When it comes to holidays, New Year’s has always gotten short shrift. It’s stuck in the aftermath of Christmas; by the time the ball drops (or rises, if you live in certain self-conscious Western Mass. towns), the milk of human kindness has often curdled into something a mite less nourishing. And who can blame us? When you’re bloated and no longer on vacation, standing around in a frigid downtown at midnight doesn’t hold a candle to sipping brandy by the fire, your feet toasting in a new pair of slippers.
Movies are much the same. If I were to ask you to name some of your favorite Christmas movies, you could probably reel off a dozen or more: the sentimental ones; the cartoon specials; the ridiculous commercial fare you can’t help but enjoy, as gooey and sweet as the bag of caramels you’re likely to polish off as you watch.
Not so for New Year’s. New Year’s favorites are few and far between, and as I pulled together a list of some notable movies about the holiday, I was struck by one thing: they are, by and large, a collection of downers. In the grouping below—and bear in mind, these are some of the best of what’s out there—we find a man eating his shoe, black market murder videos, suicide and attempted suicide, a maritime disaster, and Meg Ryan. When the cork pops, it seems, most of us want nothing more than to go scurrying off to bed until the next holiday rolls around. But if you’ve managed to hold on to a bit of hope as the clock turns on another year, here are a few films to keep you going through the night.
The Gold Rush is a film better known for its pop-culture echoes than for its own story; it’s the 1925 Charlie Chaplin film in which his Tramp, ice-bound and hungry during a prospecting adventure, is forced to roast his own shoe for sustenance. (His campmate, deliriously hungry, imagines Chaplin as gigantic poultry, giving rise to many an episode of Looney Tunes cartoons.) If you’re throwing a party this year, The Gold Rush is a great thing to keep on in the background (be sure to get the silent version).
If you prefer your disaster thawed, The Poseidon Adventure—in which a New Year’s cruise ship takes “bottoms up” a little too literally—is your poison. Starring Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine, the 1972 film is a liberties-have-been-taken version of the story of the RMS Queen Mary, a ship that encountered a rogue wave off the coast of Scotland and nearly capsized. While the stories are dissimilar—the actual ship was transporting WWII troops, not revelers—the Queen Mary itself was used to portray her fictional counterpart.
Moving on from disaster to death, we find Strange Days, director Kathryn Bigelow’s (The Hurt Locker) dystopian look at our future. In it, ex-cop turned black marketeer Lenny (Ralph Fiennes) finds himself on the run after uncovering a string of murders committed by LAPD officers. Filled with Blade Runner-style details, the film made Bigelow the first woman to receive the Saturn award (sort of a sci-fi Oscar) for best director, 15 years before she made history again with The Hurt Locker. If all that sounds a bit too dark, the Coen brothers serve up a more mordant mortality in The Hudsucker Proxy, an often overlooked film that, while not their best work, is a marvel of technical filmmaking. Set in a strange amalgam of the 1930s and 1950s—Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh are the stand-ins for Grant and Hepburn—it plays like a cryogenically preserved screwball comedy whose heart has yet to thaw.
But if all you really want is to watch a good movie that leaves you feeling more hopeful about the year to come, the choice is the same as it’s ever been: go watch When Harry Met Sally, and be glad that we have at least one New Year’s movie that has stood the test of time.•
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.