Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Favorite Films: Musicals

Today, I’m going to start something different – we’ll come back to the debates in a few weeks. For quite some time now, people have been asking me to list my favorite movies. So that is what I’m going to do. These aren’t necessarily the most significant or the best movies by any stretch. They are just the films I enjoy the most in each genre. So read along and see if you agree, and then tell us your favorites too.

Let’s start with musicals because I’ve been talking musicals all week with one of our readers.

1. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973): Ironically, I didn’t like this one the first time I saw it. But something about it compelled me to watch it again and I was hooked. This film features a fantastic 70’s rock soundtrack, some true subtlety of message, and the most kick ass tasseled jumpsuit EVER! Moreover, the track “Could We Start Again Please” is one of those rare songs were you can honestly feel the emotion behind the song.

2. Grease: (1978) Grease is the word baby. This is an awesome musical that combines 1950s style music with a hint of the 1970s (two strong musical eras). The songs work both as straight forward “wholesome” songs for kids and Mormons, and yet have a well-hidden, extremely dirty undercurrent for everyone else. The story is very relatable to anyone who has dated, and it’s just all around strong.

3. Cabaret (1972): The film surrounding the music in this one is interesting. It provides an interesting look into swinging Berlin in the 1930s just as the Nazis are starting their rise up, and one of the pro-Nazi songs (“Tomorrow Belongs To Me”) gives an incredible mix of beauty, strength and creepy. Beyond that, the songs seem to walk through the various sexual perversions, but they are very funny and entertaining and I would love to have seen this club in real life. Plus, there are some shots of German beer here that just make my mouth water.

4. Xanadu (1980): Ok, shoot me. This one tanked in theaters, but I really enjoyed the whole idea as a kid and I thought the music was super strong. Over the years, my appreciation of the film has only grown. ELO’s work in particular is amazing – some of their best. Gene Kelly can still dance like a mad man, and I love the mix of old and modern in the scene where they present the clashing visions of the club. Interestingly, I read recently that this film has had a recent revival among gays. Huh.

5. Sound of Music (1965): Great songs, great story and Julie Andrews is adorable. What more can you want? I watch this one every year.

6. The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas (1982): Texas has a whorehouse in it, God have mercy on our souls. Man, watching Charles Durning dance a little sidestep still makes me smile. And Burt and Dolly were just so right for each other.

7. South Park (1999): Yeah, strange. It took me a while to realize not only that this was a musical, but it just happens to be one of the strongest musicals in years. “Blame Canada” in particular is a truly classic musical song. And of course, who doesn’t bust a gut at the “Uncle F***er” Song.

8. Moulin Rouge! (2001): This one cheats and that bothers me, but still I enjoy the constant medleys of hit lyrics. The couple original songs are good too and the versions of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” and The Police’s “Roxanne” are awesome.



Floyd R. Turbo said...

Re: Moulin Rouge... Roger Ebert (before his descent into the Leftist abyss from which he sadly never returned) had an interesting theory on it. He hated it in the theater and gave it a poor review. He watched it again on TV and got it. He surmised that it was a better experience as a "music video" than in the theater. I always found that interesting -- especially being weaned on MTV when they actually had music videos in them.

My favorites: Singin' in the Rain -- Number 1, Moulin Rouge, On the Town (1949), The Music Man (1962) -- Robert Preston was the man, I'm tempted to say Victor/Victoria, but it's not a legit musical. Sound of Music and Mary Poppins to boot.

tryanmax said...

Obviously, I'm going to throw a cartoon into the mix, but the one I throw surprises even me. Frozen is, in my opinion, the hands down best musical animated feature to date, and it's the most recent one. This praise doesn't include the animation itself (surprisingly staid) but story and the songs are excellent. A tight second is The Little Mermaid. The shows that have been adapted for Broadway are good, too, but their strengths lie in areas not dependent on the musical format.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Correction on Moulin Rouge... Ebert gave the film a very positive original review (and one I agree with.

I do recall him later saying he thought it was better suited to television where it found a renewed and extended life, but he liked it originally too.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, That's an interesting observation. Moulin Rouge really is shot like a video with lots of quick cuts and fast edits of many different images. It's all about stylized moments rather than a coherent narrative. So it basically is a video (or series of videos) rather than a film.

Mary Poppins is great too.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I know someone who will agree with you on Frozen. I've been told I should not miss it in theaters. I'm told there is a "Having Not Seen Frozen Syndrome." LOL!

