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At Home and Away’s Best of 2021

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Welcome. When my streaming music service of choice fed me its annual report of my most-listened-to songs from the past year, many were by the pianist Hania Rani. I was unfamiliar with Rani’s work until one of my colleagues, the art director Jaspal Riyait, included Rani’s “F Major” in her Best of 2020 picks.

This weekend, if you’re celebrating Christmas or not; if you’re gathering safely or not gathering at all; if you’re staying at home or venturing away, I hope you’ll find something to entertain or inspire or delight you in the At Home and Away team’s selections for the Best of 2021. These are the books, movies, TV shows, recipes, snacks and other stuff that helped my colleagues lead a full and cultured life over the past year. Perhaps within there’s an artist, an idea, a habit that will help you do so in the year to come.

  • “The White Lotus.” The music, the cast, the dark humor — this was everything I was craving, and it temporarily satisfied my never-ending bingeing needs.

  • New Mexico. For the first time in a while, I took a real, get-on-a-plane vacation. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed being in a completely different landscape. It was exhilarating to say the least.

  • “The French Dispatch.” This was my first and last in-theater movie experience for 2021. Loved the movie, but my biggest takeaway was how much I missed movie theater popcorn.

  • Topo Chico. OK, so it might be trendy, but I’m a sucker for bubbles in a glass bottle.

  • Ramen. I could eat ramen at any time of day and for any meal. Winter, summer. Any variety. Doesn’t matter.

  • Disney+. By day, the streaming service is a surefire way to engage our kids. By night, we escape into its other content (often the new Marvel shows). What would pandemic families do without it?

  • Any fleece from Patagonia. Fleeces are the perfect garment for at-home work. Patagonia’s are the best. They are like sweaters, but more rugged and comfortable. They are warm without being too warm and casual without being too casual.

  • Yeti mug. Another pandemic staple has been my Yeti 14-oz. Rambler mug. It’s durable in the extreme, fit for outside or in and keeps your coffee warm for well over an hour.

  • Road & Track magazine. I’ve always loved fancy cars. And at a time when fancy car prices have never seemed more out of reach, what better than to read about them and gawk at them in pictures — often while sipping from my Yeti mug and wearing my Patagonia fleece.

  • The small, overgrown garden at the Russell Street entrance to McGolrick Park in Brooklyn.

  • The soft scent of Dreft baby detergent on clean clothes.

  • Bassam Tariq’s Mogul Mowgli — an engrossing drama about a British Pakistani rapper that weaves together political history, identity crises and darkly surreal sequences — stayed in my head for weeks.

  • Grow lights. With a simple, inexpensive LED setup, I was able to grow sunflowers in my kitchen in January.

  • Finessing my take on Dorie Greenspan’s carrot cake recipe.

  • Incense. My tastes remain simple (sandalwood, nag champa), but lighting up these sticks and letting the scents slowly waft is still a meaningful ritual.

  • Korean language lessons. I signed up for remote Korean language lessons, and it felt better than expected to spend an hour a week listening to, working with, studying a language I know so well, but don’t normally have the opportunity to use in my daily life.

  • Wool leggings. There’s always a moment I’m grateful I invested in these leggings, when I discover and pull them out from the back of my dresser as the cold weather sets in.

  • Gin Gins ginger chews. I’ve always hated ginger, but my middle age has brought me just a tiny bit closer to its soothing qualities, as long as it’s mixed with sugar and this chewy candy substance (tapioca starch).

  • “History of the Eagles.” With so much talk about another band’s recent documentary, I recommend checking out this two-parter about the Eagles, which spans the long, complicated history of a band that doesn’t quit. Whatever you think of them, it’s a good character study.

  • “Like I Used To,” by Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen. This song! “Waiting inside like I used to/Avoiding big crowds like I used to.” It’s my favorite song of the year. Here’s an acoustic version.

  • Almond-scented candles. There are many varieties of almond candles out there (lots of good ones on Etsy). Some smell like biscotti, some like marzipan. Often the chandler will add a cherry accent. My ideal almond-scented candle would smell like the pink liquid hand soap you find in many airport or office bathrooms. I have found great comfort in having a home that smells like cookies.

  • Making yogurt. I watched this Sandor Katz video and couldn’t believe how easy it is.

  • Reading instead of internetting. I know I’m not alone in finding it takes a lot of effort to log off and read for extended periods, but I’ve been amazed (and alarmed) at how much I can read in an hour vs. how little I have to show for an hour gazing at my phone.

  • Stretching my quads. It turns out many other bodily aches and creaks can be remedied by deliberately stretching my thigh muscles every day.

  • Old music. It’s been strange and exciting to revisit albums I haven’t listened to in decades, like “Hunkpapa” by Throwing Muses, Tracy Chapman’s “New Beginning” and Richard Buckner’s “Bloomed.”


