What to watch on New Year's Eve.
Unlike Christmas, New Year’s Eve hasn’t inspired many movies. It pops up a lot in cameos—Boogie Nights has a memorable, bloody farewell-to-the-’70s bash, for one—but so far NYE has only the flaccid 200 Cigarettes (1999) all to itself. The holiday’s cinematic absence is easily explained: Unless you’re a teetotaller, rabidly religious or with child, you’re likely celebrating the holiday by pouring harmful (but refreshing) liquids down your throat. You have neither time nor need for a film that reflects or refracts your holiday celebrating à la the Christmas Movie.
If you’re commemorating the holiday cinematically, do it by celebrating its main activity: drinking solely to get pissed. But what to watch?
Here’s PW’s picks for the best, drunkest movies. Because we’re assuming that your New Year’s imbibing isn’t an everyday occurrence, we’re ignoring movies about general, extended alcoholism—for example, Arthur, Bad Santa, Sideways and even Barfly—and are focusing instead on isolated bouts of town-painting.
One of cinema’s first brushes with fall-down inebriation is 1907’s Dream of a Rarebit Fiend. Based on the Winsor McCay comic strip and directed by film pioneer Edwin S. Porter (of The Great Train Robbery), it exploits one soused socialite’s trip home using creative special effects and photographic tricks. As our antihero stumbles home, he grabs a statue that rocks like a pendulum while a superimposed street panorama spins around him. When he finally hits the hay, the bed hops up and around like a stunted pony before flying gracefully over the city.
Rarebit Fiend is more goofy entertainment than commentary, and Hollywood movies often take an either-or approach to drinking: It can be funny or horrific—but rarely both.
Charlie Chaplin first attracted the interest of Mack Sennett, Fatty Arbuckle and the like with a routine involving a pratfall-prone drunk. (Chaplin’s deadbeat father died of alcoholism, so the bit is tinged with personal exorcism.) He brought the schtick back, refashioned for the Little Tramp, in the one-reeler One A.M. (1916), in which, home from carousing, Chaplin battles with a revolving table, a tiger-skin rug, an ostentatious clock and a nefarious Murphy Bed.
Chaplin’s take on drinking is standard for classic Hollywood. W.C. Fields frequented cocktail bars in many of his films, while the Thin Man series boasted William Powell and Myrna Loy’s Nick and Nora, cinema’s foremost high-functioning-alcoholic sleuths.
In the U.K. you have the Ealing comedy Whisky Galore (1949), in which the inhabitants of a quaint Scottish isle, inconvenienced by the liquor rationing of WWII, scramble to pilfer the booty of a crashed ship carrying 50,000 cases of booze. The tragic ending, the narrator informs us: It eventually ran out.
Slightly more serious in its portrayal of abject poverty, but still gut-busting, is British favorite Withnail and I (1986), in which two out-of-work London actors (Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann) motor out to a country cottage and drink anything they get their grimy hands on. Grant’s woozy, star-making turn is all the more impressive given he’s a real-life teetotaller. To prepare, he was forced by writer-director Bruce Robinson to down half a bottle of vodka—the actor’s first and last brush with hooch.
Though it’s technically martial arts, it’s hard not to imagine Drunken Master (1978) and its similarly top-notch 1994 sequel as comedies, with Jackie Chan’s naive village kid guzzling wine to improve his smackdown skills. He only boozes when he fights, though, unlike Lee Marvin’s Oscar-nabbing turn as a fun, permanently whiskeyed-up gunslinger in Cat Ballou (1965).