Calendar whirls: Presenting all the best movies to stream this New Year’s Eve weekend

Staying in is the new going out, and it can be festive fun when you watch these filmic celebrations of the ends of years and the promises of new ones.

We have curated 12 of the best New Year’s parties ever filmed: Terrific films ranging from the 1930s to the new century in a variety of different styles, from drunken free-for-alls to austere, bittersweet occasions.

Whether you’re in the mood to laugh, or in a more self-reflective mood, there’s something here for everyone to pop on this holiday weekend.

After the Thin Man

★★★★☆

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, from $2.99)

After the Thin Man MGM

Nora (Myrna Loy) and Nick Charles (William Powell), with Asta, try to solve a mystery in After the Thin Man.

This second movie in the six-film series was based on an original story by Dashiell Hammett and picks up where The Thin Man (1934)—which takes place at Christmas—leaves off. In After the Thin Man (1936), Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) return to San Francisco on New Year’s Eve to find a raucous party taking place in their home. Nonetheless, they are expected to spend the evening with Nora’s stuffy, rich family. Once there, they find a mystery underway: Nora’s cousin’s no-good husband is missing, and Nick is reluctantly pulled into solving it.

Once again directed by the zippy W.S. Van Dyke, this one has the original’s tight, compact combo of comedy and crime, not to mention the awesome chemistry of its two leads and the cuteness of the dog, Asta (played by dog actor Skippy). James Stewart, just a year or two before his breakthrough to stardom, co-stars.

The Company

★★★★☆

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, from $2.99)

The Company Sony Pictures

Neve Campbell plays a ballet dancer at New Year’s in Robert Altman’s The Company.

Neve Campbell wrote the story and co-produced The Company (2003), and plays “Ry,” a member of Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. Though Campbell studied ballet as a child, and Ry performs a stunning rendition of “My Funny Valentine” here, the movie doesn’t focus on her. The penultimate film of the late, great director Robert Altman, it’s more of a tapestry that observes several of the dancers over the course of a few weeks—during Christmas and New Year’s—without regard for plot. Even the dances are shot in a way to highlight both their beauty and their mechanics.

The company’s manager, Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell), however, ties things together in an eccentric, entertaining way. It’s a beautiful, fascinating, and highly underrated movie from an American master, with stunning work by Campbell. James Franco co-stars as a cook who embarks upon a holiday romance with Ry.

The Fabulous Baker Boys

★★★★☆

(HBO Go/HBO Now)

Fabulous Baker Boys (Twentieth Century Fox)

Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) stuns the crowd with her song in The Fabulous Baker Boys.

No matter what else Michelle Pfeiffer does in her career, she’ll always be remembered (in addition to her Catwoman) for slinking across the piano and singing “Makin’ Whoopee” in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). Jeff Bridges and his real-life brother Beau play the title brothers, Jack and Frank, who make a living playing soft jazz on twin pianos in lounges and bars. Jack is more gifted than Frank, but Frank handles the business end of things while Jack has fun. When business starts to slip, they decide to hire a girl singer, and thus enters Susie Diamond (Pfeiffer), who slowly begins to come between the boys.

Written and directed by Steve Kloves, who went on to adapt many of the Harry Potter movies, the movie is slick and sexy, old-fashioned and charming, like a fancy, lively night on the town. But it’s the vivid characters, and the perfect casting, that make it worth seeing.

Fruitvale Station

★★★★☆

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, from $3.99)

Fruitvale Station Weinstein Co.

Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan) chats with his daughter (Ariana Neal) before going out for New Year’s Eve in Fruitvale Station.

Oakland filmmaker Ryan Coogler made his feature debut with this meticulously researched drama, depicting the final day in the life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan). Over the course of a regular New Year’s Eve day, Oscar tries to win back his grocery store job, so he can quit selling drugs; tries to placate his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), after she has caught him cheating; and tires to buy food for his mother’s birthday party. That night, Oscar goes out for the holiday celebrations, returns home on a BART train, and is shot to death by BART police in the wee hours of New Year’s Day, 2009.

