The best New Year’s Eve scenes – ranked

We trawl acres of celluloid for the best New Year’s Eves, from romcoms and musicals to gangster flicks and comedies, from parties-for-two to hellishly elaborate dance sequences

20. New Year’s Eve (2011)

Most of the films in this list merely contain scenes set on New Year’s Eve. Not New Year’s Eve, though, because all of New Year’s Eve happens during New Year’s Eve. A Love Actually-style ensemble anthology (the middle part of a trilogy that began with Valentine’s Day and ended with Mother’s Day), this film attracted Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr, Hilary Swank and Jon Bon Jovi. It is also terrible, but you knew that.

19. Fruitvale Station (2013)

What makes New Year’s Eve so rich for film is that, unlike Christmas Day, there isn’t a universal approach to it. It can be fun, or extravagant, or lonely or – in the case of Ryan Coogler’s drama – depict harrowing scenes of police brutality. A gripping, important movie, but maybe not one to show at a party.

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in Sunset Boulevard.
Gloria Swanson and William Holden in Sunset Boulevard. Photograph: Allstar Picture Library Limited./Alamy

18. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

All New Year’s Eve gatherings have a high potential for catastrophe, but Sunset Boulevard was kind enough to set out perhaps the most catastrophic. Faded actor Norma Desmond invites a screenwriter to her NYE party. He attends, only to realise that he is the only guest. Desmond tries to seduce him, he rebuffs her and then she slits her wrists. Still upsettingly awkward, seven decades on.

17. Holiday Inn (1942)

Holiday Inn is a film about an entertainment venue that opens only on national holidays; many are those who thought it was a Christmas movie and then had to suffer through the now fairly offensive Lincoln’s birthday segment. Nevertheless, on New Year’s Eve, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds perform an incredibly drunk showstopper of a dance. It’s on YouTube (above) if you can’t stomach the whole thing.

16. About Time (2013)

Richard Curtis’s time-travel romcom appears to be enjoying something of a critical resurgence at the moment. It begins on New Year’s Eve, where Domhnall Gleeson has a horrendously awkward would-be romantic encounter with a girl and subsequently learns that he can time-travel. Which isn’t something that happens in real life, I’m told.

15. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

You will remember that The Poseidon Adventure is a film with a glittering all-star cast, about a liner that is struck by a tidal wave and sinks in the middle of the ocean. But did you remember that the wave hits the boat on New Year’s Eve? Possibly not, but this is nevertheless definitive proof that New Year’s Eve is the worst.

Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure.
Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. Photograph: Cinetext/Allstar Collection/Sportsphoto/Allstar

14. New Year’s Evil (1980)

Here’s a thing: I didn’t know this movie even existed until I started researching this list, and then I found it on YouTube, and it is a blast. A new-wave slasher, New Year’s Evil is about a murderer who vows to kill a different woman as each US timezone tips into the new year. If you ever wanted to see a brutal stabbing intercut with shots of extras blowing party horns, this is the film for you.

13. Strange Days (1995)

Although New Year’s Eve has since become humdrum, it’s worth remembering that at the turn of the millennium, it was also cause for much angst. Few films depicted this as well as Strange Days, an overbaked Kathryn Bigelow sci-fi about MiniDiscs that can somehow store physical sensations. Doesn’t make sense to explain it, barely makes sense to watch it, but it’s fun enough nonetheless.

Paul Newman and Tim Robbins in The Hudsucker Proxy.
Paul Newman and Tim Robbins in The Hudsucker Proxy. Photograph: Cinetext/Warner Bros/Allstar

12. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

The Coen brothers film you are too scared to say you enjoy is also the most festive. When does old Mr Hudsucker kill himself by jumping through a skyscraper window? December. And when does Tim Robbins climb to the top of the same skyscraper, with similarly suicidal intentions? That’s right, New Year’s Eve. What a wonderfully seasonal semi-supernatural screwball comedy this is.

11. An Affair to Remember (1957)

A remake of 1939’s Love Affair, An Affair to Remember is an old weepy classic where Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, despite being romantically involved with other people, find time to get off with each other on New Year’s Eve. It is a soaringly romantic moment but, as we will soon see, has since been usurped by another would-be remake.

Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember.
Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember. Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

10. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

A movie that future historians will use to demonstrate exactly how messed up the romcom genre got in its time, While You Were Sleeping has a honker of a problematic premise. Sandra Bullock watches a stranger become horribly injured and, thanks to all manner of plot contrivances, convinces his family that she is his fiancee. He wakes up and, suffering from intense concussive amnesia, agrees to marry her. But – uh oh! – while he was in a coma, she fell in love with his brother. Whoops! Anyway, some of this happens on New Year’s Eve.

9. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Meanwhile, this is not only much less bonkers but actually fits the New Year’s Eve theme tremendously well. Because it’s a diary, isn’t it? All diaries end on New Year’s Eve. And so whatever romcom shenanigans the machinery of the genre demands, we can all rest easy in the knowledge that it will end on New Year’s Eve. Fortunately for us, this is one of those deftly paced romcoms that has realistic stakes and absolutely no defrauding of handsome coma patients. This is the highest possible compliment.

Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in An American in Paris.
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in An American in Paris. Photograph: Mgm/Sportsphoto/Allstar

8. An American in Paris (1951)

Vincente Minnelli’s classic is less a standalone film and more the world’s first jukebox musical – a loose-fitting plot shaped around George Gershwin’s composition of the same name. Although its climax – a dreamy, art-filled, dialogue-free 17-minute dance between Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron – is what people most remember, the New Year’s Eve sequence is also hellishly elaborate. The moment where a character plunges from a balcony into the arms of a waiting suitor never stops being terrifying.

7. Boogie Nights (1997)

As we’ll see, Paul Thomas Anderson has become quite the expert when it comes to New Year’s Eve. Perhaps the best remembered NYE scene of his comes during Boogie Nights. It depicts a fully debauched porn-star party that culminates – after a discovery of marital infidelity – with a double murder and a suicide. Has William H Macy ever been better than when he’s wandering around a house with a gun in a cuckolded daze, deciding that he would rather kill himself than live through the 1980s? Arguably not.

6. The Godfather Part II (1974)

Here we have perhaps one of the most famous New Year’s Eve scenes ever committed to cinema. During a raucous party in Cuba, Michael Corleone has the sudden realisation that his brother Fredo tried to orchestrate an assassination attempt on him. Michael grabs his brother by the head, kisses him and says: “I know it was you.” The consequences of this one moment are vast; so vast, in fact, that Al Pacino would go on to reference the party in his extraordinary Dunkaccino rap, which closes the Adam Sandler film Jack and Jill.

Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine in The Apartment.
Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine in The Apartment. Photograph: Cinetext/United Artists/Allstar

5. The Apartment (1960)

Maybe there’s something in the air, but I’ve noticed The Apartment being bandied about as one of the great Christmas movies this year. And this is fine, although if you want to quibble you could suggest that it is technically one of the great post-Christmas movies. All the good stuff – the juiciest interchanges between Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine – happens in the dip between Christmas and new year. It should come as no surprise that the New Year’s Eve-set finale is easily the sweetest scene of the entire film.

4. Trading Places (1983)

Is Trading Places really a New Year’s Eve movie? In all honesty, probably not. In terms of plot, the film is equally split between Thanksgiving, Christmas and new year. And, of these, Christmas is probably the most memorable, thanks to the image of Dan Aykroyd looking like the world’s dingiest Santa. So why does it rank so highly here? That’s simple: Trading Places feels a lot like a film that’s rapidly running out of shelf life, full of jokes that are ageing about as well as warm milk. Right now, it still qualifies as one of the best comedies ever made. Five years from now, though, all the off-colour jokes might have pushed it past the point of no return. If you are reading this five years from now, by the way, I agree that it’s very bad and tasteless. Don’t come after me.

Eddie Murphy, Denholm Elliott, Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places.
‘Merry new year!’ … Eddie Murphy, Denholm Elliott, Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places. Photograph: Paramount/Allstar

3. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Here’s that remake of An Affair to Remember, which also happens to feature An Affair to Remember as a plot device. Obviously Sleepless in Seattle is a vast improvement, neatly swerving the catalysing infidelity by having Tom Hanks as a grieving widower, but New Year’s Eve still plays its part. This is when Hanks imagines one last encounter with his dead wife before he can finally move on and find the love he deserves. God, this film.

2. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Nora Ephron’s masterpiece takes place over the course of a vast amount of time, so it only makes sense that it uses New Year’s Eve as a way to mark the speed at which it whizzes past. At one NYE party, Harry and Sally slowly realise that they have feelings for each other, but are quickly pulled apart by circumstance. And, some way down the line, the pair pick New Year’s Eve as the moment to finally confess their love for one another. Obviously the excitement of New Year’s Eve is always followed by the cold, grey misery of New Year’s Day, but the film wisely ignores this.

1. Phantom Thread (2017)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s most recent New Year’s Eve scene is arguably the most realistic ever. One half of a couple wants to spend the evening dancing, the other wants to stay at home. There is a fight, and a storming out, and then acres of mutual regret. In the film, Daniel Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock eventually relents, chasing Vicky Krieps to a gorgeous, balloon-filled ballroom where – after an uncertain initial encounter – they eventually make up. But then she poisons him anyway. The moral of the story is that relationships are bad.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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