The only certainty on New Year’s Eve is that nothing will go according to plan. But however your night pans out, at least you didn’t end up sharing your midnight kiss with your boss or addicted to the brains of other human beings.
While Hollywood tends to exploit the more glittery side of this holiday, there are plenty of films that celebrate the uglier side of a night filled with so much potential and so much disaster. See below for a few flicks to watch that will put your own night in context. It’s all relative.
200 Cigarettes (1999)
This night, which takes place in New York City in 1981, captures the anxiety of hosting a party, the frustration of constantly thwarted plans, the awkwardness of hooking up with friends and the excitement of the city matchlessly as it follows the intertwining stories of its ensemble cast.
Essential NYE scene: The whole film is about New Year’s Eve catastrophes, but Christina Ricci’s OTT Laawn Guyland accent might be the biggest and best disaster of all.
Boogie Nights (1997)
This story of a young man’s adventures in the Californian pornography industry of the late 1970s and early 1980s toasts the decor, style, culture, and social attitudes of the era.
Essential NYE scene: At a New Year’s Eve party at Jack’s house marking the year 1980, assistant director Little Bill shoots both his porn star wife and her lover before turning the gun on himself. Total party pooper.
Essential NYE scene: BUT, there’s a twist: While Sally gets the coveted friend hook-up, at least you won’t wake up with a bouffant late-‘80s perm.
Trading Places (1983)
Dan Ackroyd plays asshole investigator Louis Winthorpe, who switches lives with Eddie Murphy’s street hustler Ray Valentine at the whim of two callous millionaire brothers. Winthorpe is arrested, placed in a compromising position in front of his girlfriend, and is forced to rely on a hooker hired to ruin him.
Essential NYE scene: When Billy Ray, posing as Cameroon exchange student “Nenge Mboko” bursts into Beeks’ carriage to wish him “Merry New Year!” (That’s “happy.” In this country we say “Happy New Year.”)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
This 1950 American film noir follows William Holden as Joe Gillis, an unsuccessful screenwriter, and Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a faded silent movie star who draws him into her fantasy world.
Essential NYE scene: When Norma comes on too strong on New Year’s Eve, Joe ditches her and hitches a ride to a different party. He is there informed that Norma has slit her wrists with his razor blade in an attempted suicide. OOPS.
The Apartment (1960)
Originally regarded as a comedy, this iconic Billy Wilder film skews less jovial as time passes. Jack Lemmon plays office worker “Bud” Baxter who lends his apartment out to company executives — and their many mistresses. He runs into trouble when he finds himself sharing his girlfriend Fran (Shirley MacLaine) with his boss Sheldrake.
Essential NYE scene: When his boss asks for the apartment key to rendezvous with Fran, Buddy refuses and quits his job. Meanwhile Fran has the worst time ever at the New Year’s party Sheldrake drags her to, eventually ditching it to play cards with Baxter in his titular apartment.
Johnny Case (Cary Grant), a self-made man who has worked all of his life, is about to marry Julia Seton (Doris Nolan), whom he met while on holiday. He then becomes disenchanted with his wealth-obsessed fiançe and falls for her sister, Katherine Hepburn‘s Linda.
Essential NYE scene: Julia insists on hosting an elaborate New Year’s Eve engagement party, on the night of which Linda refuses to come downstairs. Johnny goes to fetch her, the two are interrupted by Julia and her father, and Johnny reveals his plans to go on holiday and “find himself”. Julia is appalled and Johnny spends the rest of the night very pissed off.
Strange Days (1995)
This apocalyptic thriller, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, plays on the anxieties of Y2K and paints a pre-apocalyptic scene of a Los Angeles where people are addicted to SQUID, recordings made directly from the brains of human beings.
Essential NYE scene: As we get closer and closer to the turn of the 20th century, riots threaten to break out and a horrendous mystery unfolds. Happy New Year!