ocean’s 8

The Met Gala, New York’s biggest annual celebrity event, provides the backdrop for the latest Ocean’s film. Sandra Bullock stars as Danny Ocean’s heretofore unknown sister Debbie Ocean (who has apparently inherited the family heist gene.) With her number two, Lou (Cate Blanchett) by her side, Ocean plans to commit the ultimate heist; stealing a rare necklace from around the throat of Gala chairwoman Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) during the famed ball. The two women then take you on a tour of Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn recruiting members for their crew. Oceans 8 allows you to explore the nooks and crannies of NYC before showing you it at its most glamorous and opulent.

Where to watch: Netflix

Soul

Soul explores the afterlife through the untimely passing of hopeful Jazz musician Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx). Gardner is a jazz teacher in New York City who has been waiting for his big break for the better part of 30 years. After his unexpected death, his soul risks everything to get back to earth and make it to a career-changing gig.

Soul’s animation nails New York, from the street scenes, to the pizza, to the fictional jazz club “The High Note,” which nods to the famous Blue Note in Greenwich Village. This animated city feels truly authentic — you will also visit a salon in Harlem, and Gardner meets his demise by falling into an open manhole on a construction site. What is more classic New York City than that?

Where to watch: Disney+

Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner a New York jeweller whose addiction to gambling gets him into some… complicated situations. The trouble in this film starts when he receives a rare gem and loans it to famous basketball player Kevin Garnett, ably playing himself.

You’ll experience the not-so-flashy side of New York’s diamond district, as Ratner spends the rest of the film running around New York trying to retrieve his gem and settle his many scores. At one point, goons throw Ratner into the reflecting pool and fountain at Rockefeller Centre, a known tourist destination.

It’s exciting to see the sites you remember… and also incredibly stress-inducing. Uncut Gem’s nonstop energy emulates the magnetic, manic thrill (and hints of danger) of a night in New York City.

Where to watch: Netflix

If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk, based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, tells the tragic love story between Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James). The film explores Black love set amid the thriving Harlem scene of the 1970s. We are taken through time as Rivers recalls the couple’s relationship before Fonny was convicted of a crime he did not commit. You’ll experience many different faces of New York when watching this film, not all of them pretty: from the history of Black excellence in Harlem to the truly devastating racism of NYC policing.

Where to watch: Netflix

21 Bridges

Chadwick Boseman stars as Detective Andre Davis, who is tasked with apprehending criminals suspected of killing New York City police officers. The title references the bridges that link the outer boroughs and New Jersey to the Empire City. Davis shuts down the connecting bridges in an attempt to keep the suspects from leaving the island of Manhattan. You’re then taken on a suspenseful ride around the city that will raise your heart rate faster than a trip across town in a yellow cab; there’s a lot of stop and go, and being cut off by angry drivers is only the half of it.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

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