I'm Shipping Up to Boston: Films Set In Manchester By The Sea's Locale
This year, three of the front runners for the Academy Awards and the TFS Awards are movies whose locations are as important to the movie as the story, cinematography, directors and production artists. As we get to the finish line of awards seasons, we wanted to highlight some other great movies from Miami (Moonlight), Boston (Manchester By The Sea) and Los Angeles (La La Land). Today, we look at a range of contemporary stories set in the historic, culturally-rich city that is Boston.
Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller Shutter Island is quiet, mysterious, and very fun. The claustrophobic atmosphere is the perfect setting for this moody, eerie film. The rocky seas, the dangerous landscape, and the labyrinth hospital provide an unsettling environment. Scorsese uses New England’s overcast setting as a metaphor throughout the film, the harshness keeping the characters captive and in limbo. The movie keeps a small scale, and is scary both viscerally and internally. Shutter Island is akin to The Age of Innocence or Bringing Out the Dead. It can be called “minor Scorsese”; It’s not as bombastic as Goodfellas or The Wolf of Wall Street, nor as iconic as Taxi Driver, and not even as spiritually arresting as Silence or The Last Temptation of Christ. But it’s still an elegant thriller, with some beautifully directed set pieces and measured performances from its star cast. This film came out in February of 2010, after its funding for an Oscar campaign fell through; but it capitalized on it’s release date to become one of Scorsese’s best all time box office performers.. It’s a twisty movie with a shining lead performance from Leonardo Dicaprio. Shutter Island finds that balance between arty and commercial that Scorsese hits every time.
- Manish Mathur
Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007)
Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (a particularly prolific author when it comes to great adaptations of his work), Gone Baby Gone is the fourth collaboration between the local boys made good that are the Afflecks. It's Ben's second directing effort, a dark and depressing drama set in the seedy underbelly of Boston, where everybody knows everybody's business and the people aren't all that willing to lend a hand to an amateur private eye played by Casey, who more than impresses in his best role to date. Boston is the perfect setting for an extra dark and depressing crime story. The streets have a particular grungy feel and the downtrodden looks on the faces of passersby only add to the mystery. Doubly so on Amy Ryan, who earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her brilliant portrayal of a neglectful mother in a bad situation. There are no easy answers to be found in Gone Baby Gone's bleak world. By the end you are wondering if the right choices have been made or if anything is going to be ok at all. They probably haven't, and it probably won't, but everybody has to live with that pit in their stomach that you get when you realize that things could have been different.
- Marcus Irving
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)
Boston is such a unique city—it can feel both big and intimate. The city feels like a tight-knit community, even when you get further from the heart of the city. Tom McCarthy’s film Spotlight, winner of the 2016 Best Picture Oscar, really nails the “everyone knows everyone” vibe. Spotlight finds a way to honor that sense of neighborly love, while criticizing how that closeness can lead to cycles of oppression. Spotlight takes on the Catholic Church as an institution that needs to be known as wholesome, loving, and welcoming. And silence is required for the Church to keep up that veneer. The film doesn’t take the easy way out, by creating a vicious takedown of Boston and its tarnished history of abuse. Instead, the film is about the heroic journalism team and their devotion to keeping Boston safe. Their tireless efforts, working in everyday Boston locations captured by McCarthy’s sensible, understated camera, call to mind Boston’s famous resilience and love for the community. Spotlight reminds you that humanity and courage can be found even when corrupt power threatens to envelop an entire community. It is a paean to good people doing honorable, painstaking work for the greater good.
- Manish Mathur
Fever Pitch (2005, The Farrelly Brothers)
Boston is a nexus of suffering. Nearly half of their self identified religious population are Catholic, which I can personally verify is a religion based on suffering. New England seems rooted in the puritanical joy that can only be found in deep rooted deprivation of happiness. The winters are awful, and I’m told the summer isn’t much better. And no movie distills the essence of New England suffering more than .. Fever Pitch. There’s a few things about Boston in 2017 that don’t compare to Boston 2004; unprecedented sporting success and ‘underdog’ Jimmy Fallon amongst those. And it’s hilarious to consider a big four sport allowing one of their premier games to delayed at a pivotal time for the sake of a movie shoot. But when you suspend those moments that seem silly or impossible now, you still have a breezy portrait of a new relationship that takes root amongst a summer at the ballpark, paralleled by the erratic emotional swings of Red Sox fandom. It’s this distillation of modern New England anxiety and suffering, based around the frivolity of sports and the rom-com, that’s disarming and has your rooting for a victory, for Ben (Jimmy Fallon) and Lindsey (Drew Barrymore), or for the Red Sox, no matter how unlikely their chances are. It’s escapism in the face of despair is something most Boston set films don’t display, and it highlights the modern crown jewel, Fenway Park, with the same reverence other films showcase the capitol dome.
- Nick Isaac
The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
Martin Scorsese won his first Oscar for Best Director in 2006, for The Departed. Since then, some would have called this win a “make up” for all the times he’s been nominated and should’ve won. Sure, The Departed may not be his best, but it’s without a doubt expertly directed by one of the greatest to ever stand behind the camera. Among the film’s many successes is just how Boston it is. Scorsese spent years making films set in New York — from Taxi Driver to Goodfellas — yet, he made the move to Boston look like he grew up there. It’s thanks to the script by William Monahan, which is adapted from the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. It’s a tale as old as time, one of duplicity among cops and robbers, but what elevates it is the city that — I’m so sorry to say this — acts like a character of its own. The film starts with a quick history lesson about the Irish in Boston, as told by mob boss Frank Costello, played by an over-the-top-doesn’t-even-begin-to-describe-it perfomance by Jack Nicholson. Each and every cast member goes for the accent; Massachusetts natives Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg inhabit roles they were born to play, while Leonardo DiCaprio and Alec Baldwin give some of the best performances of their career. They entire cast fully commits in what turns out to be a film all about the Irish, religion, death, love, murder, Dropkick Murphys needle drops, and most importantly Boston itself.
- Marcelo Pico
The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
This entry feels a bit like cheating, as David Fincher's Facebook movie spans a number of locations across the United States (and beyond). But much of its first half is concentrated on the Harvard campus where Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) slowly but surely puts together the website that will one day revolutionize the entire Internet and person-to-person communication as we know it. From the opening title sequence onward, in which we follow Zuckerberg home after his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) splits with him for being too egocentric, the autumnal academic setting comes into full focus here, one that is shot with such richness and precision that viewers may look back at their own time spent in higher academia.