You might know documentary filmmaker and native New Yorker Nicolas Heller from his thriving Instagram account @newyorknico. The self-professed talent scout of New York, his page is comprised mostly of clips documenting the city’s most original characters, many of whom greet him with a genial “get the fuck outta here.” Despite the slick and often irreverent nature of his page, Nico has a real empathy for the subjects he portrays, and his longer-form projects—most notably Big Mike Takes Lunch, a cinematic tribute to Astor Place Hairstylists’ Michael Salviello—are rendered with humanity and a nostalgia for a bygone New York City. Nico’s latest project is a separate account, aptly named @notnotnewyorknico, dedicated to ranking every New York movie ever made, complete with a thumbnail and meta-score. Of course, a list this comprehensive is sure to draw ire from the would-be critics of Instagram, a fact of which Nico is very much aware. “This is all super subjective,” he tells me. “I’m not the god of New York cinema. I’m just one person with an opinion.” Nico caught up Interview on his first batch of films—the good, the bad, and the criminally overrated.
DAVID POTTERS: Really, every New York movie?
NEW YORK NICO: Every New York movie, to give every one a fair shot.
NICO: It’ll take a lifetime, but it’s also kind of cool because it makes the project never-ending. It’s going to go on forever. Literally forever.
POTTERS: A lot of these movies have appeared on best-of lists before—how hard is it to watch a movie objectively that’s already been deemed canonical?
NICO: It’s actually been really difficult, especially because I’ve been making this list public. If I give something a bad rating, it doesn’t matter what it is. There will always be people commenting, “This is such a bullshit rating,” blah, blah, blah. But it’s even worse when it’s a classic film that I’m supposed to love but I’m not feeling it too much. Then I post it on my page and I just get fucking reamed.
POTTERS: So far, any major disappointments? Anything grossly overrated?
NICO: I actually watched this film right before I started my list, so fortunately I don’t have to rate it because if I rated this film how I wanted to rate it, I would be obliterated. But I will tell you: I watched Wall Street for the first time, and I hated it. I hated it. Couldn’t care less about the characters, the story… if it was up to me, I’d give it like a 5.2. But fortunately I don’t have to address that for a while. Another good example of that is Mean Streets. I’m a huge Scorsese fan. Taxi Driver is my favorite New York movie at this point. Obviously Goodfellas, After Hours, King of Comedy. And I’d watched Mean Streets years ago, so I didn’t feel like I could give it a good rating. Then I watched it again recently and I really didn’t see what was special about it. The story didn’t do it for me. I found it boring. And again, it was before I started doing the list, so I didn’t have to rate it. But I know that if I rated it what I wanted to rate it, I would get destroyed. What else is overrated? Oh, I didn’t really like Saturday Night Fever.
POTTERS: What about widely-known films that you consider underrated?
NICO: The most underrated New York film of all time is Good Time by the Safdie brothers. That’s in my top five. It’s just an all-around perfect film in my eyes. An amazing story that keeps you guessing after every scene, and acting that makes you think, “How the fuck did the director get that performance?” I really like Pride and Glory, which was a crooked cop film with Edward Norton and Collin Farrell. We Own the Night was really good. I think that one did all right, but I feel like it should get a little bit more credit. After Hours is one of my favorite New York movies, and no one really talks about that.
POTTERS: Any hidden gems?
NICO: I watched The Drop with Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini. It came out in 2014, and it was the last movie that James Gandolfini was in. I thought it was amazing, and I had never even heard of it. I watched Hi, Mom! yesterday, which was one of de Palma’s first movies and one of Robert de Niro’s first movies, and that was amazing. And I’m shocked that I hadn’t really heard anybody speak about it prior to me watching it. That’s a really good one. Oh, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead—that one was great. Also, A Most Violent Year.
POTTERS: Will the list ever make it off of Instagram?
NICO: A lot of people have requested that I do some sort of screening or festival, and I was actually talking about that today with a friend of mine who has a really great space. I think over the summer we’re going to schedule some screenings along with Q and A’s with the filmmakers and other cool stuff like that.
POTTERS: Could be the next Tribeca…
NICO: I don’t know if I would be the one to do that. But who knows?