New Year’s Eve, the latest amalgamation of holiday-themed rom-com subplots from director Garry Marshall, did not exactly receive a warm critical welcome upon its December 5 release. Along with a dismal 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (even Alvin and his ghastly gang of furry friends scored a 13% for the third installment of The Chipmunks franchise), the film received a blast of harsh words from Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Roger Ebert for its shameless, star-stuffed vapidity. “New Year’s Eve,” Ebert sniffed mercilessly, “is a dreary plod through the sands of time until finally the last grain has trickled through the hourglass of cinematic sludge.” Other reviewers were not quite so evocative in their language. All Kimberley Jones of the Austin Chronicle had to say on the matter was “Auld Lang Suck.”
Well, Ms. Jones and Mr. Ebert may not have exactly embraced the holiday spirit, but there’s no reason for the rest of us to play Scrooge. We’re fresh off the season of giving, after all, so rather than take the easy route and mince the film to cinematic bits and pieces, let’s focus on the things that New Year’s Eve actually did right. The Oscars are right around the corner and unfortunately New Year’s Eve will not make even a single appearance; in consolation, I’ve listed all of the categories in which the movie should have been a serious contender. Spoiler alerts galore to follow!
Best Director: Move aside, Scorsese and Spielberg. This one belongs without a doubt to Garry Marshall. Was it over when his 2010 Valentine’s Day bombed with critics, some of whom branded the movie a “greeting card of vomit?” Certainly not! It took the director less than a year to crank out another pastiche of holiday vignettes. New Year’s Eve takes Valentine’s Day’s interlinking subplot formula, the same screenwriter, and even some of the same actors, and plops them all in New York City instead of Los Angeles. And given Valentine’s Day‘s healthy box office performance, I’d say New Year’s Eve more than qualifies as a smart bit of directing. Marshall might have walked away from last year’s Academy Award ceremony empty-handed, but at least he had $216 million in ticket receipts waiting for him at home. Big mistake, Academy. Big. Huge!
Best Original Screenplay: To Katherine Fugate, for her brazen refusal to adhere to traditional screenwriting conventions. The notion of infusing a romantic comedy storyline with meaningful emotion? Forget it! New Year’s Eve stars the guy who interviews Stefan on SNL encouraging pregnant spouse Jessica Biel to hold off her contractions until the start of 2012, so that the couple can win a cash prize for birthing the first baby of the new year. How about situational authenticity? Not a concern for Fugate. Consider the subplot involving a scruffy, pajama-bottomed Ashton Kutcher falling for Lea Michele, a back-up singer for Jon Bon Jovi’s fictional rock star. After Kutcher’s New Year’s Grinch status is washed away by Michele (they meet after being trapped in an elevator together – deus ex machina genius!), he follows her to Times Square and sails through security without a backstage pass (but still in those pajamas!) by “telling them he is the drummer.” Almost as believable as Josh Duhamel managing to find a completely abandoned street to serve as the perfect setting for his romantic rendezvous with Sarah Jessica Parker about two minutes after midnight. In New York City. On New Year’s Eve.
Best Supporting Actress: The most worthy candidate for this award of the New Year’s Eve ensemble might be Hilary Swank, who, in her role as the vice president of the Times Square Alliance, manages to coordinate the ball drop so that the entire production can be operated by one giant light switch. Pretty baller if you ask me.
Best Makeup: most definitely deserved by whoever was in charge of this department for New Year’s Eve, primarily for complementing Abigail Breslin’s character’s lovesick storyline with buckets of moody eyeliner. Indeed, the viscosity of the 15-year-old actress’s eye makeup is matched only by her inch-thick lipliner. You’d think on-screen mother Sarah Jessica Parker might have raised some objections, but, then again, she was Carrie Bradshaw in another life…
Best Supporting Actor: This was a close race between Ludacris, whose role as Hilary Swank’s best policeman friend in the film is so forgettable that he doesn’t really fit into any other category, and Bon Jovi, who deserves some sort of compensation for the discomfort those tight leather pants must have given him during shooting. In the end, though, this one goes to Bon Jovi, whose performance is so emotionally flat that it actually makes us believe the world’s biggest rock star could fall in love with a caterer (even if said caterer does look like Katherine Heigl).
Best Foreign Language Film: It’s a stretch…but if the garbled Spanglish exclamations Sofia Vergara’s sous chef character utters whenever she catches sight of Bon Jovi constitute a foreign language, then New Year’s Eve might be a viable competitor in this category.
Best Original Song: Okay, so it’s not an original song per se, but the diegetic context of Lea Michele’s rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” is so novel that perhaps the Academy can make an exception. The last we see of her before the ball drops, she is shimmying across the stage singing back-up for the Bon Jovi character. Then the ball drops and everyone cheers and get this: next thing we know, Bon Jovi is MIA, and Lea Michele is suddenly singing “Auld Lang Syne” solo in front of a million people. The crowd, blissfully oblivious to the fact that a total unknown has taken the stage, is apparently so captivated by her performance that, save for Lea Michele singing, Times Square falls completely silent on New Year’s Eve for perhaps the first time in history. Simply incredible!
Best Actress: to Michelle Pfeiffer, whose enigmatic presence as an emotionally fragile, mop-topped secretary baffled me because she never got the glamazon makeover I was kind of looking forward to the whole film. Props to her for being alternative, then, in both role choice and the performance she delivered. After her character Ingrid quits her job at a record company, she enlists the help of Zac Efron the bike messenger to help check off her bucket list of New Year’s Resolutions. This gives Ingrid the opportunity to do cutesy things like swing through the air in a harness above the Radio City Music Hall stage (“be amazed”) and eat doughnuts outside of Tiffany’s (“eat breakfast at Tiffany’s”). Was she meant to be sympathetic? Pathetic? Diabetic? I never quite figured it out, but she kept me guessing the entire movie.
Best Animal Wrangler: Unfortunately for Josh Duhamel the record mogul, the haircut that his on-screen mother was sporting at his company’s corporate party made her bear an unpleasant resemblance to Kathy Bates in Misery. The New Year’s Eve film crew, however, saved us from visions of axes and blowtorches by equipping her with an adorable puppy that she carried around her neck like a fluffy white ferret the whole night. If there were ever a moment for the creation of a new Oscar category, now would be the time.
Best Actor: Another tough call, this time between two Oscar veterans: Hector Elizondo as a genius electrician who finds himself temporarily stuck on the ball as it rises into dropping position at One Times Square with him on top of it, and Robert De Niro for his performance as a dying cancer patient fighting to watch the ball drop one last time. De Niro ultimately prevails for his mischievous pranks on the New Year’s Eve blooper reel, which, in all seriousness, is one of the few saving graces of the film. It doesn’t hurt his image that he gets to hold hands with smokeshow nurse Halle Berry for a majority of his screen time, either.
Best Cinematography: There is lots of glitter in this movie. And glitter is fun! Lots of glitter, and lots of sparkles and lots of confetti floating down onto the Times Square revelers. Who, by the way, do not seem to be the least bit cold or appallingly intoxicated, but spend the night happily thwacking together their inflatable Nivea noisemakers without a care in the world.
New Year’s Eve might not be traditional Academy fare, and Roger Ebert might need to down a couple of champagne glasses before he can stomach its saccharine sentimentality. But the real world Times Square crowd was nearly as agreeable as its on-screen counterpart, and New Year’s Eve rang in 2012 with a sizable collection of well-deserved ticket stubs. Let’s raise our glasses to that, if not an Oscar statuette.