Musicals are great. What genre allows the audience to enjoy singing and dancing? To view the world in a musical perspective outside of our everyday realm? To see the picture perfect world we imagine it to be? Musicals! Some modern moviegoers would say musicals aren’t realistic. To them I say, they aren’t necessarily supposed to be. Musicals are light-hearted entertainment that expresses a character’s thoughts and feelings. It’s what we imagine we could do, and it’s the fantasy element that makes them so appealing.
Musicals have re-emerged in the past decade, but only in strides. It wasn’t like the explosion during the golden age of Hollywood (1940s-1950s era). Movies like Hairspray, Rent, Chicago, Dreamgirls, the Phantom of the Opera, Across the Universe, and Sweeney Todd are exceptional in their own right, but can’t beat the classics like West Side Story, the Wizard of Oz, or the Sound of Music. And to those people who cite Rent or even High School Musical as the ultimate musical, I say blasphemy. For people who don’t know what a good musical is, I present 10 films that have the magnificent measures of the modern musical. There are hundreds of musicals like My Fair Lady, An American in Paris, Covergirl, Evita, Chicago, Across the Universe, Anchors Aweigh, Guys and Dolls, Funny Face, Swing Time, The Wiz, Enchanted, and the numerous Disney films, but I must limit to at least 10 films that are essential viewing.
Here’s the American Film Institute’s top 25 musicals if anyone is interested: AFI’s musicals
1. West Side Story (1961)
West Side Story set the bar pretty high for what a musical can deliver. With a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet mixed with racial conflict between Puerto-Ricans and Anglo-Saxans, the movie won 10 Academy Awards in 1957. The luscious musical numbers became a tour de force of electrifying performances, especially for feisty Rita Moreno, angelic Natalie Wood, and swooning Richard Beymer. Its famous numbers include “Mambo,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Cool.” With numerous homages and parodies (notably the Gap commercials), West Side Story is a surefire treat for newcomers.
2. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Many people overlook the Wizard of Oz as a musical. Sure, there are iconic numbers such as “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “We‘re Off to See the Wizard,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and “If I Only Had a Brain.” Judy Garland is in her finest as the iconic Dorothy Gale. But almost everybody remembers the Wizard of Oz as the ultimate fantasy children’s movie of a young girl trying to get back Kansas with the help of three unusual creatures while escaping the clutches of an evil witch. But among the classics, the Wizard of Oz stands proudly as a great musical.
3. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Probably one of the best musicals depicting average looking men singing and dancing. What helps probably is that the setting is the American frontier with All-American men. Simple chores like barn raising and chopping wood are used for the numbers to make the ordinary chores to extraordinary musical numbers. The plot centers on seven brothers courting seven women. Not much to say except director Stanley Donen surpassed all expectations in a musical that was considered for the elite or for the effeminate.
4. Top Hat (1935)
Now if I making an essential movie musical list, it is a necessity to include a movie with the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers paring. Top Hat is one their finest, next to Swing Time. They are the best paring in musical imaginable because they work cohesively as they glide through the air. They show the aristocracy as they dress in top coat and fancy dresses around the lavishing backgrounds. And as as side note, their chemistry is synchronized as they perform comedy routines.
5. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Unlike any of the films at this list, Moulin Rouge is the most recent entry with the use of spectacular visuals and contemporary music. Made in 2001, the film focuses on a writer’s love for the main dancer from the infamous Moulin Rouge. With a 19th century backdrop, the music soars with Madonna, Nirvana, Elton John, The Sound of Music, The Beatles, David Bowie, and U2. Baz Luhrmann made an epic and create international movie stars out of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.
6. The Sound of Music (1965)
The Sound of Music is one of those movies that has been referenced and parodied over the years. It stands as a classic and what made Julie Andrews an icon. The plot is simple as Julie Andrews is hired as a nanny to the Von Trapp Family while the Nazi occupation occurs. Some of the most classic songs are presented such as “the Sound of Music,” “Do-Rei-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “So Long, Farewell,” “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
7. On the Town (1949)
On the Town is a fun romp around New York with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. They have 24 hours to roam New York and spend their time looking for girls. On the Town was the first movie to shoot on location. Besides the classic “New York, New York,” the duo sings “Prehistoric Man,” “Come Up To My Place,” and “You’re Awful.”
8. Grease (1978)
With a star leads from John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Grease was another timeless classic. The film is nostalgic of the 1950s as it presents high school as fun, loving, rebellious, and all singing and dancing. Some of the classic songs are ‘Grease,” and “Summer Nights.”
9. Gigi (1958)
I should feel bad not including My Fair Lady on the list, but I feel Gigi is better. My Fair lady might have Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison as the star leads, but the flow of Gigi is more consistent within the 2 hour time frame. Leslie Caron shines as young girl with love and marriage on he mind and Louis Jourdan as her destined suitor. Some of the famous songs are “Thank Heave for Little Girls,” “It’s a Bore,” and “I Remember It Well.”
10. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Considered the most famous musical of all time by the American Film Institute, it boasts a powerful image of Gene Kelly happily dancing in the rain. As a behind the scenes of Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies, it’s a hilarious history lesson. I wouldn’t need to name any other song except for “Singin’ in the Rain,” because that’s all you’ll ever need.
Bonus: I can’t name my favorite musical. It’s a triple tie between Funny Face, West Side Story, and On the Town.