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Seven great movies that star architecture.

Seven great movies that star architecture. (photo)

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Alongside the almost-certainly-definitive restoration of “Metropolis,” this year’s Berlin International Film Festival saw the premiere of “How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?,” a doc celebrating British architect Norman Foster — who, coincidentally, is working on a development in Abu Dhabi “with driverless trains and elevated walkways.”

“Films like ‘Metropolis’ are an architectural experience,” Foster says. “They truly are both inspirational and prophetic.” True enough. Here’s seven more movies that have productively grappled with architecture, both real and imaginary:

02172010_northbynorthwest2.jpg“North by Northwest” (1959)

For most people, “North By Northwest” is instantly associated with Mt. Rushmore or crop-dusters — but the house of James Mason’s villainous Vandamm is probably next up there if you think about it. In keeping with the film’s tony settings (the Plaza Hotel, the United Nations Building), Hitchcock had his design team create a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque abode that would scream luxury on par with Cary Grant’s usual proclivities (Wright’s rates were too high to have him design something for real). Hitchcock may have inadvertently created a link in audience’s minds between modern architecture and villainy — regardless, the film came out a little more than three months’ after Wright’s death, an inadvertent tribute to his influence.

02172010_ilposto1.jpg“Il Posto” (1961)

Ermanno Olmi’s first film to get major international attention, “Il Posto” presages Antonioni’s ’60s work and his general sense of youth in revolt through very simple means. Domenico (Sandro Panseri) commutes from the rural village of Meda to Milan to land a bureaucratic job everyone assures will have him living in stable, dependable, unexciting and modest comfort for the rest of his life. During the lunch break of his daylong interview, he and his instant crush Antonietta (Loredana Detto) wander around the city, with the glass-concrete-steel architecture already there, dominating the landscape materially and demonstrating to Domenico how close the world he knows is to irrevocable change and evaporation. Architecture as cultural change: this movie’s still ahead of everybody.

02172010_playtime1.jpg“Play Time” (1967)

“Play Time” is the infamous ultimate example of architectural extravagance onscreen, as Jacques Tati constructed his own “Tativille,” complete with a power plant — the cost of the whole enterprise kept him in debt for years. The architecture of Tati’s platonic modern city is both intimidatingly massive and strangely designed for, well, play; the “characters” (such as they are) respond accordingly, eventually exploring and having fun with the space. It’s the rare movie that responds to impersonal architecture with delight and curiosity rather than automatic suspicion.

02172010_thepassenger1.jpg“The Passenger” (1975)

Antonioni always paid a lot of attention to space — it could be more important than the people — but he introduced many to Antonio Gaudi with “The Passenger,” in which Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider have a memorable conversation on the roof of La Pedrera. Gaudi’s work has since come to be a lazy if always-delightful shorthand for Barcelona on-screen, in everything from “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” to Hiroshi Teshigahara’s wordless, unblinking 1984 documentary simply named “Antonio Gaudi,” one of the few films devoted to simply examining the insides and outsides of one man’s work.

02172010_myarchitect1.jpg“My Architect” (2003)

Nathaniel Kahn’s quest to discover his oft-absent architect father Louis Kahn can be initially narcissistic and off-putting — he insists on his unique pain as the son of a neglectful dad, which isn’t actually all that unique — but it’s a surprisingly immersive, patient introduction to Kahn’s work, taking time to capture Kahn’s buildings in lovely, space-preserving shots. And he’s more than open to stopping the movie to let someone else talk uninterrupted — as below, say, when a man tearfully rhapsodizes over what Bangladesh’s finally-completed Parliamentary Building meant. He’s equally open to letting people insult the work on-camera, which is refreshing.

02172010_24city1.jpg“24 City” (2008)

The vast, brutal and impersonal architecture of Communism has been handily documented — I remember in particular the bizarre Soviet musical “Cheryomushki,” where people dance on planks held up by construction cranes and lyrics include “Where is the housing superintendent?” — but in “24 City,” Jia Zhangke captures the end of all that, following the destruction of a whole group of no-longer-needed industrial factories being knocked down to make way for condos. As in Jia’s”Still Life” (where the real destruction of buildings and walls is worked into the movie), seemingly impersonal structures take on the symbolic weight of the passing of an entire social experiment.

02172010_international1.jpg“The International” (2009)

In this moronic but eminently watchable flashback to ’70s paranoia, director Tom Tykwer nearly overcomes a ridiculous script by just focusing on the buildings — German parking lots and train stations, gleaming steel-and-metal constructions whose looming qualities make you distrust the (literal and figurative) transparency of the corporations inside. And of course there’s the much-beloved Guggenheim gunfight (whose spiral staircase was also used as an effective leaping point for Ophelia’s suicide in 2000’s updated “Hamlet”).

[Photos: “Metropolis,” Kino, 1927; “North by Northwest,” MGM, 1959; “Il Posto,” Janus Films, 1963; “Play Time,” Continental Distributing, 1973; “The Passenger,” MGM, 1975; “My Architect,” New Yorker Films, 2003; “24 City,” Cinema Guild, 2008; “The International,” Columbia Pictures, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

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Cancel it!

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Forgotten America

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Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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