What’s on your best of 2021 list? Write to us: athome@nytimes.com. Include your full name and location and we might include your contribution in an upcoming newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. As always, more ideas for how to pass the time this weekend appear below. I’ll be back next week.

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Miscellaneous

Ask Amy: Readers offer their own advice

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Dear Amy: I was troubled by your response to Cathy S., who told her family to leave all their old hurts and issues at home for the holidays.

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20 Best New Year’s Eve Movies of All Time

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The spirit of reflection and resolution is a popular theme when it comes to a lot of Hollywood classics. So it’s no surprise that a holiday marked by such sentiments has been featured across so many films. Perhaps your resolution this New Year’s resembles the hero’s journey: a call to action and commitment to change against all odds. Maybe you’re more of the rom-com type, just focused on securing that midnight kiss with the one that got away.

Either way, if you’re already imagining the trailer of the coming year, or reminiscing on the highlight reel of years past, there’s a perfect New Year’s movie out there for you. Whether you’re looking for some festive film to play post-ball drop during your New Year’s Eve celebrations, or scrolling for some hungover inspiration on New Year’s Day, the possibilities are endless. So, grab your champagne (or Pedialyte) and ring in the new year with these New Year’s movies.

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Phantom Thread

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as an acclaimed London dressmaker who must tailor his lifestyle to fit in his newfound muse. One of the most gorgeous sequences of the film occurs amidst the aftermath of a wild New Year’s Eve party.

Amazon AppleTV+

The Godfather II (1974)

It’s at a New Year’s Eve party in Cuba that Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone plants the kiss of death on Fredo and tells him: “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.”

Amazon AppleTV+

Trading Places (1983)

Two brothers who run a commodities brokerage in Philadelphia try some light social engineering when they switch the identities of their employee, Louis Winthorpe III, played by Dan Aykroyd, and a hustler, Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy. Jamie Lee Curtis is there to help them sort it out and get even. Undeniably a classic comedy, this is also a holiday movie, because one of the film’s most crucial scenes takes place at a New Year’s Eve party aboard a train.

Amazon AppleTV+ Hulu

Carol

If its lead lovers meeting during December can make Carol a Christmas movie, then surely their first kiss happening on December 31st can make it a New Year’s Eve film. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 romance novel Salt, Carol stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two women in 1950s New York who become enveloped in a forbidden love affair.

Amazon AppleTV+

Sleepless in Seattle

Few arcs capture the holiday’s spirit of hope quite like Sam Baldwin transitioning from a heartbreaking scene about talking to his deceased wife on New Year’s Eve to seeking new love on Valentine’s Day. This classic rom-com starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan will have you running to the Empire State Building to profess your feelings for the one you love.

Amazon AppleTV+

About Time

When 21-year-old Tim Lake, played by Domhnall Gleeson, learns that he has inherited the ability to time travel and can do anything so long as it doesn’t alter history, his plan is simple: Get the girl. Of course, winning the heart of the love of his life, played by Rachel McAdams, proves to be the last of his worries as time unfolds.

Amazon AppleTV+ Netflix

The Gold Rush

Sure, watching Charlie Chaplin get stood up on New Year’s Eve is one aspect of The Gold Rush, but the slapstick charm of this classic silent film is perfect for reflecting on how times have changed. Not to mention, its silent nature makes for perfect background for a New Year’s Eve gathering.

Amazon AppleTV+ HBO Max

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Probably the greatest romantic comedy of all time, When Harry Met Sally… defined the genre for a generation to come. The dialogue is whip smart; New York shines; Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal charm and delight. The New Year’s connection comes at the end during a New Year’s Eve party.

Amazon AppleTV+ Hulu Showtime

The Apartment (1960)

Jack Lemmon is a young man on the make who lets his company’s executives use his apartment for extra-marital affairs. After an office Christmas party, he finds his boss’s mistress, a young woman played by Shirley MacLaine, whom he knows from the office, at his apartment, where she’s tried to overdose on pills. They strike up a complicated relationship with multiple entanglements, both professional and personal. It’s a remarkable movie (and a Best Picture winner) that ends on New Year’s Eve.

Amazon AppleTV+

Snowpiercer (2013)

This isn’t just one of the great New Year’s movies, this is one of the best dystopian thrillers in years. Forced to live on a train that circles the world in an endless loop, the back half of the carts, who live in squalor, decide to rise up under Chris Evans’s leadership and take down the wealthy upperclass who’re toasting to another year of splendor.

Amazon AppleTV+ Netflix

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The ’70s were a golden age for disaster films, and not just for the high stakes either. This Gene Hackman-led drama about a luxury cruise liner that capsizes during a New Year’s Eve party is pure adrenaline.

