Wednesday, December 26, 2012

At holiday time, I like to watch movies that have that holiday featured prominently in them. While there are a bazillion Christmas and Halloween movies, and war movies are always easy to come by on Memorial Day or Veterans' Day, it's not so easy to pick out films that feature New Year's Eve.

So, forthwith is my list of the top 10 movies with a New Year's Eve scene! Your list may vary... This is alphabetical, and some movies listed here are much better than others.
  • After the Thin Man (MGM, 1936) - This is the sequel to 1935's smash murdery-mystery/comedy hit, The Thin Man. The film was directed by W. S. Van Dyke. Dashiell Hammett came up with the story (he invented the characters), but the screenplay was by the husband-wife writing team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. They also did movies like Father of the Bride (1950), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1955), Easter Parade (1949), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). They won a Pulitzer Prize for the original play The Diary of Anne Frank. This film has Nick and Nora Charles arriving home in San Francisco (we saw them leave for the city by the bay at the end of the last film) on New Year's Eve. A massive welcome-home party is going on in their house, and they sneak past the guests (90 percent of whom don't even know them! LOL!) and try to go to bed. But Nora's in-laws want to invite them to a stuffy New Year's Eve dinner party, which includes a goddamn hilarious scenes as a drunk Nick sits around the dinner table with a bunch of sleeping old men. The film stars Jimmy Stewart in one of his earliest roles (and boy won't you be surprised to see the role he plays!) as well as Penny Singleton (later of the "Blondie" movies) as a woman of loose morals.
  • The Apartment (United Artists, 1960) - Billy Wilder and his writing partner, I.A.L. "Izzy" Diamond wrote the screenplay, and Wilder directed. Jack Lemmon stars as a nervous, geeky accountant who has a crush on an elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine). Fred MacMurray almost didn't take the role of the villainous Mr. Sheldrake because he'd just signed a 10-year contract with the Walt Disney Co. to star in My Three Sons and a bunch of Disney family movies. Wilder convinced him to do it. Like Rear Window and other films of the late 1950s, the lead character is essentially doing something pretty immoral. Yet, we sympathize with him, even like him. The majority of the film takes place between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
  • Boogie Nights (New Line Cinema, 1997) - Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this cautionary tale about the adult film work fell like a bombshell on polite society in the late 1990s. Mark Wahlberg turns in a superb performance as a well-hung 19 year old who finds a way out of his dead-end job and away from his abusive, mentally-ill mother by fucking women on screen and being able to keep an erection for hours. Things are fine for a while, but when porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) loses his source of income (his backer is caught with kiddie porn) Wahlberg turns to drugs and then prostitution. William H. Macy co-stars as "Little Bill," Horner's cinematographer. He blows his brains out one New Year's Eve as his friends stand around in a drug-addled haze.
  • Holiday Inn (Paramount, 1942) - Here's the idea: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire are hoofers on Broadway. Bing thinks he's going to marry fellow dancer Virginia Dale, but she breaks off the marriage on Christmas Eve and announces she loves Fred instead. Devastated, Bing heads to Vermont -- where he buys an inn. But the inn is only open on holidays, and he invites his Broadway friends up to the inn each holiday. They put on a huge musical show, with each show having a different holiday theme. (This has the effect of keeping all of Bing's buddies employed during the holidays, see?) Bing falls in love with local girl Marjorie Reynolds. Things fall apart when Fred discovers where Bing is hiding out, and he tries to woo Marjorie away from him. Legendary song-writer Irving Berlin came up with the idea in 1935. He'd come up with this soft, gentle song that he thought might turn into a good Chrismtas tune... It was, of course, "White Christmas." But he didn't have the lyrics yet. He did, however, get the idea for structuring a movie around a musical troupe that only performed on holidays. Elmer Rice adapted his story into a screen treatment, and Claude Binyon wrote the screenplay. Mark Sandrich, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood (he'd directed nearly all the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals) directed. The New Year's Eve sequence starts out the film, once Bing gets to Vermont. It ends on Christmas...of course! So Bing can sing "White Christmas." It was the song's debut.
  • The Horn Blows at Midnight (Warner Bros., 1945) - Jack Benny was one of the most popular and funniest comedians of the mid-20th century. Yet, his film career never took off. This film was written by three no-name hack writeers (Sam Hellman, James V. Kern, and Aubrey Wisberg), with Benny providing most of the gags (for which he purposefully refused credit). The legendary director Raoul Walsh (The Thief of Bagdad, They Drive by Night, High Sierra, They Died with Their Boots On, Objective, Burma!, White Heat, Captain Horatio Hornblower, Band of Angels, The Naked and the Dead) helmed the film. The film is, frankly speaking, awful. But it's so bad, it's good: Benny plays a trumpet player in the orchestra of a late-night radio show sponsored by Paradise Coffee. He falls asleep during the New Year's Eve show, and dreams he is an angel and trumpeter in the orchestra of Heaven. He's assigned to blow the "Last Trumpet" at exactly midnight, signaling the end of the world. Two fallen angels, wishing to continue with a hedonistic life on Earth, try to stop him. They steal his trumpet, and hilarity ensues as Athanael and his love-interest try to get it back. The finale of the film involves 30 people falling into a coffee cup the size of a swimming pool atop the Paradise Coffee Building as real liquid is poured on top of them by a gigantic coffee pot. Then they are sucked down through the bottom of the cup, and poured out again. Actually, kind of funny!
