Massachusetts forever changed the summer box office scene by providing locations for the best shark movie ever. Bruce the Shark never got an acting nomination, but the film won awards for music and editing. The state lures other award winning projects, covered in my book Around the World in 80 More Movies.
The Departed, 2006 with Leonardo di Caprio taking on Jack Nicholson in Boston. Famed for filming groundbreaking cinema in the mean streets of New York, Martin Scorsese finally won a best directing Oscar—but only after remaking a Chinese film and moving action to Boston. Despite the Beantown setting, he filmed numerous scenes in Brooklyn. Still, those in the know recognize hear music by local favorites Dropkick Murphys plus see such iconic locations as the Massachusetts State House and the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge. Other Massachusetts film sites include Charlestown’s Flagship Wharf on 8th Street as mob boss Nicholson’s luxury apartments and the Suffolk University Law School on Boston’s Tremont Street as Matt Damon’s digs. The film won four of its five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Violent(a Scorsese trademark) and energetic, the fast-paced, compelling story features terrific performances and surprising humor, especially in repartee between Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg .While The Departed’s story originated in China as Infernal Affairs, the switch to Boston suits the city’s fame for other gangster stories including The Friends of Eddy Coyle and Black Mass, with Johnny Depp as real-life mobster Whitey Bulger. The Fighter, 2002 with Massachusetts native Mark Wahlberg seeking the world light welterweight title. Movie history let Rocky Balboa come from behind, while real life did it for Micky Ward, who fought in the shadow of his boxing half-brother and demanding family. Director David O. Russell shot the film in Ward’s hometown of Lowell and based boxing matches on actual footage, giving the piece an authentic, from-the-streets feel. The movie earned seven Oscar nominations—including best picture and director. It came home with supporting acting awards for Melissa Leo and Christian Bale. Though missing out in the nomination arena, Wahlberg’s ripped physique look right, and he acts his part well. Born in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Wahlberg repeatedly shows loyalty to his home state by filming there. Aside from his own Oscar nomination in The Departed, he brought the foul-mouthed teddy bear Ted to Boston, he played a cop who showed up at all key marathon bombing events for Patriot’s Day and put his own spin on local writer Robert B. Parker’s detective, Spenser. Good Will Hunting, 1997, with Robin Williams guiding Matt Damon out of Massachusetts. Longtime Boston buddies Damon and Ben Affleck won Oscars for their original screenplay about genius a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The two mined their hometown neighborhood for filming locations, pointing to their local favorite, Dunkin’ Donuts (which shows up in most of Affleck’s films). Woody’s L Street Tavern,658 E. 8th Street in South Boston displays set photos and other memorabilia from the filming experience. While Damon and Affleck clearly feel at home with each other in familiar surroundings during Good Will Hunting, their story relies on heart more than location since caring and friendship taking precedence. This gives Williams the chance to shine as an empathetic therapist. He won the best supporting actor Oscar, while the film itself earned a prestigious Best Picture nomination along a nod to director Gus Van Sant. Damon and Affleck display their knack with a Boston accent in numerous other projects. Damon narrated a documentary on the Boston Marathon plus played a key role in The Departed, while Affleck directed Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Little Women, 2020 with Saoirse Ronan defying gender limitations in Concord, Massachusetts. All the frilly dresses of Little Women’s numerous film versions prevented me from accepted Louisa May Alcott’s classic story as a pro-feminist creation, even when Katharine Hepburn played the lead. Writer-director Greta Gerwig changed that with her adaptation that allows for a double ending plus acknowledges the era’s unfair treatment of women in marriage. But Gerwig also brings the story’s magic to life, with four sisters whose distinct differences never shatter their bonds of love. Plus, the movie finally let “tomboy” Jo drop all the dressy frills, wearing practical, almost masculine clothes that suit her personality and period. Little Women also promotes the region that inspired it, filming in 11 Massachusetts municipalities. These include Boston’s Arnold Arboretum (as Paris) and the Alcott family’s Orchard House in Concord(though most interiors of the March family home took place in one of the few sets built for the film). Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theater, Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, and Gibson House Museum join the project’s long list of locations. The movie earned six Oscar nominations, best picture among them. Gerwig deserved a win for her adaptation, though the award went to Taiki Waikiki for JoJo Rabbit. Jacqueline Durran took home Little Women’s sole Oscar—for costume design.
Jaws, 1975 with Roy Scheider motoring off the coast of Massachusetts and realizing he needs a bigger boat. The shark movie that did for oceans what Psycho managed for showers, Jaws rates as one of the few horror films to earn a best picture Oscar nomination. Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard plays the fictitious New England beach community called Amity, and the area still boasts the tranquil stretch of sand whose waters turned deadly in the movie’s
relatively inexperienced director Steven Spielberg found a “less is more” visual approach heightened suspense in the movie’s early scenes. Characters to care about helped, along with spot-on editing by Verna Fields (who won an Oscar for her work) and a perfectly in-sync Oscar winning musical score from John Williams. Of the many impressive movies filmed in Massachusetts, Jaws ranks as the state’s biggest box office hit. It inspired the whole genre of shark movies and remains the best of the bunch (sorry Sharknado). Beyond cinema, the movie led to massive fear and destruction of sharks, a situation regretted by many involved including Valerie Taylor. The 2021 documentary Playing With Sharks adds insight to her views plus provides background information on the filming of Jaws.