The problem with lists is that it’s tough to decide what makes the cut, and there are so many musical films I love so picking and ordering just 5 was really difficult. The only thing I knew for certain was what would take the top spot. West Side Story feels like it should be on the list, but I swapped it out as I prefer the stage show to the film, and this post is all about the films. Likewise Les Miserables. Honourable mention goes to Sweeney Todd, which I enjoy as a Tim Burton and Alan Rickman fan, but wish the singing was stronger. And the Blues Brothers – which I just don’t quite see as a musical, rather a film with songs – albeit brilliant ones.
Catherine Zeta Jones is excellent – her voice and dancing are brilliant and she has the best facial expressions for Velma. I didn’t know Queen Latifah until this film, but she was a revelation, and the ensemble is incredible. I could watch the Cell Block Tango on repeat for hours, and there are so many strong numbers. It loses points for cutting out Class, and I would maybe have preferred true Broadway performers to Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger, but they’re both pretty good really. All in all, a solid film that deserved its Oscars – and I prefer it to the stage show.
4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
If you haven’t seen it, just watch it. John Cameron Mitchell’s story of a transgender punk rock girl telling her tale through songs as she tours dive bars, while she also follows her ex who stole her songs as he performs to huge sell out crowds. It’s funny, it’s heart breaking, it’s uplifting, it’s truly unique. And the music is excellent. We saw it on Broadway a couple of years ago with Michael C. Hall in the title role, and he was unbelievably good – perhaps a stronger singer than Mitchell – but the film is different and also brilliant, making the most of the benefits of film by adding in flashbacks and shooting on location.
3. Fiddler on the Roof
As I said before when I reviewed Fiddler on Broadway, I’ve loved this show since I played Shprintze in my local amdram’s production some 20 years ago, so it’s no real surprise that it turns up on this list. The songs are so flipping catchy. And some of the dialogue is hilarious – mostly thanks to Topol’s performance as Tevye. Oh and Starsky or Hutch is in it. The second half takes a real dive as life in Anatevka starts to look less and less stable, and Tevye tries to hold on to tradition, but he and his daughters drift further apart both emotionally and geographically, but there are still some cracking funny lines and moments of levity in there. It takes you through the full run of emotions and you come out the other side feeling pretty battered, but it’s worth every tear.
2. Singin’ in the Rain
Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor is just the most incredible combination. This is classic entertainment from the golden age with amazing dancing from the main cast. The songs (Make Em Laugh, Good Morning, Moses Supposes…), the dancing, the comedy – it’s just unbeatable in pretty much every respect. The only negative is that it’s a little longer than it needs to be, with a couple of set pieces that are superfluous to the narrative, but it redeems itself with all that glorious tapping.
And the winner is…
In my opinion, completely unequalled. Liza Minnelli was born to play Sally Bowles – she’s a much bigger part in the film than the original story or play, which focus on Brian and Emcee respectively – and Joel Gray is a marvel. The story goes that when Liza Minnelli won her Oscar, she took her dad as her date and after she won he said that if Joel Gray didn’t win one too, she’d have to give hers back as he was better than her. Combine great performances with Fosse’s choreography, some of the best show tunes ever written, dark comedy and the brooding, dangerous atmosphere of 30s Berlin, and you have a film that really does have it all.