Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Top 10 Shots of the World Trade Center Post-9/11

An odd feeling comes over me when I see the World Trade Center towers appear in a contemporary film. It’s anxiousness that is (hopefully) replaced with welcomed nostalgia. The 10 films below are the finest examples I’ve found of such remembrance. This list did not consider documentary footage of the attacks or any film released prior to 9/11. All new films, all graced by a tasteful hand.


10. Winged Migration (2001)
The filmmakers behind the fascinating documentary Winged Migration spent four years flying with birds on all seven continents. The film is full of mesmerizing images that remain utterly spellbinding, but my favorite will always be the Canada geese flying high next to the towers. It’s so quietly powerful.

9. Spider-Man (2002)

By the time marketing materials for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man began showing up, America was in a very delicate state. A poster featuring images of the towers was pulled, as was a special shoot trailer that featured Spidey catching a helicopter full of thieves in a web between the towers. But in the final film, the studio made the wise choice to let filmed images of the towers stay in, namely the quick reflection of the buildings in Spidey’s eyes.

8. Sidewalks of New York (2001)

Edward Burns’ Sidewalks of New York premiered at the Toronto Film Festival just three days before the attacks. Its theatrical release was ultimately delayed until November, but from the film’s first scene, in which Burns’ character talks to the camera as the towers stand proudly behind him, Burns made it clear that he had no intention of hiding. The stamp of a proud New Yorker, through and through.

7. World Trade Center (2006)

I love the mundaneness of this shot. It’s just a guy going to work. He doesn’t stare at the towers, because he sees them all the time. He just stands and waits, completely unaware of the horrible day he’s about to have.

6. Munich (2005)

Steven Spielberg could’ve set the final scene of his masterful Munich anywhere in New York City, but he wisely chose a park overlooking downtown Manhattan. As the camera pans and Eric Bana walks out of frame, we see the towers in all their glory. A rather beautiful sight to behold.

5. 25th Hour (2002)

This is a bit of a cheat, as the opening credits of Spike Lee’s 25th Hour don’t show the actual towers themselves. Instead, we’re given a bravado sequence of the striking blue lights that stood tall in the absence of the towers. Leave it to Spike Lee to prove immediately that he isn’t shying away from anything.

4. Vanilla Sky (2001)

Here’s Cameron Crowe’s explanation as to why the towers can be seen in the final sequence of his film: “That’s what we filmed. It was filmed about a year before the tragic incident that removed them. And I didn’t want to remove them again.”

Well said, good sir.

3. Gangs of New York (2002)

Martin Scorsese is one of our proudest and most famous New Yorkers. In the wake of 9/11, he released an epic retelling of his city’s origins entitled Gangs of New York. It’s a big movie with big ambitions, but it’s greatest accomplishment is its final shot, in which we watch New York come alive through a series of slow fades. Each new shot lasts five seconds (with four second bookended transitions), but the final shot, in which the towers loom from afar, is held a little longer than the rest. This is Scorsese’s New York, and I can’t help but admire in awe.

2. United 93 (2006)

Much of the visceral impact of Paul Greengrass’ United 93 is the way the movie makes you feel like you’re seeing things for the first time. The image of Flight 175 crashing into the south tower is an image of terror forever synonymous with our time. But when I first watched Greengrass’ film, I felt a terrifying sense of novelty as I watched a handful of guys in a control room watch Flight 175 crash into the South Tower. Their radar shows that the plane is going dangerously fast and rapidly dropping altitude. Then one guy spots the plane coming in from the south. They stare in horror and wait for the inevitable.

1. Man on Wire (2008)

The main point of this list was to showcase tasteful images of one of America’s darkest days. Whether those images were achieved through digital effects or just sheer audacity, I was determined to not highlight documentary footage as a way of making my point.

But I just can’t help myself.

The first time I saw Man on Wire marks one of the most significant movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. When Philippe Petit finally stepped out onto the wire he had strung up between the two towers, the people occupying the sold out theater I was sitting in didn’t dare make a sound. Instead, we listened as Erik Satie’s “GymnopĂ©die No.1” gracefully played over the soundtrack, and we watched as a man did the impossible. He did the impossible, and he did it with glee. He reminded us that this site was once a location for joy and celebration. It reminded us that, for at least one group of people, the World Trade Center towers will always be remembered fondly. Sure, this footage was shot decades before the attacks, but never have the towers stood taller or more elegant than they do in this film.

