New Year’s Eve in the Movies

New Year’s Eve is a day dedicated to celebration and reflection. Movies with plots centered around New Year’s Eve tend to be filled with boozy parties, sudden epiphanies, and a sense that viewers should always expect the unexpected. Four of these  movies take characters through life-altering experiences that often change the way they look at the world and themselves.

1. “Trading Places”

“Trading Places” paired Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, two of the greatest “Saturday Night Live” cast members, in a modern update of Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper.” In this 1983 film, Aykroyd plays Louis Winthorpe III, a successful commodities trader working for Duke & Duke, a top trading firm. Eddie Murphy begins the movie as down-on-his-luck schemer Billy Ray Valentine. When Valentine is falsely accused of stealing Winthorpe’s briefcase one morning, the heads of the trading firm, the Duke brothers (portrayed by veteran actors Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche), begin a complicated scheme to test whether Valentine’s supposed criminality is a result of nature or nurture. The brothers force Louis and Billy Ray to switch places, maneuvering Valentine into the traditional role of the Prince while taking away all of Winthorpe’s possessions to cast him into the Pauper role.

As the plot unfolds, Louis and Billy Ray develop a scheme to take revenge against the brothers. Their plan culminates in an undercover sting operation that takes place on a party train during New Year’s Eve, complete with exotic costumes and the appearance of another SNL alum, current Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

The New Year’s Eve party is the perfect location for the ultimate event the entire plot rests on. It offers an element of drama that balances out the laugh-out-loud moments that show Murphy and Aykroyd at their best. It also gave Murphy his first chance to show off his comedic side on film; his first movie, “48 Hours,” displayed a far more dramatic side of the actor.

2. “When Harry Met Sally”

Few pairings were more effective in bringing out the romantic side of actors and audiences alike than that of director Rob Reiner and writer Nora Ephron in 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally.” This movie, which finally answers the question of whether men and women really can only be friends, is a work of art. It’s a marvelous viewing experience, from the plot to the dialogue to the phenomenal acting talents demonstrated by Billy Crystal as Harry Burns and Meg Ryan as Sally Albright.

The plot charts the development of their relationship, from chance meetings to a dedicated friendship. The climax for the relationship and the movie itself happens on New Year’s Eve, when the momentous date has its usual effect. A sudden epiphany occurs, and Harry changes the dynamic of the relationship forever.

“When Harry Met Sally” uses New Year’s Eve purely as a plot device. At its core, the movie is a simple love story with the conflict between lovers provided by the characters themselves. Each is afraid of endangering their relationship and denies the growing feelings they’ve been experiencing until emotions explode on New Year’s Eve. Ephron and Reiner successfully tinkered with a basic boy-meets-girl plot to create a fun exploration of a courtship that lasted far longer than necessary.

3. “Assault on Precinct 13”

“Assault on Precinct 13” is a 2005 New Year’s Eve film that’s full of action, with plenty of gunplay and explosions. New Year’s Eve serves its role as a momentous occasion, as the major event driving the film’s plot occurs on that day. This particular storyline involves an attack on a closing police station, which is defended by a collection of cops and criminals in an uneasy alliance.

With Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishbourne heading a talented cast, “Assault on Precinct 13” manages to make the jump from a simplistic shoot ’em up to a suspenseful thriller. New Year’s Eve also has a significant symbolic role. The closing of the precinct shows the element of change that many associate with the holiday, as does Hawke’s own personal transformation of his feelings from ambivalence about his life to actually caring about his job and the people around him as he attempts to protect them from those trying to gain entrance to the building.