Top 5: Movie Musicals

James Franco at the Harvard Yard to receive hi...

James Franco has nothing to do with musicals...yet. He's just here because he's a cool dude. (Image via Wikipedia.)

As Greg Proops often says on The Smartest Man in the World, I’m a heterosexual male…though I make little case for it. I maintain a multitude of bromances (that towards Random Musings‘ favorite polymath, James Franco has been one noted here); have often contended that Rachel Maddow and Kate Moennig are attractive females (probably not the general thinking of the American male populace, but I don’t particularly care either way); and, though not at the level of the many Broadway fangirls I know, I greatly enjoy musicals. (Currently I have three different musical soundtracks on my iPod – Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Book of Mormon, and the downright adorable 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – I usually have 1776 and most of Les Miserables on there, too, but I haven’t fully reconstituted my iTunes library, so they remain absent.)

But we’re not talking about musicals here; we’re talking about movie musicals! While at times different from their stage counterparts (for the record, I have a big-tent point of view on movie musicals in the first place – you’ll see a Disney movie on the list here), movie musicals can bring a story all their own – and sometimes can be even better than performance on the stage. Let’s begin with the #5 position on the list…

5. The Sound of Music (1965)

To be honest, the Rodgers and Hammerstein movies were a little weak, considering their source material (though Carousel’s kind of an underrated film – or at least oft-overlooked – and The King and I is pretty good, though largely due to Yul Brynner). This one, though kind of absurdly long at almost three hours (it has a goddamn intermission, for goodness’ sake!) is quite enjoyable. Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer prove impeccable as Maria and the Baron Von Trapp, and it’s a lot of fun to see Maria influence the kids while the Baron is away. Plus, any film in which the Nazis lose (however indirectly and indecisively) seems to be fairly enjoyable.

4. Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (2008)

The result of the 2007 writer’s strike, Dr. Horrible is less a movie musical and more of a musical webseries (it only clocks in at 42 minutes in three acts, though it really packs in the music, with 11 unique numbers – plus another 13 other songs for the DVD commentary alone), but it is brilliant. Combining a superhero-villain rivalry for the ages between Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) and Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), some downright hilarious comedic lines, and a spirit of hokeyness and a genuine “let’s put on a show!” morale, Dr. Horrible earned a Creative Arts Emmy (albeit, as director/co-writer Joss Whedon noted, for basically “Most Incomprehensible Category”), probably the first time that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded something to an Internet series.

3. Pocahontas (1995)

Now, Pocahontas is not without its detractors, and even I think its glossing-over/whitewashing of Native American history is pretty ridiculous, but its soundtrack and musical numbers are in my view the greatest of any Disney movie. It can be just the instrumentals – they still give me chills. Obviously, there’s nostalgia on its side (some of my earliest childhood memories are from Pocahontas‘s massive premiere in Central Park), but even objectively, it’s hard to pass up.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkV-of_eN2w]

2. 1776 (1972)

Among the most historically-accurate musicals ever (and even then it takes a few artistic liberties), 1776 is as successful in education as it is in entertainment. Featuring William Daniels (after he was Mr. Braddock in The Graduate and before he was Fee-Hee-Hee-Heeny on Boy Meets World) as the “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams, Howard da Silva as Benjamin Franklin, and Ken Howard (who notably has half of the EGOT, a Tony for performing in Child’s Play in 1970 and an Emmy for the 2009 HBO miniseries Grey Gardens), the film for the most part retains the cast the musical had in its original Broadway run (during which it won the Tony for Best Musical), and frankly, it shows. It’s somewhat shocking 1776 got such negative critical appraisal, because in my view the music and acting are superb – at times dramatic, and at times hilarious.

1. Singin’ In the Rain (1952)

Singin’ in the Rain was #2 on my Top 5 favorite films on the AFI Top 100, and it’s #1 here. As I noted, it’s the greatest movie musical ever – in my view, it defines the genre. That’s largely ’cause it takes the best show tunes of its time and consolidates them, surrounding them with a brilliant plot carried out almost superhumanly by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, et al.

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4 thoughts on “Top 5: Movie Musicals

    • Well, it would have to (a) exist, and then (b) turn into a movie. And even then, being a story of my life, I’d have to recuse myself from choosing it for the blog.
      (For the record, those reading the comments, this is a massive in-joke between Danielle and I. Carry on.)

  1. So happy you did not pick “Showboat” or “South Pacific” as one of your top five. If I were to make a list of an outstanding performance of a song in a movie musical, the top award goes to Jennifer Hudson as Effie in “Dreamgirls” singing in the scene “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going”. I can listen to it and watch it over and over, and I have!

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