Thursday, January 05, 2012

Top 10 Film Musicals

Most people wouldn't admit to musicals being their favourite genre but when they're good, they're sublime. They're still popular once in a while, but it's only every few years when one takes hold of the public imagination, such as Chicago (2002) or the more recent Mamma Mia (2008), which I have recently watched and didn't mind second time around (and noticed it's at least the fourth time Colin Firth has played a homosexual, after Another Country, A Single Man, Relative Values and perhaps Apartment Zero; he's also played someone with a stutter three times).

It's a shame musicals aren't more popular and populous, as at their best they're a perfect blending of emotion, motion and music: the best cinema has to offer. It can sometimes take a while to get used to the artificiality of characters suddenly breaking into song, but once you do, it becomes quite natural and the song and dance becomes more emotional, expressive and meaningful than mere dialogue.

It's great when a non-musical 'serious' director attempts making one, such as Woody Allen (Everyone Says I Love You), Jean Luc Godard (Une Femme est une Femme), Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd), Martin Scorsese's flawed New York, New York, Robert Altman's underrated Popeye or Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, starring Bjork.

1. Singin' in the Rain (Kelly/Donen, 1952)
2. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming*, 1939)
3. Cabaret (Fosse, 1972)
4. Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964)
5. An American in Paris (Minnelli**, 1951)
6. Grease (Kleiser, 1978)
7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy, 1964)
8. West Side Story (Robbins/Wise, 1961)
9. The Blues Brothers (Landis, 1980)
10. Everyone Says I Love You (Allen, 1996)

*When I first got serious about cinema and reading books about directors I could never understand why the director Victor Fleming wasn't held in high regard by film critics. After all, he directed The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind – in the same year (!). But whereas, say, Hitchcock and Hawkes were lionised for their themes and styles, Fleming was more a craftsman for hire than an auteur. And his two biggest films, The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, were also directed by other (uncredited) directors as well as Fleming, and produced by the influential Mervyn LeRoy and David O. Selznick, respectively.

But a recent biography of Victor Fleming called An American Movie Master, written by Michael Spagow, attempts to set the record straight by placing the director amongst the greats.

**Along with Bob Fosse and perhaps Ken Russell, Vincente Minnelli is best known as a director of musicals. He was married to Judy Garland; they were the parents of Liza Minnelli, who starred in Cabaret and New York, New York. And was hilarious in Arrested Development.

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