Total Recall: New Year's Eve Movies
We look back at ten films centered around the end-of-year celebration.
Tradition holds that the only thing we're supposed to watch on New Year's Eve is an assortment of minor celebrities doing their best to entertain us before the ball drops in Times Square --- but as any self-respecting film buff knows, there are any number of movies whose plots revolve in some way around the changing of the calendar year, and quite a few of them are a lot more entertaining than any "New Year's Rockin' Eve." (Sorry, Dick Clark.) For this week's Total Recall, we decided to take a cross-section sampling of New Year's flicks from various genres, touching on some classics and a few surprises along the way. Break out the bubbly, because 2010 is almost here, and we're celebrating Total Recall style!
The next time you're stuck at a dud of a New Year's Eve party, sitting around eating bad pizza and waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square, just remember: It could always be worse. You could, for instance, have been a guest at the shindig thrown by Little Bill (William H. Macy), the Boogie Nights character who rings in 1980 by killing his wife and her boyfriend -- and then turns the gun on himself. For the rest of the movie's characters, this ugly incident is only the beginning of a long descent into the seamy side of the early '80s; for Nights itself, however, it's one of a handful of harrowing sequences in a film that established writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson as a star while delivering an unexpectedly sweet message. As Jeffrey M. Anderson of Combustible Celluloid wrote, "If it weren't for the porn, drugs, and violence, this would be an ideal movie to take the kids to. It's all about belonging, and sticking with your family."
Most of us have high hopes for the year to come when the clock strikes midnight on December 31 -- hopes that are eventually dashed to some degree, but rarely with the speed and blockbuster vigor shown in 1972's The Poseideon Adventure. Adapted from the Paul Gallico novel, this Irwin Allen production kicks off with a New Year's Eve celebration on an aging luxury liner. The ship is bound for the scrapyard, but never makes it, on account of a tsunami that capsizes the darn thing mere moments after its well-dressed passengers have finished singing "Auld Lang Syne." The poster billed it as "HELL, UPSIDE DOWN," but critics were a little more generous -- Betty Jo Tucker of ReelTalk Movie Reviews, for instance, called it "one of the best disaster movies of all time!"
It's the infamous deli scene that gets all the attention, but New Year's Eve actually figures quite prominently in When Harry Met Sally. Not only is it at a New Year's party that Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) realize their long-sublimated attraction for one another, but the film itself climaxes (ahem) at another New Year's shindig, where the two star-crossed lovers finally come to terms with their relationship once and for all. Plus, When Harry Met Sally is the only film on our list to feature a comedic riff on the New Year's anthem "Auld Lang Syne." As Harry puts it, "I mean, 'Should old acquaintance be forgot'? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?" A career high point for director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Nora Ephron, it is, as Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote, "A ravishing, romantic lark brimming over with style, intelligence and flashing wit."
This list includes plenty of famous films and iconic scenes, but if you're looking to add something a little more unfamiliar to your New Year's Eve viewing schedule, you could hardly do better than 2008's In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Written and directed by Alex Holdridge, this award-winning indie follows the tale of Wilson (Scoot McNairy), a disaffected 29-year-old whose barren love life and dire financial straits leave him feeling less than festive as the new year approaches. But thanks to the prodding of a friend, Wilson posts a last-ditch Craigslist ad -- and, this being the movies and all, the ad leads him to Vivian (Sara Simmonds). It's a familiar tale, but one that can push all the right buttons when it's told properly, and Holdridge pulls it off here. "It's a great feeling, isn't it," asked Matt Brunson of Creative Loafing, "falling in love with a movie about falling in love?"
Odds are, you've had a little more to drink than you should on New Year's Eve. You've probably danced, too -- and you may have even fallen in love. But you probably haven't done it with as much style as Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), the jilted song-and-dance man who spies Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) across a dance floor and spends the holiday providing a drunken kickoff to one of the more entertaining love triangles in cinematic history. Over the course of a year's worth of holidays -- including a pair of New Year's celebrations -- Ted tussles for Linda's affections with his on-again, off-again partner, Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby). Holiday Inn generally isn't considered Crosby or Astaire's best film, but its 100 percent Tomatometer rating should tell you everything you need to know about just how solid both stars' filmographies really are. "Call it old-fashioned or old Hollywood fluff," wrote Christopher Varney of Film Threat, "Holiday Inn is a sweet, pleasant slice of another time in pop entertainment."