One Way Passage (1932): Pre-code Hollywood, the era before the puritanical "Hays Code" was belatedly enforced, is notorious for its underpatroled racy sex, violence and general hedonism. In other words, its New Year’s parties are pretty fun. That said, the period’s best is strictly G-rated. In Tay Garnett’s sentimental yet witty romance, two doomed lovers—terminally ill Kay Francis and escaped murderer William Powell—promise to meet for New Year’s in a Mexican bar. The ensuing party isn’t very large, nor is it, shall we say, traditional, but it is the most romantic and wonderful one this side of the climax to Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.
After the Thin Man (1936): Before they were suddenly stuck with a kid in their third outing, Another Thin Man, Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell, again, and Myrna Loy) knew how to party. The first Thin Man took place over Christmas; the first, nearly-as-great sequel starts on New Year’s, and our functioning alkie heroes do not disappoint.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972): May your own NYE soiree not be on a cruise ship that capsizes.
The Godfather, Part II (1974): Havana, Dec. 31, 1958. A to-be-ousted General Batista is about to board a plane for the Dominican Republic. But something more important is happening at the same lavish, pre-revolution party: Michael Corleone gives his brother Fredo the kiss of death, then informs him he knows he was involved with a plot against him. “You broke my heart,” he says, voice cracking, clutching Fredo’s head. As with the characters in the film below, New Year’s is the beginning of the end.
Boogie Nights (1997): Pornography’s halcyon days ended with the 1970s—on Dec. 31, 1979, in fact. As our carefree cast revels, tragedy lurks on the sidelines: Sound guy Philip Seymour Hoffman drunkenly kisses a horrified Mark Wahlberg, and sadsack William H. Macy guns down his jilting wife (Nina Hartley) before turning it on himself. Worst of all, filmmaker Burt Reynolds is informed all porn productions will henceforth be shot on shitty video.
The Book of Life (1998): The near-apocalypse, Hal Hartley-style: After deciding not to destroy mankind on NYE, Jesus (Martin Donovan) and Satan (Thomas Jay Ryan) instead party down with Mary Magdalene (P.J. Harvey) and Yo La Tengo.
Neil Barsky’s "Koch" Keeps It Light