Anyone who follows movie awards seasons knows that “La La Land,” starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is leading the upcoming Golden Globes with 7 nominations. I can’t wait to see it later this month, but only as a fan of the actors and director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”). Not as a musical fan.
In fact, I usually hate musicals. As much as I’ve tried with many of the “greats,” I generally can’t stand them.
Nonetheless, there are a few exceptions. These exceptions are incredibly unique films that break the mold and have merit beyond people just randomly bursting into songs. So here’s a list of some wonderful films for people like me who are still naïve enough to give acclaimed movies a chance. Whether you hate musicals or love them, this list includes some of my personal favorites.
The Fourth-Wall-Breaking Musical:
“The Muppet Movie” – Although millennials know them best through the Kermit memes, the Muppets were once the reigning kings of children’s TV, and this is the very best thing they’ve ever done. For all intents and purposes, “The Muppet Show” was akin to the sketch comedy of “Laugh-In” crossed with vaudeville by way of “Sesame Street.”
Fortunately, this family classic abandoned the television aesthetic; keeping the trademark puns, fourth wall breaks and infectious songs to tell the story of how Kermit and the gang debuted in Hollywood. Very few films can transform adults into 10-year-olds, but this is one of the best examples of the trend.
The Road Musical:
“The Blues Brothers” – Whenever critics pigeonhole movies into the “gettin’ the band back together” genre, they’re not referencing the Muppets. They’re referencing this. Directed by John Landis (“Animal House,” “Coming to America”), this classic teams up John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd for “a mission from God” to save their Catholic church from foreclosure. Evading policemen and neo-Nazis across the nation, their adventure is also a tribute to classic soul and blues; with appearances from Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and other R&B legends.
One of my favorite musicals and comedies, no other “Saturday Night Live” adaptation rivals this film.
The Ironic Musical:
“Xanadu” – Okay, this movie’s not very good. Actually, it’s pretty terrible, which is why this cult favorite still has fans after flopping in theaters in 1980. An oddly fascinating film mixing big band music with the rock of the Electric Light Orchestra, it stars Olivia Newton-John fresh off of “Grease,” Old Hollywood legend Gene Kelly and the underappreciated Michael Beck.
Beck famously said that “‘The Warriors’ opened a lot of doors [for him], which ‘Xanadu’ then closed.” While “Xanadu” isn’t for everyone, it is a must-see for fans of cinematic curiosities like “The Room” or “Caligula.”
The Art Musical:
“Chicago” – Considered one of the greatest musicals ever made, this Rob Marshall masterpiece had the task of adapting a Bob Fosse play to the big screen, which was challenging since Fosse’s dance choreography is legendary among theatre historians.
For this film, Marshall brilliantly oscillates between a darkly comic narrative and stage numbers that portray each character’s thoughts perfectly. This results in a sharp satire poking fun at the fascination with ‘20s-era criminals, as well as a mesmerising ode to theatrical direction. Having won six Academy Awards, “Chicago” is a classic of surrealism that’s impossible to take your eyes away from.
The Self-Reflexive Musical:
“Pitch Perfect” – The movie that propelled Anna Kendrick into superstardom, the surface of this film feels like “Mean Girls” meets “Bring It On.” Beneath the veneer, however, lies a strangely hilarious lampooning of every competition movie trope; from the brutish bullies (the Treblemakers) to the commentary that includes John Michael Higgins riffing on his “Best in Show” role. And it’s all from the perspective of a lead (Kendrick) who is the only person aware of how ridiculous her college is.
Although it spawned a forgettable sequel, the first film is still a top-notch mockery of the acapella subculture.
The Vintage Musical:
“The Red Shoes” – Quite possibly the greatest dance film ever made, this entry isn’t necessarily a “musical,” but is still noteworthy for its immaculate choreography, great performances and astonishing use of Technicolor.
This 1948 masterwork follows a young ballerina who becomes the lead dancer in a play called “The Red Shoes,” where this film becomes a story-within-a-story that repackages Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale in a contemporary fashion.
One of the favorite films of Martin Scorsese, as well as a childhood favorite of mine, this movie comes strongly recommended to serious film fans. If nothing else, much like “Chicago,” the dance sequences and set designs are stunning to behold.
Featured Image: Courtesy | Lipton