I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the number of iconic movie scenes with New Year’s Eve as a backdrop. The night offers directors and screenwriters the rich dichotomy of celebration and sadness. The end of the year is the perfect opportunity for a movie or a character to make a dramatic change or pronouncement. The relationship between two characters can either end or begin anew in the midst of a sea of humanity, or above or apart from it.
I found well over 50 movies with iconic New Year’s Eve scenes in my search for a top 10. Whittling them down was not easy and I’m certain film aficionados will cry foul at the omission of classics like Holiday with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant or An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, or the strangely wonderful Hudsucker Proxy by the Coen Brothers or Strange Days written by James Cameron and directed by Katherine Bigelow, or the never-ending array of romantic comedies like Sex and The City, About a Boy and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
There are so many great movies and great scenes that I left off the top 10 list. You know it’s a tough cut when a movie entitled New Year’s Eve by Gary Marshall doesn’t make the cut. Please make the case in the comment section for your favorites. My criteria was simple:
1. The NYE scene's importance to the movie
2. Popularity of the movie
3. The iconic X factor of the scene and
4. If I could find a clip
So without further ado, here are the top 10 New Year’s Eve Movie Scenes of All Time.
1. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
It is easily the greatest New Year’s Eve scene of all time. After a lifetime of being friends with benefits, Harry (Billy Crystal) finally professes his love to Sally (Meg Ryan) in Manhattan on New Year’s Eve. “It’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve,” he tells her. “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” The classic party crashing, love-awakening scene that is the culmination of a classic movie in a classic setting.
2. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
You don’t want to get a kiss from a Corleone at Midnight in Havana. Michael (Al Pacino) has been trying to weed out the traitor in the family. Fredo (John Cazale) made a fatal slip of the tongue during some New Year’s Eve debauchery that exposed himself as the rat. At midnight came, so too did the kiss of death from Michael when he grabs Fredo’s face, kisses him on the lips and says, “I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.”
3. The Gold Rush (1925)
Charlie Chaplin falls in love with a dance-hall girl (Georgia Hale). She accepts his invitation to New Year’s Eve dinner, but alas, she never intended to show up. That sets up a fantasy sequence by Chaplain when he imagines a room full of dinner guests and entertains them with the dinner roll dance that he improvised into immortality. You’ll remember that Johnny Depp paid homage to the scene in “Benny and Joon.”
4. Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and swept away by a rogue tidal wave. It is the most memorable New Year’s Eve party of all time, mainly because of the death, destruction and Gene Hackman using a Christmas tree to lead an all-star cast to survival. Or at least most of them — Leslie Nielsen wasn’t so lucky. The very serious captain went down with the ship only to be resurrected as a great comedic actor.
5. Trading Places (1983)
Ah, the Philadelphia-based movie with Eddie Murphy, Dan Akroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis ended with a ride on a New Year’s Eve party train to Manhattan. All of the main players took on alternate identities to fool a private detective who was after them. The scene is memorable for beef jerky, cleavage and a man in a gorilla suit being raped by a Gorilla. That’s right, a man is raped by a gorilla and it was witnessed by now Senator Al Franken. Merry New Year!
6. The Apartment (1960)
“Ring out the New Year, ring in the new, ring-a-ding-ding,” Shirley MacLaine says to no one in particular at a New Year’s Eve party. She then leaves the party and her married boyfriend to run to Jack Lemmon with a freshly opened and frothing champagne bottle (calling Dr. Freud). Lemmon declares his undying love for her and is met with the now immortal line, “Shut up and deal.” End scene. Credit roll. Perfect.
7. Holiday Inn (1942)
The movie is best remembered for introducing the world to the best selling song of all time, “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. But the New Year’s Eve dance by co-star Fred Astaire, whose character showed up to the party drunk, is one of the best New Year’s Eve scenes of all time for its choreography of acting and dance. Dancing with the Stars fans, enjoy, The Drunk Dance with Fred Astaire.
8. Boogie Nights ( 1997)
Nothing brings down a New Year’s Eve party more than a murder-suicide. The great William H. Macy plays Little Bill, an assistant director of porn films, who is looking for his porn star wife at a New Year’s Eve party. When he finds her once again having sex with another man, the relationship is over. The music, the continuous shots and the little smile on Macy’s face before he pulls the trigger makes this scene a New Year’s Eve classic.
9. Radio Days (1987)
“Only creeps and crazy people go out on New Year’s Eve,” one in a spray of great lines in the New Year’s Eve scene that contrasts the two New Yorks, Manhattan, with the rich and famous, and Rockaway, Queens, with Woody Allen’s beautiful tribute to his childhood. The scene and the movie end on a Times Square rooftop, where partygoers gather to ring in 1944. Allen delivers the closing narration about the voices of his past and finishes with a line that is true for us all, “Although, the truth is, with the passing of every New Year’s Eve, those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer.”
10. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
I can’t ignore 11 Oscar Nominations. Another Billy Wilder classic, the film stars Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, an aging movie star, who sees failed screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) as her way back to stardom. Desmond lives in a world of delusion and invites Gillis to a New Year’s Eve party that doesn’t turn out to be much of a party. The movie ends with Desmond killing Gillis and when the news cameras show up at her home, she imagines she is on the set of a Cecil B. DeMille movie starring her. The movie ends with the line that lives in Hollywood infamy, “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”