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Countdown on film
Hollywood loves to ring in the New Year. But which movies have done it best? Chris Wasser takes a look
f there’s one lesson we’ve learned from a hundred years of cinema, it’s that Beautiful Movie People sure know how to ring in the New Year. In fact, the only thing better than a cosy Christmas flick, is the life-affirming New Year’s Eve feature; those peculiar and, occasionally, fascinating films, that somehow manage to capture the spirit, energy and hopeless optimism of one of the weirdest nights of the year. Some of them are quite brilliant; others, not so much.
Some are set entirely on December 31st ; others feature pivotal scenes that just so happen to take place on the last day of the year. Heck, some of them are just downright bonkers. With New Year’s Eve just around the corner, let’s take a look at the best and worst midnight countdowns in cinematic history…
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
“At midnight on New Year’s Eve the S.S. Poseidon was struck by a 90 foot tidal wave and capsized.” Well, it’s hardly the catchiest tagline ever, but that’s exactly what happens in Ronald Neame’s showy, disaster epic, The Poseidon Adventure. Produced by the ‘ Master of the Disaster’ himself, Mr Irwin Allen, and featuring a venerable, who’s who of Oscarwinning talent (including Shelley Winters, Ernest Borgnine and Red Buttons), The Poseidon Adventure is, essentially, a load of old hooey, but hey, it’s never boring, and there’s a lot to unpack in a busy ensemble piece, that also features Gene Hackman as a death-defying man of the cloth. Oh yes, there are some heady themes involved, but really, we’re just here for the upside-down action.
Ocean’s 11 (1960)
We refer not to Steven Soderbergh’s frantic cover version, with Gorgeous George, but instead, Lewis Milestone’s dizzying, Rat Pack original, in which Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr and the rest of their crew, stage the mother of all casino heists, in Las Vegas, on New Year’s Eve. According to Hollywood legend, when co-star and fellow Rat Packer, Peter Lawford, first discussed the plot with Sinatra, his response was, “forget the movie, let’s pull the job!” We’d expect nothing less from Ol’ Blue Eyes.
When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner’s genre-defining classic - you know how it goes. After more than a decade of messin’ about, and trying to convince themselves that they’re just friends, Billy Crystal’s Harry and Meg Ryan’s Sally finally declare their love for one another, over a rowdy New Year’s countdown, at a swanky ball in NYC. That epic speech, courtesy of cinema’s most unlikely romantic lead (Billy, not Meg) brings a tear to our eye, every single time.
Ghostbusters II (1989)
Is Ghostbusters II as good as
Ghostbusters 1? Of course not. Truth be told, it’s a total mess, but the final third is a bit of a laugh, with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and the late, great Harold Ramis, literally bringing the Statue of Liberty to life, so they can save New York City from a terrifying wave of slime. Sounds like a fun party to me.
Trading Places (1983)
Another Dan Aykroyd joint, and look! This one is both a Christmas film, and a New Year’s film! A sly, Hollywood twist on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, you’ll recall that John Landis’s acclaimed, life-swap comedy hit, features a, erm, memorable sequence, in its boisterous third act, that takes place on board a train, on New Year’s Eve. Yes, we are, indeed, talking about the scene with the gorilla. And yes, it is every bit as odd as you remember.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
It’s New Year’s Eve in Cuba and, after an eventful evening of gangster shenanigans, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) discovers that his dear, eldest brother, Fredo (John Cazale), has only gone and betrayed him. “I know it was you,” whispers the Don, planting the kiss of death on his brother’s lips, as the clock strikes midnight at a rambunctious, Havana ball. Now that’s a New Year’s smooch to remember.
Bong Joon-ho’s remarkable, scifi actioner, imagines a world in which humanity’s attempts to actively combat global warming has gone sideways. Basically, the earth is now one big snowball, and, for some reason, the only human survivors (including Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton) are on board a train, which literally goes around the world, without stopping, on a ginormous, earth-spanning track.
After every circumnavigation, the passengers (lower class at the back; rich in the front) celebrate the dawn of a New Year, and this year, a bloody revolution is coming. If you haven’t seen it, fix that – pronto.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
It all begins on New Year’s Eve, remember? That’s when our favourite, unlucky-in-love, rom-com protagonist, Ms Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) first encounters the dashing, Mr Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) at a house party. It starts badly, but wouldn’t you know it, exactly one year later, our unlikely lovers finally lock lips, on the snow-covered streets of London. Of course, there’s a good 90 minutes or so of plot in between, but we’re only covering the important stuff today.
New Year’s Eve (2011)
Oh dear. For the uninitiated, imagine what it would look like, had
Love Actually been set on New Year’s Eve – only, somehow, it’s worse. Back at the beginning of the decade, the late Garry Marshall somehow managed to round up the starriest ensemble cast in Hollywood, for one of the best bad films of 2011. Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Zac Efron and Michelle Pfeiffer go to extraordinary lengths for a pay cheque, punishing themselves, and their audience, to deliver a sprawling romantic comedy that’s so terrible, it’s actually amazing to watch.
The Apartment (1960)
We’ve saved the best until last. Indeed, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment – starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine - isn’t just the finest film on our list, it’s also one of the all-time greats; a beautifully choregraphed and wonderfully performed display, about a lonely office worker named Bud, who rents out his flat to sleazy managers and their mistresses. Along the way, he meets the love of his life, with Wilder’s triumphant, comedy classic, culminating in a game of cards on a cold New Year’s Eve in New York City. A gem.