22 comments:

  1. Seeing the WTC in film still has an impact, even in films made years or decades before 2001. I recently re-watched Wall Street and, not surprisingly, it shows up several times. You can't help but feel like a piece of that world died and was replaced something even colder and more morally bankrupt.

    Spike Lee's 25th Hour is a great film for many other reasons, but its opening perfectly sets the tone for the elegiac film that follows. It isn't a film that's about 9/11 per se, but it feels like a post-9/11 film. And, unlike a few of these other films, the WTC's presence didn't feel forced. (I thought its use in Gangs of New York felt oddly stilted and perfunctory--but that's just my impression from my last viewing quite a few years ago.) The WTC loss was a part of 25th Hour's milieu, baked into the DNA of the film and not just a passing emotional touchstone.

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    1. I agree with the final sentence of your first graph... it's really a damn shame that that is the case right now.

      And, of course, I love what you said about 25th Hour. Couldn't agree more. I adore that film.

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  2. For me, Man on Wire is the best of those post-9/11 films and images along with all of those picks though I have mixed reactions towards Munich while I just simply didn't like World Trade Center. I did love that final shot in Gangs of New York since it is about NYC in all of its greatness.

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    1. Man on Wire really spends chills down my spine, in the best possible way. Isn't that GoNY final shot amazing?

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  3. The music during the final scene of Gangs of New York was damn powerful, too. You go, Bono! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSGftwq-RVo

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    1. Great, great track. Although, I prefer the song it lost the Oscar to ;)

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  4. Very interesting list, I don't think I would've thought of a list like this. A varied series of films - love 25th Hour (thanks again for that great rec.) the most of the bunch on here.

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    1. Yeah I don't know how this one popped into my head. I think I saw a shot of the towers in Made, and then I came up with the list idea. Made was released a few months before 9/11, but those towers... they still loom large.

      So glad you liked 25th Hour.

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  5. I would have had that other shot from 25th Hour on my list.

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    1. I thought about it, but that ultimately felt cheap to me.

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  6. Nice list! I didn't care for United 93 as a whole, but those scenes in the control room were by far the best and very hard to watch. I still like seeing the twin towers pop up in films here and there. It reminds me of when I was a kid, and Stick Stickly was on Nickelodeon, and they did this whole thing where he's looking for his long lost twin brother (or something) and he finds him at the twin towers. I always think of that memory when I see them. (Yes, I know it's weird)

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    1. Thanks! United 93 is a damn tough film. Very purposeful, very stylized. So I can understand why you wouldn't fully go for it. Hey, I don't think anything is weird about nostalgia. Who's to judge what we like and remember?

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  7. Man on Wire is a perfect choice for #1. It is such a great movie and loving tribute.

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    1. Really glad you agree. I cherish that film.

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  8. I was never really aware of the WTC before that day. I'd never paid it any attention. It was just two big towers in the middle of the city. Now it's impossible not to notice whenever it's in film or TV. I see the shots of it in things like Friends and think how did I not really notice it before? It's great to see it still in film both old and new! I'm just glad Remember Me isn't on this list.

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    1. My Remember Me review is one of the most scathing I've ever written. I always try to keep things even keeled on this blod, but that movie was so damn offensive. Yuck. Glad you're not a fan either!

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  9. Great list. I forgot about the 25th Hour one, which is brilliant. That might actually top my list.

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    1. Thanks man. I love that opening sequence. So special.

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  10. Great to see that scene from 25th Hour made it in, such masterful imagery from a proud New Yorker like Lee. That opening sequence makes me yearn for the chance to film something that powerful, my God. Although I'm not fond of World Trade Center, I doubt anyone would contest how visually strong that film is, that shot is wonderful. There's a level of heart wrenching in Spider-Man, it's like a cut being reopened but there's a goodness there, an aspiration to rise from the rubble. Raimi's Spidey flicks get a lot of flack but if there's one thing they are through and through, it's American in the best possible way.

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    1. I love what you said about WTC, and Raimi's Spider-Man flicks, for that matter. WTC really is gorgeous, and the Spider-Man flicks, while not flawless, are definitely rooted deeply to America. There's a personality to those films that the new one lacked.

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  11. My favourite on your list would have to be Gangs of New York. I always tear up at the end. The song "The Hands that Built America," mixed with the changing scenes of New York, and then the image of the towers, just moved me beyond words.

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    1. Such a great shot, scored to a great, great song. A stroke of mastery from a master.

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