Like any holiday, New Year’s is enshrined on film in a multitude of ways: happy, sad, dark, light, and blowing up Brian Dennehy. Yes, one can experience the whole range of human and dramatic emotion on film if they’re looking hard enough on film, so we thought we’d come up with the ten best New Year’s moments that have ever hit film. Especially that whole “blowing up Brian Dennehy” part.
10. Boogie Nights
Generally, if New Year’s is at an ending, it’s a good sign that you’ll have a happy ending. If it’s in the middle of a movie, something is about to go horribly, horribly wrong. And boy, it doesn’t get more horribly wrong than this. Little Bill (William H. Macy) has spent years getting shamed by his wife, actual porn star Nina Hartley. Understandably, he’s angry. But the film marks a harsh turning point when Macy kills her and then shoots himself in front of his guests.
Look, we said “best”, not “happiest.”
9. Sunset Boulevard
Speaking of New Years that are just a wee bit awkward, you really can’t beat the simultaneously hilarious and absolutely skin-crawling moment set during New Years when scummy screenwriter Joe Gillis attends faded star Norma Desmond’s New Year’s Eve party, complete with the fancy clothes she bought him…only to discover they’re the only two there.
Pretty much the perfect scene to play back for anybody who has a… quieter than expected New Year’s party, especially the part about slipping out the back and going to a much better party.
8. The Apartment
“I love you.” “Shut up and deal.” Ahhhhh, romance, Billy Wilder style.
Wilder, of course, is the cinematic genius behind a whole string of classics, and he actually had a thing for New Year’s, as you might have noticed. This stands out, though, because of the black hilarity of it all. This movie was Mad Men, only made during the actual time period. Jack Lemmon’s just lost his job, Shirley MacLaine has just recovered from a suicide attempt, and all they have is the title apartment, some booze, and a deck of cards. And it’s all they need.
Well, that and lacerating wit.
7. The Gold Rush
If you like your New Year’s both sweet and bitter, there’s none better than this Chaplin classic. Chaplin’s Tramp is care-taking a cabin, and learns that some friends, and the love of his life, are coming over for New Year’s.
Which sets off one of the sweetest moments in the movies, with Chaplin preparing his cabin the best way he can, and then, in one of the funniest moments in cinema, Chaplin making two forks and two rolls do a little dance. This being a Chaplin movie, it can’t end happily, so he’s ultimately disappointed, but while it lasts, it’s one of the most touching things you’ll ever see.
Just don’t see it alone, because that might be a little too sad.
6. Assault on Precinct 13
This is the rare remake that’s as good as the original, featuring Ethan Hawke actually acting instead of just being scruffy, Lawrence Fishburne proving you can be overweight and still badass, and John Leguizamo making his annoying shtick work in a character for once. Set over New Year’s, it celebrates the true meaning of the holiday…shooting corrupt cops, blowing things up, and setting fire to Brian Dennehy.
And really, isn’t immolating character actors what the holiday all about? No? OK, moving on.
5. Trading Places
So, you’ve got a private detective hauling your McGuffin on a train. You need that to ruin the guys who ruined you. So what do you do?
Pack his private cabin with just about every character you can think of. Whether it’s Dan Ackroyd in blackface, Eddie Murphy in a dashiki, Jamie Lee Curtis in lederhosen, or Denholm Elliot trying to keep it all together. It’s a perfect comic moment that just keeps piling on the complications and the ridiculousness… and ends in gorilla rape.
No, we’re not explaining that. See the movie!
4. Ocean’s Eleven
New Year’s Eve is all about drinking, and there’s nobody better at drinking than the Rat Pack, something they proceeded to prove with this movie.
OK, so it’s about that other traditional holiday activity, stealing millions of dollars from casinos, but really it’s about the drinking. How these guys put away that much booze while simultaneously managing to bag a few casino’s worth cash is anyone’s guess…but it is awesome.
3. 200 Cigarettes
OK, so there’s really only two reasons to see this movie: the cast, which includes both Afflecks, Kate Hudson, Dave Chappelle, Christina Ricci and Paul Rudd, all went on to greater things. The second, of course, is remembering how terrible the ’80s were in just about every respect.
As it’s an indie movie with a large cast, naturally there are a bunch of plotlines the movie follows with various payoffs at the very end. It also happens to feature a main character passed out drunk, which is kind of important for any movie about New Year’s actually being honest.
2. Strange Days
Speaking of the ’80s, or close enough to it not to matter, you’ve got this movie from Katherine Bigelow, back when she was just an action director instead of the only woman to win a Best Directing Oscar, set at the turn of the millennium.
Yes, eleven years ago. It was all about being cutting edge, so we had VR headsets recording your experiences on MiniDiscs. You had rappers still getting beaten up by the LAPD. You had dystopia out the wazoo. Man, remember when everybody thought we’d be running around in Armani with phone jacks in our skulls? Strange days indeed.
Needless to say, this has become a painfully unintentionally funny film, but it is at least well directed, if far too attached to MiniDiscs.
1. When Harry Met Sally
We have to admit, there are few New Year’s moments more cliche than running through the city during a countdown looking for your love, only to make the kiss right at the start of the New Year. But When Harry Met Sally makes it work not once, but twice. First, there’s the hilarious moment when Harry and Sally set each other up with their best friends…only for their best friends to hit it off and begin an epic romance.
Then, of course, you’ve got Harry and Sally depressed on New Year’s at the end, and finally, happily, coming together. Of course, tragically, this launched the careers of both Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal as major stars in the ’90s, leading to cinematic pain little witnessed outside of graduate school, but at least this movie is really good.
What are your favorite New Year’s moments? Tell us in the comments!