As an aside, I'm tending to leave animated "Disney" films out of this because those are kind of a different animal to me -- though I could easily add Beauty and the Beast and Jungle Book to the list if I did count them. I love King Louis! I also left out films that just employed a great soundtrack like Footloose, but where the characters didn't keep breaking into song.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, Here's the link: Ebert

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big musical guy but I own The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. Everything about it is right. Dolly and Burt act like they really do know each other and Charles Durning's "sidestep" is hilarious. I miss him. Fiddler On The Roof gets me everytime. And although it's not one I ever think of when I make lists, I stop and look at Grease everytime it's on.

shawn said...

A far as musicals go: Grease is the word.

I rencently rented Xanadu for the ELO soundtrack, the very hot Olivia Newton John, and the ever personable Gene Kelly. I hadn't seen it since the 80s. I liked all the above, but I can't say I liked the movie.

How about Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog? I think is definitely worth checking out, and last I saw, it was still available online for free.

Dave Olson said...

1) Singin' in the Rain. Does it really get any better than this? It works as a musical, a satire, a comedy (those two are not necessarily the same), and a love story.

2) The Wizard of Oz. I'm astounded that I came in at comment #8 and this is the first mention of the 1939 MGM mega-classic. Who as a child didn't feel a shiver when WWotW cackled "..,.and your little dog, too!"?

3) Grease. It IS the word, after all. Cheerful nostalgia for all things Americana. Great songs and pitch-perfect casting. Well, maybe Stockard Channing was a little too old to play a teenager, but other than that...

4) The Blues Brothers. Great songs, great dance numbers, a great celebration of blues music, which is the bedrock foundation of rock music. (No, really. The "Grunge" movement stripped all the blues out of rock, and that's why music has sucked for more than 20 years. Burn in hell, Cobain.)

5) Tommy. Not that it's a particularly great musical, or even parody, but I just love The Who. Also notable for its performances by Elton John, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by John Lennon,.

shawn said...

I would also like add Chicago.

Tennessee Jed said...

South Pacific, 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, Carousel, My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Cabaret, Picnic, Porgy & Bess, West Side Story. Oops ... that's 11. All good, and no particular order.

tryanmax said...

While I love Rodgers and Hammerstein - I ought to have mentioned the 1965 Cinderella (starring cute-as-a-button Lesley Ann Warren) - I have to rag on South Pacific a bit. The second act is just dead compared to the first. All momentum stops. The salvation of that musical is the incredible strength of the first half and some of R&H's best songs. It's perhaps a testament to the duo's collaborative skills that their worst work only constitutes half of a project. I know these are strong words, b/c I mean them.

Kit said...

Leaving Disney musicals out of this (which would dominate the list), I would say Singin' in the Rain, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, and Mary Poppins.

Evita was good. As was Les Miserables, even if the pacing seemed kind of... off.

tryanmax said...

Kit, Andrew, I respect the approach of leaving out Disney musicals, but I have to disagree that they would dominate. Like I said above, the features that have been adapted for stage, I believe, have their strengths in areas not unique to musicals. (Lion King is a strong epic tale; Beauty and the Beast has great characterization). Then there's the slew of others like Mulan and Pocahontas that are technically accomplished, but lacking heart. As the songwriter once said, "You gotta have heart."

BevfromNYC said...

I can't possibly choose which would be my top picks. Each one that has been picked would be on my list. And there are just too many to choose just 10.

One observation - the reason Xanadu tanked in the early 80's was that the movie musical had begun to fall out of favor with Hollywood as Westerns did in the 70's. You will notice the big gap of favorites on your list jump from the early 80's to the late 90's. But even at that they may still come back, but will never reach the level like in the 30's - 60's. But Trey Parker and Matt Stone give me hope...

Backthrow said...

My all-around least-favorite major movie genre, but there are some I like. I tend to prefer the ones that are more about the singing and less about the dancing, and it helps a lot if they are witty/funny. My list is basically what I have, Musical-wise on my DVD shelf (plus one 1950s obscurity I have burned on DVD-R from an old cable broadcast), minus animated films and rock group films like A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and ROCK N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL:

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

Oklahoma! (1955)

Hey Boy! Hey Girl! (1959) A cheapo B-movie with a lame plotline, and Keely Smith's acting ability is less than a wax dummy's, but none of that matters when Louis Prima, Keely and The Witnesses do their swingin' thing.