Though the real-life incident sparked outrage, Fruitvale Station (2013) is introspective, and human, making a case for Oscar Grant as a real person rather than as a symbol. Octavia Spencer gives an extraordinary and utterly heartbreaking performance as Oscar’s mother.

Holiday

★★★★☆

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, from $2.99)

Holiday Columbia Pictures

Linda Seton (Katharine Hepburn) and Johnny Case (Cary Grant) pass a revealing New Year’s Eve in George Cukor’s Holiday.

Cary Grant stars as the energetic and jovial Johnny Case, a self-made man who plans to quit working and explore, looking for the meaning of life. But first he wants to marry Julia (Doris Nolan), a woman he has just met. It turns out that Julia is rich and her family wants to throw a huge engagement party on New Year’s Eve. Johnny ends up spending most of the party in the “playroom,” the only fun room in the entire austere house, along with Julia’s kooky sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn), her brother Ned (Lew Ayres), and an older couple, the Potters (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon). Of course, Johnny discovers that Julia doesn’t really care for his plan, and that Linda is actually the one for him.

Based on a 1928 play, Holiday (1938) was not a success in its day, but, as directed by George Cukor, it remains subtle and sophisticated as well as wonderfully timeless.

A Long Way Down

★★★☆☆

(Hulu, Hoopla, TubiTV)

A Long Way Down Magnolia

Jess (Imogen Poots) and JJ (Aaron Paul) find a new lease on life after a dark New Year’s Eve in A Long Way Down.

Based on a novel by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), A Long Way Down (2014) is a fairly lightweight treatment of some dark material, but in its gentle acknowledgement of sadness and hurt, it has a sweetness that can feel like a warm hug. On New Year’s Eve, four completely different people (played by Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, and Aaron Paul) arrive on the same London rooftop, each intending to commit suicide. They talk themselves out of it and make a collective pact not to try again until Valentine’s Day.

But Martin (Brosnan), a ruined TV personality, has an idea to turn their encounter into the feel-good story of the year. A few goopy plot twists, and the inevitable happy ending, follow, but whenever the quartet are together onscreen, the movie crackles. Rosamund Pike co-stars.

Phantom Thread

★★★★☆

(HBO Go/HBO Now)

Phantom Thread Focus Features

Alma (Vicky Krieps) becomes entangled with fashion titan Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread.

Highly acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson returned to small-scale films about people with this elegant, ingeniously acted, and somewhat depraved movie about the fashion world, and it includes one of the most decadent New Year’s Eve parties ever filmed. In Phantom Thread (2017), Daniel Day-Lewis plays Daniel Woodcock, a fashion titan in the 1950s who dresses stars of the stage and screen and royalty, while his stern sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) runs things. Everything changes when Woodcock is enchanted by a clumsy café waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps), and brings her home; he dresses her and makes her his living mannequin and muse.

But just when she’s about to be discarded, Alma asserts her own kind of control over the situation. Anderson’s camera moves with precision and austerity through the Woodcock mansion, taking in every elegant fold of fabric, but it’s Jonny Greenwood’s magnificent score that ramps up the tension underneath.

Radio Days

★★★★★

(Hulu, Epix)

Radio Days Orion Pictures

Singing hopeful Sally White (Mia Farrow) meets the voice of the Masked Avenger (Wallace Shawn) in Woody Allen’s Radio Days.

Woody Allen’s Radio Days (1987) is a pure dip into warm nostalgia, looking back through rose-colored glasses at a simpler time. Allen narrates several stories of the old days, from his own childhood in a noisy, busy house (Joe, the surrogate for the young Allen, is played by Seth Green) to tales of the stars of his favorite radio shows. (Wallace Shawn plays the voice of the “Masked Avenger.”) The segments range from heartbreaking to wonderfully silly, and despite the complex structure, the movie has an easy flow. It all ends with a beautiful, bittersweet rooftop gathering at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Mia Farrow plays Sally, a cigarette girl in a swanky nightclub, who dreams of becoming a radio star. Diane Keaton, Allen’s former leading lady, makes a cameo singing “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” in a club. Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Julie Kavner, and Dianne Wiest also appear.