Amazon AppleTV+ HBO Max Hulu

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

In this romantic comedy, Renee Zellweger’s Bridget Jones keeps a diary of a year of romantic misadventures. The movie begins and ends on New Year’s Eve, and it’s delightful as hell.

Amazon AppleTV+ Paramount+

An Affair to Remember (1957)

A weepy romance classic featuring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr begins on New Year’s Eve, where the two main characters, engaged to others, promise to meet up in six months atop the Empire State Building. (If you decide to watch this one, considering following it up with Sleepless in Seattle, which references the movie.)

Amazon AppleTV+

Ghostbusters II (1989)

It’s a far cry from Ghostbusters, but when the movie came out in 1989—five years after the first one—audiences delighted in seeing Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston back in action. The movie reaches its conclusion on New Year’s Eve, with a chorus of New Yorkers singing “Auld Lang Syne” in an attempt to defeat an evil spirit terrorizing the city.

Amazon AppleTV+

Highball (1997)

The writer and director of this film—in which a group of friends meet at three different parties: on Halloween, a birthday, and New Year’s Eve—is Noah Baumbach, who made Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, and others. It’s one of his earliest films and, as such, it’s rough and feels as low budget as it is. But the movie captures the rhythms and dialogue of young adults simply hanging out.

Amazon

Ocean’s 11 (1960)

For a time in the 1960s, the Rat Pack could have released a two-hour film of themselves sleeping and it would’ve made money. Ocean’s 11, which inspired the 2000 remake, is better than that (the team’s 1964 effort, Robin and the 7 Hoods, is not) but it’s not a great film. This is a fun movie, however, with some of the 20th century’s greatest performers clearly having a great time—especially, you can tell, when the cameras aren’t rolling.

AppleTV+ Hulu

Four Rooms (1995)

A bellhop goes into four different rooms on New Year’s Eve, and each room becomes its own short film, with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez directing. The stories themselves are based loosely on Roald Dahl’s adult fiction.

Amazon AppleTV+

200 Cigarettes (1999)

In this 1999 comedy, a group of people make their way to a New Year’s Eve party in New York in 1981. The best part of the movie—which features an ensemble cast, including Ben Affleck, Paul Rudd, Kate Hudson, Gaby Hoffmann, and Christina Ricci—is the setting: New York in the early ‘80s. That’s worth the price of admission.

This movie is not available to stream.

Happy New Year, Charlie Brown! (1986)

Charlie Brown frets over a book report, a New Year’s Eve party, and a red-headed girl. And unlike A Charlie Brown Christmas, in the end, nothing turns out well for Charlie Brown in this 30-minute special.

AppleTV+

New Year’s Eve (2011)

In the pantheon of Gary Marshall films, it may not be his best, but there’s something about ending the year with a feel good movie that features an ensemble cast.

Amazon AppleTV+ HBO Max

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Miscellaneous

Wallice, an Indie Pop Sensation from Los Angeles

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Name: Wallice

Age: 23

Hometown: Los Angeles

Currently Lives: In a three-bedroom bungalow house in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles with her longtime boyfriend, Callaghan Kevany, and a friend.

Claim to Fame: Wallice (whose full name is Wallice Hana Watanabe) is a singer-songwriter best known for “Punching Bag,” a song about self-deception in toxic relationships; her follow-up hit, “23,” about the perils of living with her mother during the pandemic, has had three million streams on Spotify. Sample lyric: “I’m terrified of the future/ Scared that I’ll still be a loser.”

“I credit the pandemic to be able to find an audience, because I think a lot of people had time to listen to music and find new artists,” Wallice said.

Big Break: In 2020, shortly after Wallice released “Punching Bag,” Spotify decided to feature the song on its Lorem playlist — an influential list that showcases new artists and now has more than 900,000 followers.

“A lot of my friends are indie artists that are coming up in the scene,” she said. “They kept reposting the song, and that’s how I got Spotify’s attention.” The song took off from there and has been streamed more than four million times.

Latest Project: In October, Wallice signed with Dirty Hit, an independent record label in London that’s also home to the 1975, an English boy band. In November she released the single “Wisdom Tooth,” a bubbly pop tune that was written the night before she went to the dentist. “I was so nervous,” she said. “I had a recording session that day and was like, ‘There’s no way I can write about anything else.’”

Next Thing: In the new year, she’ll join the band Still Woozy on tour. “I’m really excited about going on tour, especially since my bandmates are my best friends,” she said. “My boyfriend is our guitar player, and my bass player I’ve known forever.”

What’s in a Name?: Wallice went without a name at birth because her parents thought they were having a boy. A few days later, her father named her after Wallis Simpson, the American socialite who later became the wife of Prince Edward, after he abdicated the British throne to marry her. “I really like my name, and I love how it is unique,” Wallice said.

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