Is there a movie you watch every New Year’s Eve? For many years, local TV station KWGN played Casablanca on New Year's Eve, and it's still a perennial favorite with Denverites (as well as sentimentalists everywhere). In Russia, people like to watch the 1976 romantic comedy The Irony of Fate at this time of year, and in much of Western Europe it’s traditional to watch a 1963 English comedy sketch, Dinner for One, on December 31.
Some fan favorites are actually set on New Year's Eve. Since the holiday is about change, drama, epiphany and redemption, it makes a great plot point for movies, with glittering celebrations that are highly photogenic staging grounds. Sadly, some movies set on the holiday are pretty awful — New Year’s Day (1989) and New Year’s Eve (2011), Four Rooms (1995), 200 Cigarettes (1999) and Peter’s Friends (1992) come to mind — but others are definitely worth watching. Here are ten iconic moments from films that capture the start of the new year.
12) When Harry Met Sally (1989)
The New Year's Eve scene is the perfect ending to one of the great modern romantic comedies. After a film full of games with the genre, this end affirms all of the film's premises.
11) The Gold Rush (1929)
In Chaplin’s masterpiece, the Little Tramp dreams of a New Year’s party in which he reigns as a genial host, charming and beloved. With the aid of some table bread and two forks, he performs his unforgettable ”Oceana Roll” dance.
10) The Godfather: Part II (1974)
In a riveting moment when micro- and macrocosm reflect each other, Fredo Corleone’s betrayal of his brother Michael is revealed against the backdrop of the overthrow of Cuba’s Batista regime — which actually took place on January 1, 1959.
9) The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
New Year’s Eves frame this fable of corporate greed and individual pluck in The Hudsucker Proxy, a brilliant film that bit it at the box office because it’s just too smart. Jennifer Jason Leigh talks faster than any Howard Hawks heroine.
8) Boogie Nights (1997)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s raucous saga about the porn industry goes dark abruptly when assistant director Little Bill (William H. Macy) kills his wife, her lover and himself at a 1979 New Year’s Eve party, in one long Scorsese-level Steadicam take. Just like that, the ‘70s are over.
7) The Apartment (1960)
The fairy-tale ending to Billy Wilder’s acerbic Oscar-winning comedy takes place on New Year’s Eve, when star-crossed lovers Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) and Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) finally get together.
6) The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
One of the earliest, and most enjoyable, disaster movies – with an all-star cast! In this overwrought epic, a “rogue wave” turns an ocean liner into the site of the worst New Year’s Eve ever. With Gene Hackman as the Renegade Man of God.
5) Strange Days (1995)
This strong, futuristic thriller is an early gem from Kathryn Bigelow, set at the end of the last century. Virtual reality is the new drug of choice, and its access to forbidden experiences pushes the technology to some dark purposes. The film climaxes on New Year's Eve.
4) Radio Days (1987)
Woody Allen’s nostalgic, multi-stranded film about a World War II boyhood is his Ah, Wilderness! At its end, the fabulous radio celebrities of the day broadcast New Year’s Eve from the “King Cole Room” in a glimmering Manhattan hotel; back on Coney Island, Woody’s avatar and his family listen in as they savor their own celebration.
3) Ocean’s 11 (1960)
Original hipster crack. The Rat Pack, led by the Chairman himself, take down five casinos at once in Vegas on New Year’s Eve. A decent caper film, if larded with the affectations of the period. Ring-a-ding-ding, baby!
2) Holiday (1938)
At the heart of this screwball comedy is a heartbreaking, frustrated romance as Katherine Hepburn turns down Cary Grant for the sake of her sister. Stay tuned, though – you know how these things work out.
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1) New Year’s Evil (1980)/Terror Train (1980)
The perfect holiday-horror double bill of slasher flicks, the titles explain the content pretty succinctly. In the first, someone is evil on New Year’s Eve, especially to Roz Kelly, best known for her portrayal of “Pinky” Tuscadero on Happy Days. In the second, college students are partying on a train (on New Year's Eve, of course) and terrible things happen. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner and David Copperfield, the magician, in his film debut. Don’t miss the Terror Train disco-train car scene!
Honorable mentions: Sunset Boulevard (1950), Trading Places (1983), Money Train (1995).