  • The Hudsucker Proxy (Warner Bros., 1995) - Co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen and Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Darkman, Spider-Man 3, Drag Me to Hell), and directed by the Coens, this is a 1990s version of the classic "screwball comedy" last seen in the 1930s. Tim Robbins plays a naive college graduate from Iowa who lands in New York City just as Waring Hudsucker -- the owner, founder, president, and chairman of the board of fabulously successful Hudsucker Industries -- lands on the pavement. Determined to drive the stock down even further so he can seize control of the company, Hudsucker VP Paul Newman decides to hire Robbins as the new president. (Clint Eastwood was the first choice to play Sidney J. Mussburger, but had to turn it down due to a scheduling conflict!) Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a fast-talking dame who tries to expose Robbins for her newspaper. The film never quite hits on all cylinders... Leigh isn't an able enough talker to do her "fast-talking dame" bit very well (she stumbles over the consonants), and Robbins is too self-aware and cynical about the role he's playing. But the entire film comes together on New Year's Eve, and includes a great line from Steve Buscemi ("I keep telling you, man: This is a juice and coffee bar! We don't serve alcohol!")
  • Penny Serenade (Columbia Pictures, 1941) - This film was written by Martha Cheavens and Morrie Ryskind. Cheavers was a popular short story writer who wrote primarily for women's magazines; the film is based on an incident in her own life. Morrie Ryskind was a playwright and lyricist on Broadway. He wrote the book for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Strike up the Band in 1930 (music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin), and later wrote plays for the Marx Brothers. Most of these were turned into films starring the comedy team: Animal Crackers, The Cocoanuts, and A Night at the Opera. He wrote the screenplays for and was nominated for an Oscar for My Man Godfrey and Stage Door. The film was directed by George Stevens the wildly successful director of such films as Alice Adams, Swing Time, and Gunga Din. He'd later direct such hits as Woman of the Year, I Remember Mama, A Place in the Sun, Shane, Giant, and The Diary of Anne Frank. Penny Serenade is a tearjerker of a movie: Irene Dunne listens to the song "Penny Serenade" on New Year's Eve, and begins reflecting on her life with husband Cary Grant. The couple has already suffered through one miscarriage, and adopt a little girl. The family sinks under the pressure of their lost child, an adopted girl they didn't want, the girl's illness, and Grant's unemployment. And then disaster strikes again... Songs from the couple's record collection provide clues to their emotional mood as well. Grant was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor.
  • The Poseidon Adventure (20th Century Fox, 1972) - Based on the 1969 novel by Paul Gallico, written by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes, directied by Ronald Neame, and produced by "the master of diaster" Irwin Allen, this was one of the first "all-star cast" films and one of the first disaser films. The fictional ocean liner SS Poseidon is on its final voyage when it is hit by a tsunami on New Year's Eve and capsizes. The cast includes Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, Pamela Sue Martin, and Leslie Nielsen.
  • Strange Days (20th Century Fox, 1995) - This film was directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Today, she is the Oscar-winning best director of The Hurt Locker. But in 1995, she was just the director of a four thriller films, none of which showed any real promise. The film was written by her then-husband James Cameron (who'd already directed Escape from New York, The Terminator, Rambo: First Blood, Part II, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and True Lies as well as written The Terminator, Rambo: First Blood, Part II, Aliens, The Abyss, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Jay Cocks (who'd written Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence; he'd later write Gangs of New York and De-Lovely). Set in 1999 just before New Year's Eve ushers in the new millennium, Ralph Fiennes plays a Los Angeles cop who has become addicted to SQUIDs -- recorded memories. SQUIDs act like a drug and are illegal, so he's basically a drug dealer. Angela Bassett is his bodyguard and Tom Sizemore is his best friend and private investigator. Fiennes pines for his ex-girlfriend, Juliette Lewis, who is hanging out with hot-bodied, gravelly-voiced music producer Michael Wincott. Fiennes receives a SQUID showing that Los Angeles police murdered a wildly popular rapper, and later receives a snuff film showing that the police raped and killed the girl who recorded the rapper's murder. But who is recording this? How come they are giving it to Fiennes? Fiennes believes he can't turn over the evidence of the rapper's murder, or the city would destroy itself with riots. But his hand is forced... The movie is a cult favorite today, although it bombed horribly on its release.
  • Sunset Boulevard (Paramount, 1950) - Written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman, produced by Brackett, and directed by Wilder, this film is one of the quintessential film noirs and one of the most celebrated motion pictures of all time. Wilder and Brackett began working on a script about a has-been movie star lost in her delusions of enduring popularity in 1948, but never resolved several serious plot problems. Marshman had critiqued Wilder's film The Emperor Waltz, and his assessment so impressed Wilder and Brackett that he was hired to finish the script. The film stars William Holden, Gloria Swanson, and Erich von Stroheim. So legendary and numerous are the anecdotes about this film that I will not relate them here. No will I quote any of the film's numerous exquisite lines (okay, just one: "I AM big! It's the pictures that got small!"), or describe any of its astonishing scenes. I will say that it was nominated for a whopping 11 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction (Black-and-White), Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Best Film Editing, and Best Musical Score. Shockingly, it won just three: Screenplay, art direction, and score. The film's finale occurs on New Year's Eve.

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