Not every American city has an origin myth like Las Vegas does, and if you love Sin City, you’ll dig Bugsy, a too-serious Barry Levinson–Warren Beatty tribute to Vegas-planning, psychopath gangster Bugsy Siegel. If you don’t agree that Vegas was worth all of the angst, the money, and the bodies in the desert, you’re not going there, anyway. With Annette Bening, who became Mrs. Beatty.
Michael Mann’s epic tale of cops and robbers, Heat weaves multiple stories into its Robert De Niro–Al Pacino “last of the hard men” struggle, but it is also very much an L.A. story; the city is captured in all its smoggy sprawl, glamour, economic disparity, freeway craziness, and industry. Likewise, Mann’s Collateral (2004) hits the same note (while driving around with Tom Cruise’s contract killer and Jamie Foxx’s cabbie), but with a difference: because it’s shot in digital video, you see the lit city at night, partially illuminated by smog-reflected neon, like never before. With Val Kilmer.
The most New Orleans–ified film ever made, The Big Easy is tipsy on everything that made the pre-Katrina hub famous: sunlit bayous, dancing at Tipitina’s, voodoo in Storyville, Mardi Gras floats, institutional corruption, and an overall Cajun flavor so palpable you can taste the pepper in the gumbo. In addition to providing an authentic N’Awlins feel and foot-tapping creole-Cajun-zydeco soundtrack, this flavorful Jim McBride movie also offers Dennis Quaid’s irresistible grin (in its way as life-loving as the city’s reputation), and a foreplay scene (with Ellen Barkin) that just doesn’t quit, no matter how many repeated viewings (ahem) some of us may sneak.
Was New York at its New Yorkest in the 1950s? Woody Allen’s painfully lovely small-time showbiz ballad, Broadway Danny Rose features Allen’s low-rung talent agent, Mia Farrow’s floozy, and Nick Apollo Forte’s comeback-kid lounge singer, all mixing it up in a 1950s-ish world of nightclubs, back offices, liaison flats, and very real spots 275 | us ness r p V like the Carnegie Deli. So flavorsome it makes most of Allen’s other New York movies seem generic
A great American city—decaying tourist trap, haven for lowlife, repository of dreams, schizophrenic, gentrified-neglected mess—is the backdrop to Louis Malle’s Atlantic City, which largely involves a romance of sorts between dapper has-been septuagenarian Burt Lancaster and casino trainee Susan Sarandon.
Vertigo is San Francisco’s house movie, so famously entangled in the city’s landmarks that for years now, tourists have easily found guided tours of the places featured in the film, in the order in which they’re seen. Of course, the substance of the film is something else—James Stewart, two Kim Novaks, a ghost, a fear of heights, and a psychosexual obsession so subtly but clearly delineated by director Alfred Hitchcock that this film remains one of the most perverse in Hollywood history.