L'il Abner (1959) Several of the songs are nothing to write home about, but the film is pretty funny, some of the songs (like "Jubilation T. Cornpone") are good, the recreation of the comic strip's world is well done, and the women are stunning (Leslie Parrish, Julie Newmar, Stella Stevens).

The Music Man (1962)

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) Interesting, well-regarded oddity. No dancing, and instead of actual songs, all the dialogue is sung. What makes it work is the excellent direction and incredibly young and beautiful Catherine Deneuve.

Viva Las Vegas (1964) Pretty dopey in general, though the songs and scenery are good, but mainly.... prime Elvis and Ann-Margret!

The Sound of Music (1965)

Finian's Rainbow (1968) Some good songs, and having most of the film take place outdoors, in the country, is refreshing. The cross-country "Look to the Rainbow" "opening credits sequence is amazing.

Oliver! (1968)

Paint Your Wagon (1969) Clint Eastwood's singing is mostly bad, as is Lee Marvin's "The Next Thing You Know" (but his "Wanderin' Star" fits him well), while the rest of the songs are fine, the Paddy Chayefsky script is wickedly funny, more great outdoor shooting, and I always love to watch the town systematically collapse at the end.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The Phantom of the Paradise (1974) Totally insane... I personally prefer this to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I could never get into, other than the "Time Warp" song/sequence.

The Blues Brothers (1980) I, like a lot of people, tend to think of this as a comedy first and a musical second, since a lot of the songs are performed on-stage before an audience, rather than characters suddenly breaking out in song, but Aretha Franklin's "Think" and Ray Charles' "Shake a Tail Feather" are enough to push this into actual Musical territory.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Cry-Baby (1990)

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, During was fantastic. I love his dance. And yeah, everything about that film just works.

I love Grease too. That's a great all-around movie with some great songs.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I like the music of Xanadu much more than the film, but I think it is a competent little love story.

And yeah, Grease is the word!

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, I avoided things like The Blues Brothers because I don't see that as a musical. To me, a musical is more about characters singing their lines periodically for no particular reason and without them being conscious of the fact that is unusual. The Blues Brothers keep running into musicians.

On The Wizard of Oz, I love the film, but actually don't like it as a musical. I find the songs to be the slowest part of the film.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I forgot about My Fair Lady! What a great musical! :D

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Those are strong words! LOL! You better hope R&H don't read this blog and come kick your butt! I'm sure they aren't above a flight out to Nebraska. ;-P

In all seriousness, I am not a fan of South Pacific.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Good list. I liked Evita a good deal too, though I'm talking pre-Madonna.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I don't quite see the Disney films as classic musicals. Somehow, they just don't fit to me. That said, if I were to add them to the list, I would be tempted to add Beauty and the Beast, Robin Hood, Cinderella, Jungle Book.... and that starts to fill up the list pretty fast.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Ranking favorites is really hard because tastes change according to moods. But I figured I would try nevertheless.

On your other point, true! Musicals died in the early 1980s and only make sporadic comebacks now. And there is no way we'll get back to the 1960s in terms of production or popularity. Even in cartoon ranks, you're just as likely to have a song-free film (Wreck-It Ralph) as you are a musical cartoon these days.

I am glad to hear that Xanadu is making a comeback. I think it was unfairly ignored and it has some truly inspired music.

On Parker and Stone, I was impressed both with South Park The Movie and that they pulled off the Mormon thing. They are actually very solid when it comes to musicals.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I love Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, though again I don't think of it as a musical. I really dislike the remake.

I have seen The Phantom of the Paradise several times. I don't like the film and I don't like the music, but still I find the whole thing strangely compelling. Interesting.

Little Shop of Horrors was fun.

Tennessee Jed said...

never cared for Evita. The music was weak to my tastes. Madonna did a good enough job in the film, but I couldn't get into it. Probably the very first film I saw that was a musical was Calamity Jane with Doris Day and Howard Keel ( a Broadway star of the 50's known to younger generations more as Clayton Farlow on the original Dallas.) It was recently on one of the movie channels. The songs were still great ("whip-crack-away") but the movie was kind of weak.

AndrewPrice said...

Doris Day is very, very, very cute.

Tennessee Jed said...

I miss Lawhawk. I through out a 1955 film "Picnic" starring William Holden and Kim Novack. It wasn't a musical, but nobody noticed. Oh well, :)

Tennessee Jed said...