Roma

★★★★★

(Netflix)

Roma Netflix

Maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Pepe (Marco Graf) play a game in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018) is the film of the year, a beautiful, black-and-white meditation on the filmmaker’s childhood years in Mexico (in Spanish and Mixtec, with English subtitles). It focuses on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the maid for a well-to-do family, over the course of a year in the early 1970s. The family’s husband leaves for another woman, and the wife (Marina de Tavira) tries to hold it all together, while Cleo finds herself pregnant and her boyfriend gone. With exquisite cinematography and sound design, Cuarón balances dark forebodings, moments of lightness and joy, and shocking tragedies, with a sense of true poetry.

As with the director’s Oscar-winning Gravity, this is an astonishing visual and technical marvel, but also—like another of Cuarón’s stories of young women, A Little Princess—it’s delicate and affectionate. Highlighted by large-scale Christmas and New Year’s sequences, this masterpiece will be perfect holiday viewing for those seeking something a little extra.

Strange Days

★★★★☆

(HBO Go/HBO Now)

Strange Days Twentieth Century Fox

‘Mace’ (Angela Bassett) and Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) face lots of trouble in the future of 1999 in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days.

Kathryn Bigelow’s dark, underrated Strange Days (1995) takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, the brutal days of 1999, during the last few days of December. Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a former cop who now sells black-market virtual reality recordings of things like robberies, so that regular people can get a taste of danger. Things take a vicious turn when he accidentally gets his hands on a recording of a brutal rape and murder.

Juliette Lewis co-stars as a nightclub singer, Angela Bassett is a limo driver, and Tom Sizemore is a private detective. Bigelow (later an Oscar-winner for The Hurt Locker) is one of the best directors of violence alive, understanding both the appeal and horror of it; she constantly struggles against the conventionality of James Cameron’s (her ex-husband) and Jay Cocks’ screenplay, but frequently wins with her unhinged visuals, and the tricky switches between virtual reality and regular reality.

Trading Places

★★★★☆

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, from $2.99)

Trading Places Paramount

Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Dan Aykroyd try to turn the tables on a pair of greedy millionaires in Trading Places.

Two wealthy brothers, Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche) wager that they can turn their star employee, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd, a perfectly deadpan straight man) into a homeless criminal, and a homeless criminal, Billy Ray Valentine (a whirlwind Eddie Murphy), into a successful businessman. A hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold (Jamie Lee Curtis) helps them out, as does a faithful butler, Coleman (Denholm Elliott).

Directed by John Landis in his beloved Philadelphia, Trading Places (1983) makes wonderful use of the grimy, chilly, big-city holiday season (it’s set over Christmas and New Year’s). His trademark of clashing wide, deadpan, realistic shots with closer moments of absurdity and slapstick works beautifully with this great cast and the ridiculous plot. Count down to the scene in which Murphy, posing as an African exchange student, joyously shouts “Merry New Year!”

While You Were Sleeping

★★★★☆

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, from $2.99)

While You Were Sleeping Buena Vista

Lucy (Sandra Bullock) and Jack (Bill Pullman) attend a zany New Year’s Eve party in While You Were Sleeping.

While You Were Sleeping (1995) is one of those romantic comedies that could have been annoyingly formulaic, but thanks to the sweetly earnest performances, from the leads as well as a stable of strong character actors, it’s easily forgiven. The lonely Lucy (Sandra Bullock) works as a token-taker for the Chicago “L” train, and is secretly in love with regular commuter Peter (Peter Gallagher). When he is mugged, she rescues him from the tracks, but he falls into a coma. In the hospital, she is mistaken for his fiancée, and upon meeting his grandmother with a weak heart, Elsie (Glynis Johns), she decides to keep up the ruse so as not to upset anyone.

Lucy also meets Peter’s down-home, aw-shucks rocking chair-making brother, Jack (Bill Pullman), and thus begins the real romance. Lucy spends a sweet Christmas and a funny New Year’s with the family before the truth finally comes out in an unexpectedly moving finale.

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