Susan Year Itch: I resolve that this year will be new

This holiday brings with it the special kind of self-reflection that follows a long night of partying, as one year ends and another begins. Start the year right with these five movies.

With studios churning out movies every December that they hope will secure a permanent place on our list of holiday classics, New Year’s has never quite managed to form its own canon of films. More often than not, this wicked cool holiday ends up functioning as the caboose to Christmas and Chanukah’s locomotive engine. I’m a firm believer in the whole holiday season, though, and if the Christmas spirit is about celebrating your loved ones and reaching out to those less fortunate, New Year’s Day is about reflecting upon the past, getting tanked, and then packaging it all away in a mental box before embarking on a new journey.

Others no doubt have their own associations with all of the above holidays, but in my adult life it works like this: I stop working just in time for this first holiday to happen, in which I see my family, eat a lot, give and receive some stuff. Then I hang out for a few days, enjoying my new books and cultivating a healthy case of cabin fever. When January 1 rolls around, I delightedly purge all of my husband’s New York Magazines from the previous year, cheerfully resolve to make only healthy recipes that he cheerfully resolves to eat, and determinedly renew my efforts to rid the world of my personal demons. It may or may not work, in the end, but I think the good deal is that resolutions require one to actually do some self-examination.

It makes sense that in films, the role of New Year’s Eve (which is portrayed more often than the following Day — it’s more glamorous with all those streamers and drunk people, I guess) is largely one of beginnings and endings, usually of a romantic nature. If a misunderstanding happened at Christmas, it will probably be wrapped up on N.Y.E., most likely as the countdown to midnight begins. I find these patterns reassuring and kinda magical — a heartrending version of my magazine purge followed by a romantic version of my healthy recipe quest. Fights end, romances begin, and musical numbers very often follow.

I hope these movies help launch you into 2010. Oh, and if anyone makes fun of me for being sentimental, I’ve got a few more days before my “don’t go over there and smack you around” resolution kicks in. Enjoy!

High School Musical

Yeah, OK, this one is soooo 2006, but the eight-year-olds in your life were five back then, and it’s possible they haven’t yet experienced the squeaky clean yet really entertaining High School (According to Disney) Musical. The film begins with Troy and Gabriella, uncomfortably sharing a karaoke moment together at a New Year’s Eve party. Turns out they have great voices and great “harmony” (if you know what I mean), and a beautiful franchise is born. The Disney version of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens do not exchange naked pictures of each other, but they do engage in some pretty infectious song-and-dance over the course of the next semester, as their successful New Year’s Eve performance encourages each to break free from their prescribed high school cliques and try out for the school play. Think of it as Grease for kids.

New Year’s Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to try something new, it may just land you a bazillion dollars and your face on a lot of lunchboxes.

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Unfairly dismissed sometimes as Cathy the comic strip on the big screen, BJD is a Pride and Prejudice-based story about that strange moment in which all of a sudden you wake up and all of your friends are married, bar hopping has become couples’ dinner parties, and one night stands are just sad. Bridget is more like 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, only a few years earlier, before that sweet gig at NBC presented itself. Towards the beginning of the film, Bridget makes some resolutions which help characterize her for the rest of the year, but it’s the New Year’s Eve scene at the end of the film that clinches it. Spoiler alert (as if you didn’t know) after her second Christmas of humiliation and misunderstanding, Mr. Darcy finally ends the misery by showing up unannounced and presenting her with a new diary for a new year, ostensibly one without all the drama of the year before, although I haven’t seen the sequel, so who knows.

New Year’s Takeaway: It’s useful to make resolutions, but self-loathing doesn’t get you anywhere. Or does it?

Boogie Nights

Hey, it can’t all be hugs and kisses at midnight. New Year’s Eve in this P. T. Anderson hit marks the beginning of the end for ol’ Dirk Diggler. A double-murder-suicide at a party marking the end of the 1970s irreversibly changes the direction of Dirk’s star, which had been climbing a little too high. Unlike Bridget Jones’s, in which year beginnings bookend the growth and development of a character, in Boogie Nights, N.Y.E. hits you squarely in the middle and divides the film into a comedy and a tragedy. The higher you rise, the farther you fall.

New Year’s Takeaway: Just…don’t go into the porn industry, everybody.

When Harry Met Sally

What would a New Year’s movie list be without good old WHMS? Beginnings, endings, frustrations, and reunions, this film marks the passage of time with several New Year’s scenes, each indicating a stage of their relationship as well as that year’s hairstyle trend.

New Year’s Takeaway: People who are attracted to each other will find it hard to stay “just friends” if they spend a lot of time together during a holiday that involves drinking and a fear of loneliness. But you knew that already.

An American in Paris

Critics call the plot flimsy in this Arthur Freed-produced musical from MGM’s golden era that’s written around a brilliant Gershwin score, but it’s pretty standard. Boy meets girl, girl is attached to boy’s friend, everybody sings about it and wears amazing clothing. At a wild and highly-stylized masquerade ball to celebrate the new year, everybody realizes who’s in love with everyone else, but for the most part, they have the maturity to cast aside the pretensions they’ve been harboring all year (masks, get it?) and accept reality as bittersweet, for the most part. It’s MGM’s Paris in the Fifties! What do you want? A thinkpiece?

New Year’s Takeaway: A costume can’t hide the truth indefinitely, and also fictional French people in 1951 throw better parties than we do.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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