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The Village Backdrops of Oscar-Winning Films

Originally broadcast through radio in 1929, the Academy Awards have evolved over time to become one of the most anticipated award ceremonies in the world. A trademark of Hollywood, the event has always been hosted in Los Angeles, California, an area where many of the nominated films were made and nominated actors reside. However, our neighborhood has its own history in the magic of movie making, as various films honored at the Academy Awards over the years have been shot with our streets as the backdrop. 

Honorary Award, Buster Keaton (1959) – Evergreen Theater, 53 East 11th Street

Samuel Beckett (left), Alan Schneider (in baseball cap) and Buster Keaton (right) on the set of Film.
April 4, 1960 Buster Keaton receives his 1959 honorary Oscar, presented by B.B. Kahane.

In the mid-20th century, the area South of Union Square was the center of several revolutionary art and literary movements. The avant-garde creativity of the neighborhood encouraged the development of various art cinema houses, movie palaces, and lofts, including the Evergreen Theater at 53 East 11th Street. Founded by Grove Press lead Barney Rosset, the theater aimed to “originate and produce motion pictures by prominent European writers and playwrights.”

One of the few original productions from Evergreen Theater was Film, a short featuring a script by Samuel Beckett and starring Buster Keaton that premiered at the 1965 Venice Film Festival. The success of Beckett’s Film raised the importance of cinema substantially at Grove Press. When Buster Keaton accepted his Honorary Award at the 32nd Academy Awards in 1959, he let out a brief “Thank you.” at the microphone before retreating off the stage.

Best Picture Nominee (1977), Taxi Driver – 204 East 13th Street

1976, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro on the set of Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver was released on February 8, 1976, and received four Academy Award nominations the following year. The film is considered by many critics one of the all-time greatest American films. There were many scenes filmed within our neighborhood, one of which included the villainous character, Sport, who met his demise in the hallway of this four-story Neo-Grec building on 13th Street.

Jodie Foster, who played Iris in the film, was only 13 years old when she joined the cast. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, her first Oscar nomination of many. Martin Scorsese would see no nominations for Best Director or Best Picture for his work on Taxi Driver. He would have to wait another thirty years until finally receiving an Oscar award as The Departed’s Best Director in 2007.

Actor in a Leading Role, Robert de Niro (1980) for Raging Bull – Webster Hall, 119-125 East 11th Street

Robert De Niro at the 53rd Academy Awards
The main stage of Webster Hall, recently restored in 2019

Charles Rentz, Jr. designed Webster Hall in the Queen Anne style in 1886. The nineteenth-century assembly hall has a history of progressive, cultural, and musical moments that define the character of our neighborhood. The annex of the building, completed in 1892, is clad in red Philadelphia pressed brick with brownstone trim. The stunning ornamentation of the building was constructed using unglazed red terra cotta.

Webster Hall is also the backdrop of the fictional Annual Summer Dance featured in Raging Bull. This dance is where the main character Jake LaMotta spots his second wife-to-be, Vickie. The scene takes place in the interior ballroom of Webster Hall, where you can spot the scalloped balconies and Art Deco frame of the main stage that still greet concert-goers today. The success of this film would result in Robert De Niro’s first and only Oscar win for Best Actor, following his win as Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II in 1975.

Actor & Actress in a Leading Role, Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt (1997) for As Good As It Gets – 31-33 West 12th Street

Jack Nicholson as “Melvin”, leaving “The Ardea” on West 12th Street

The ten-story Beaux-arts apartment building at 31-33 West 12th Street, known as “The Ardea,” finally completed a lengthy construction process in 1901. Featuring bowed, iron balcony railings and a brownstone base, the building was also the fictional home of Melvin and Simon in the film, “As Good As It Gets,” in 1997. This film starred Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson, who later won for best actors in each role in 1998.

Winning Best Actress, this would be the first Oscar win for Helen Hunt. Jack Nicholson, however, had already acquired statues for Terms of Endearment in 1984 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1976, making him one of only six other actors who have won three Oscars in acting categories. 

Best Picture (2001), A Beautiful Mind – St. Marks Church, 131 East 10th Street

Scene from the film A Beautiful Mind in front of St. Marks Church
Actress Jennifer Connelly winning the Oscar for Actress in a Supporting Role in 2001.

One of the most historically significant landmarks in the East Village and even the entire city, St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery is one of the primary focal points of the neighborhood. The structure marks many eras of architecture, from the Georgian style of the sanctuary to the Greek Revival style steeple; the many chapters of the church are reflected through the many elements of its design. As a result, the church was designated as a landmark in 1966 and also falls within the St. Mark’s Historic District, designated in 1969.

Most of the film, A Beautiful Mind, was shot on the campus of Princeton University. However, in one of the sweeter moments of the movie, St. Marks is featured as the setting of John and Alisha Nash’s wedding. In the backdrop of this scene, you can spot the arched, paired columns that frame the entrance of the church as the two characters are greeted by their wedding guests. Jennifer Connelly, who played Alicia, would later win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2001.

The sets of Oscar-winning films can be found anywhere in our city, but the area South of Union Square contains a history that has roots in the earliest years of movie-making. Support the extensive film history and protection of the area South of Union Square and learn more about our campaign to designate this historic district here.

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