The words "from the makers of Valentine's Day" may not fill you with excitement, but judging from the star-studded cast of Garry Marshall's New Year's Eve, most of Hollywood felt differently: this weekend's biggest wide release features a Who's Who of famous faces, including Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Abigal Breslin, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Hilary Swank. Naturally, we knew we had to dedicate this week's list to New Year's Eve movies. Those of you with sharp memories may remember that we did a New Year's Eve list just a couple of years ago, but as a number of commenters were all too happy to remind us at the time, it only scratched the surface -- so here's another batch of films for your 12/31-centric viewing pleasure. From comedies to dramas, from sci-fi to romance, there's something here for cineastes of all tastes. Let's watch the ball drop together, Total Recall style!
While it could be argued that this 2002 Hugh Grant dramedy hit isn't exactly a "New Year's movie," it's certainly true that the holiday represents a significant turning point for the main character, Will Freeman (Grant), whose journey from shallow layabout to feeling adult human begins when he meets the luminous Rachel (Rachel Weisz) at a New Year's Eve party. Toss in the warm-hearted Christmas finale, and About a Boy is a film with enough holiday spirit to make the cut. As Manohla Dargis wrote in her review for the L.A. Weekly, "There's not much more to this adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel than charm -- effortless, pleasurable, featherweight charm."
Jean-François Richet's remake of John Carpenter's 1976 thriller retains the same basic gist of the original -- a straight-arrow cop (Ethan Hawke) joins forces with a crook (Laurence Fishburne) to defend his shuttered precinct against a gang of criminals -- while moving the action to New Year's Eve. Not exactly the most festive way to spend the last night of the year, but the updated Assault on Precinct 13 proved entertaining for critics like Daniel Etherington of Film4, who called it "A dark, exciting and enjoyable action-thriller for adolescent boys of all ages."
Think you've been to some pretty terrible New Year's Eve parties in your day? Just be glad you weren't invited to the bloody beatdown that transpires during the climax of Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow. A desperately grim look at the lives of overachieving suburban teens, Luck drops its protagonists into a downward spiral of drugs, crime, violence, and jealousy...and when that midnight kiss finally comes, it's less a celebration of the new year than a doomed attempt to cling to some sense of normalcy. "It's not a perfect work," admitted Tom Long of the Detroit News, "but it is so filled with energy, angst, talent, authenticity and passion that it stands heads above most supposed youth-culture releases."
Like most holidays, New Year's Eve is meant to be spent with friends and family -- and in the movies, any character who spends the evening alone is more than likely feeling pretty melancholy. Charlie Chaplin's 1925 classic The Gold Rush provides a particularly poignant example with its classic New Year's Eve sequence, in which Chaplin is duped into believing the object of his affection will be stopping by his poverty-stricken cabin to celebrate, only to be stood up -- and eventually fall asleep at his table, dreaming he's the life of the party after all. Calling it "the outstanding gem of all Chaplin's pictures," Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times wrote, "Here is a comedy with streaks of poetry, pathos, tenderness, linked with brusqueness and boisterousness."
Put the Coen brothers together with Sam Raimi and a top-shelf cast that included Paul Newman, Tim Robbins, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and what do you have? Well, a huge box office flop and sort of a critical misfire, actually -- but beyond all that, The Hudsucker Proxy is one of the more unusual comedies to make its way into theaters during the 1990s, boasting a screwball plot about a corporate mailroom worker (Robbins) who's used as a patsy by a duplicitous board member (Newman) in a convoluted scheme that eventually leads to the invention of the hula hoop. Oh, and did we mention that the film's climax takes place on a skyscraper ledge on New Year's Eve? It's easy to see why folks didn't know what to make of Hudsucker when it was released, but over time, more than a few have come to agree with Chris Hicks of the Deseret News, who wrote, "This wild-eyed, sentimental, old-fashioned comedy is definitely parked in Frank Capra-Preston Sturges-Howard Hawks territory, but it is also imbued throughout with the Coens' own brand of genre-tweaking and sly, winking humor."