Monday, June 10, 2013

Top Ten Movie Musicals

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Funny Girl

William Wyler - 1968

Under the direction of venerable director William Wyler, the superlative Babs takes to the silver screen in the role of a lifetime opposite Omar Sharif as Fanny Brice, an awkward, Yiddish-speaking nobody who rose to fame in the early years of Broadway. Streisand captures the epicurean Brice with youthful energy and complex maturity--it is a performance that would win her an Oscar alongside Katherine Hepburn in an unusual tie. The music is Broadway through and through, allowing for robust vocal swoons by Streisand while giving an award-winning turn.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Howard Hawks - 1953

The quintessential Monroe musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes panders to Monroe's raw sexuality with sultry musical numbers. Alongside brunette Jane Russell, the two share a chemistry one would not suspect; a symphonic chemistry as the pair lure men into their tongue-in-cheek webs. Monroe's signature performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" hails from this oft-forgotten gem. It's lusciously colored with flirtatious musical numbers and beautiful men and women. Who could ask for anything more?

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

John Cameron Mitchell - 2001

This cult classic has no reason to be confined to the realm of cults. Transsexual Hedwig leaves East Berlin to take her band on tour in the US, while following her ex-boyfriend who has stolen her music and life story--in essence, her entire show. With obvious flourishes from the glam- and punk-rock of the late 1970's, Angry Inch is a cohesion of styles. Quirky and earnest characters are organically fastened to an emotional and compelling story. And boy is it a tearjerker.

Mary Poppins

Robert Stevenson - 1964

Disney's timeless, enshrined musical stars the inimitable Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke in a magical post-Victorian childhood favorite. An ageless beacon of the movie musical revival to this day, Mary Poppins needs no introduction or opinion-riddled explanation other than a minor declaration of truth: there are few movie musicals that are as ageless or elegant as this.

The Music Man

Morton DaCosta - 1962

Movie musicals were inescapable in the 1960's, and not many were enduring. The Music Man, however, was a beloved stage musical, translatable for film, that embodied the simplicity and archaic Victorian values of the early 20th century U.S. Midwest. A personal favorite of mine (a "favorite indiscretion", if you will), The Music Man is rife with catchy Rodgers & Hammerstein-style numbers, but without the horridly vapid plot-schemes of the classic Broadway duo. A slightly voguish adaptation of 1912 Mason City, Iowa for mass audiences of 1962 America by director DaCosta, makes this movie musical a fun classic, placed in a special corner of the heart.

Rent

Chris Columbus - 2005

The film adaptation of the mega-hit, Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning Broadway musical is one of those musicals that's hard to dislike, much less ignore.  About eight young, down-and-out people trying to make a living and survive in 1990's, AIDS-stricken New York City, Rent stages grunge-pop rock ensemble pieces that adorn a set of complex characters whose tragic lives lives are hypnotizing. The Bohemian love that pours out from Jonathon Larson's story transcends the stage well enough to make for a compelling, fun, and heartbreaking movie musical.

The Sound of Music

Robert Wise - 1965

The second of three Julie Andrews entries on this list, The Sound of Music is the musical epic in all of film history (I imagine a flamboyantly disappointed Busby Berkeley bowing his head in shame). Running a grand 2 hours and forty-five minutes, I remember The Sound of Music had to be split between to VHS tapes. Taking place during World War II and Nazi-occupied Austria, this movie musical is arguably the best stage-to-film adaptation of all time. Loveable, touching, and harrowing, with songs everyone knows (whether they would admit it or not), The Sound of Music is a beautiful film--scenically, musically. With true love and an oppressive society in the foreground, and amazing performances by Andrews and costar Christopher Plummer, it is a film that fronts a unique combination--a bubbly family musical backdropped by one of the darkest moments in human history. It's a combination that radiates timeless relevance and entertainment in earnest.

A Star Is Born

George Cukor - 1954

A remake of the 1937 film by the same name, the Judy Garland/James Mason-starrer A Star Is Born is perhaps one of the most visually lush and seriously dark musicals in film. An alcoholic has-been (a welcomed non-typecast Mason) meets a night club singer (Garland) and ushers her into ultimate stardom. A simple plot, yes, and one that has been covered time and time again, since the beginning of film, but in this one, with Cukor being one of the greatest directors for women, a darkly intimate and lushly decorated approach is brought to a tried and true tale with a powerhouse performance from the one and only Garland.

Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Tim Burton - 2007

Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter team with oddball director Burton to bring the hit Broadway musical by stage-oddball himself, Stephen Sondheim, to movie theater audiences. Burton's panache for operatic, comically macabre stories is a perfect fit for what I consider to be one of his best films--bearing in mind I've never been such a fan of Burton. With Depp as the title character in a lavishly sinister role, working with his foul landlady (Bonham Carter) whose restaurant is in dire need of cheap meat, and a small but delectable appearance from Sacha Baron Cohen, the performances accentuate the gruesomely comedic music and story to make it one of the most authentic stage-to-screen adaptations.

Victor/Victoria

Blake Edwards - 1982

There's nothing like Julie Andrews in a gender-bending role as a woman who plays a man who plays a woman. Alongside her flamboyant agent, Toddy (played by The Music Man-alum Robert Preston), and heterosexual James Garner playing the bigwig oddly attracted to Andrew's female imposter, Andrews is flanked by veteran performers in a subdued musical based on a 1933 German film with the same premise. It's hard to picture these three classic performers in a film that handles gender and sexuality in the Reagan era, but it works. Though director Edwards handles the themes with as much apprehension as likely did the 1930's film, with the love story being structurally akin to the conventional Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals of yore, it is still a gem given it was a movie-musical before it appeared for the first time on Broadway in 1995. As always, Andrews carries the film with thespian aplomb and that oh-so-heavenly soprano/tenor register.

About the Author

Ian Tilman Nichols

Author & Editor

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