Something to peruse between the awards (or as a substitute) for the Oscars:

Curbed asked film critics and our fellow editors to chime in on their favorite movies about cities.

This list includes picks as diverse as the cities they celebrate. There are documentaries and shorts showcasing city life; science fictions and dystopias imagining our sometimes-bleak urban future; and cinematic classics-turned-totems for the places we live and love.

Here’s a selection:

9. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

This John Hughes ditch-day fantasy is arguably one of the most enjoyable movies made about Chicago. And while it’s a love letter to so many signature experiences—Wrigley Field, the Art Institute, posing as the Sausage King of Chicago and singing “Danke Schoen” in a parade—it’s also about as pure an expression of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure cultural magic of exploring a city as you’ll find on film. —P.S.


19. Blade Runner (1982)

The foundation for many sci-fi cityscapes, Blade Runner’s vision of future Los Angeles—dense blocks, corporate temples, and a neon-drenched skyline literally belching flames—is iconic, marrying stunning visuals with Vaneglis’s score. While it’s clear 2019 won’t look anything like the movie predicts, especially the flying car part, the portrait it paints of a grim, crowded city still resonates as a cautionary tale. —P.S.

35. Manhattan (1979)

In Woody Allen’s Manhattan, sophisticated socialites scour New York City’s most famous borough in search of high art and life’s meaning. With booming Gershwin symphonies played over black-and-white film, Manhattan seems to fancy itself a reflection of some foregone golden era of New York City, but, especially given the accusations against Allen, the film ends up portraying the city that never sleeps instead at its most insufferable. —J.A.

63. Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)

Thom Anderson’s masterpiece is made up of over 200 clips from other films, all of which represent, or misrepresent, Los Angeles in some way. After a decade-long copyright battle, the recently remastered documentary—now a legally tight example of fair use— is available to stream in all its 170-minute glory. —A.W.


67. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1979)

William H. Whyte’s look at the everyday activity of public space plays like an early nature documentary. By filming interactions in New York City’s parks and plazas, Whyte and his team brought data and analysis to bear on how planners shape our urban environment. It may seem quaint now, but this film, and the research that informed it, revolutionized how we design urban space. —P.S.


73. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

A visual meditation on the environment without narrative or characters, this experimental documentary captures our planet spinning out of balance. Driven by a pulsating Philip Glass score, the film contrasts the natural world with tense, frantic, time-lapse shots of urban life, what director Godfrey Reggio called “the beauty and the beast.” —P.S.


78. The Fountainhead (1949)

Ayn Rand’s individualist manifesto makes a compelling presence on screen, thanks to both Gary Cooper’s performance as an unbending architectural genius amid meeker men, and the sleek German Expressionist set design. Many architects in real life have played the part of a spoiled and self-righteous creative genius; this film just does tortured artist with better production value. —P.S.


88. Wall-E (2008)

One of Pixar’s greatest cartoons, Wall-E manages to be a both a wordless love story and science fiction social commentary. That’s commendable range for the main character, a solar-powered trash compactor. Even more impressive, the film manages to be a parable about conserving planetary resources and the potentially tragic outcomes of over-reliance on smart home technology. P.S.



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