"threw" l.o.l.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Try to snooker us whippersnappers at your own risk! LOL!

Anonymous said...

Can I just say that I was SHOCKED to see a list of favorite musicals that only included one I'd ever seen! (Sound of Music) I love musicals, But yeah . .. only seen one on your list.

Mine would be:

Singin' in the Rain
White Christmas
Hello Dolly
My Fair Lady
West Side Story
Royal Wedding
On the Town
Anchors Aweigh
Top Hat (mostly because I had to choose one Astaire/Rogers musical, and that's always the most memorable for me.)

If we were doing Disney films, I'd go with Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book as well.

Anonymous said...

I forgot Oliver! My first tape was the Oliver soundtrack! :)

Does Porgy & Bess count as a musical, Jed? I have always considered it an opera.

(A real one. Unlike the people who make me want to cry when they say "Oh yeah! Opera? I've seen Phantom!" Phantom is awesome. But it is not an opera. And Sarah Brightman is NNNOOOTTTT an opera singer.)

AndrewPrice said...

goldvermilion, You've only seen one? Wow. Fascinating.

Good call on "Hello Dolly."

I love Opera, but I rarely go anymore. And yeah, Phantom is not opera.

KRS said...

Musicals died in the 1980s because it's just too hard to make a cynical one.

Singing in the Rain is my favorite and Gene Kelly's dance number to the title song is the most enjoyable I've ever seen. Kelly developed a a style of dance that was almost Olympian in athletic quality, yet he delivered it with an effortless joy. A quinessentially American style that no one has matched, not even his contemporaries (although Astair and O'Conner each came close in their own way).

One thing about Astair, O'Conner and Kelly was their style of tap seems utterly lost. They could almost float across the floor. Today's tappers are just a bunch of nail drivers. I mean, they attack the floor like it's going to rise up and choke them.

Another personal favorite - which I've mentioned before - is Scrooge (1970) with Albert Finney. Wonderful songs and the only version that takes the time to revel in his redemption.

KRS said...

This is a bit OT, Andrew, but your pick of Jesus Christ, Superstar reminded me of an argument I had in high school. JCS had been out for a few years and had even been on TV. The New Jerusalem movement had kicked off and a bunch of my friends who joined it all had their own soundtrack albums.

After a whole year of studying English authors in class - including Shakespeare - I saw the musical and recognized the pattern of a classic Elizabethan tragedy with Judas as the story's hero protagonist doomed by his "tragic flaw."

They piled on me like Puritans at a witch burning. I tried to stand my ground politely, but when I pointed out that in JCS it's Judas who gets resurrected, I think I did some real damage to our friendships.

Teenagers, whaddaya gonna do?

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, Good point. Things have been getting more and more cynical of late. And the few good musicals we've had in the 1990s were pretty cynical.

On your second point, never talk religion with true believers. They don't tend to take ideas like that well.

KRS said...

Well, Andrew, I thought I was talking literature with them. I musta been confused. ALWebber is a Brit, so I really think he intended JCS as a tragedy, certainly not as worship. But I guess they thought it made Jesus look cool and took it as worship - even though Judas gets all the best lines: "Did you mean to die like that?/ Was that a mistake, or/ did you know your messy death/ would be a record breaker?"

Really, I think ALW has some issues in this one. He sounds, dare I say it, cynical?

But then, maybe I'm a little biased because I've always had a little bit of sympathy for Judas. When I started reading real literature in high schoool, I kinda got the idea he was being used and I never really shook it.

Oh, dang! I could have used that in the favorite villians thread!

KRS said...

Oops, forgot that Tim Rice wrote the lyrics, ALW the music. Please make the appropriate substitutions in my previous.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, There are people who will view anything other than total obedience to dogma as heresy. They don't tolerate jokes. They don't tolerate fiction. They denounce facts they don't like.

I'll be curious to see how people respond to this latest discovery about the story of Noah's Ark coming from an older civilization in Iraq.

In any event, I think Judas is the character you're supposed to like in JCS. He's charismatic. He's got the best lines. You follow him throughout the plot. And it is a tragedy. Whether or not he gets used or if he acts out of jealousy isn't clear, but I think we're ultimately meant to see it as jealousy because Judas could have stopped if he was being used (but he doesn't) and he wouldn't have hung himself after he felt he lost Jesus if he had been used.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, I think my problem is that the 80s and I are not good buddies. :P

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