2016, like most years, had a wide variety of successful movies that spanned just about every single genre. With all of the new titles released every year one would assume that a diverse solid representation is commonplace. When it comes to the music category, that just isn’t the case. The absence is even more noticeable if you narrow down the subcategory even further. Disney or Illumination might dispute what I’m about to say but hear me out. The movie industry is severely lacking when it comes to GOOD musicals. Of course it’s much easier to do when you can use singing pots and pans or animals but to do so in the construct of real flesh and bone is a different challenge entirely.
Patience paid off this year because in the 11th hour musical magnificence made itself known. La La Land (2016) starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling seized the moment by giving audiences the best boy-meets-girl live action musical rom-com that we’ve seen in quite some time. The chemistry is classic, the acting is amazing, the story is superb, the dancing is delightful and the music is mesmerizing. What more can you ask for? These are all reasons that it could very well be the best movie of 2016, and a musical at that. Whoa! It makes you start to really wonder what happened to the toe-tapping, dancing and singing cinema often experienced on the big screen. Join us on a trip back through the decades as we give props to the all but forgotten sub-genre of live action musicals.
We’d also like to take a moment to recognized the life and achievements of mother and daughter, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, who passed away one day apart in late December 2016. Both of these talented individuals happen to be represented in this list which was compiled prior to their passing. R.I.P.
Les Misérables (2012)
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption-a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Hugh Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever. In December 2012, the world’s longest-running musical brings its power to the big screen in Tom Hooper’s sweeping and spectacular interpretation of Victor Hugo’s epic tale.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The third film from pop-music-obsessed director Baz Luhrmann tweaks the conventions of the musical genre by mixing a period romance with anachronistic dialogue and songs in the style of his previous Romeo+Juliet (1996). Ewan McGregor stars as Christian, who leaves behind his bourgeois father during the French belle époque of the late 1890s to seek his fortunes in the bohemian underworld of Montmartre, Paris. Christian meets the absinthe- and alcohol-addicted artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), who introduces him to a world of sex, drugs, music, theater, and the scandalous dance known as the cancan, all at the Moulin Rouge, a decadent dance hall, brothel, and theater that’s the brainchild of Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent). Christian also meets and falls into a tragically doomed romance with the courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman), who becomes the star of the play he’s writing, which parallels the couple’s romance and utilizes rock music from a century later, including songs by Nirvana, Madonna, the Beatles, and Queen, among others. Loosely based on the opera Orpheus in the Underworld, Moulin Rouge was shown in competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.
Sister Act (1992)
A sleeper hit that received a lukewarm reception from critics but was a success with audiences, Sister Act was star Whoopi Golberg’s first bona fide smash after her Oscar victory for Ghost (1990). Goldberg stars as Deloris Van Cartier, a Reno lounge singer who accidentally witnesses a brutal murder carried out by her gangster boyfriend Vince (Harvey Keitel). Under the protection of a detective (Bill Nunn) who’s trying to bring down Vince’s criminal operation, Deloris is placed in protective custody at a San Francisco convent. Masquerading as a nun renamed Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris shakes up the established order of the sisters’ lives, particularly enlivening their choral efforts. Although running constantly afoul of the Mother Superior (Maggie Smith), the new, jazzed-up musical act becomes a huge hit in the community, even drawing the attention of the Pope, but also alerting Vince to Deloris’ whereabouts. Although credited to the pseudonymous Joseph Howard, Sister Act was actually written by Paul Rudnick and Carrie Fisher.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
It started as a 1960 Roger Corman horror comedy, filmed in two days; it then inspired a lavish 1982 Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Finally in 1986, Little Shop of Horrors graduated into a multimillion-dollar, all-star film musical. Rick Moranis plays nebbishy Seymour Krelborn, who works in a rundown flower shop on Skid Row. While his boss (Vincent Gardenia) bemoans the lack of business, Seymour seeks a way of bringing the shop — and himself — fame and fortune. He purchases a strange plant from an even stranger oriental street vendor (Vincent Wong), naming the plant after his girlfriend Audrey (Ellen Greene, one of the few carry-overs from the Broadway version). Gradually, Seymour learns to his horror that “Audrey II” (given the voice of R&B performer Levi Stubbs) craves blood and flesh. With each of Audrey II’s “FEEED MEEE”s, Seymour must scare up human food to satisfy the plant’s appetite. One such victim is dentist Steve Martin, a leather-jacketed Elvis type (the dentist’s ultra-masochistic patient played by Jack Nicholson in the 1960 original is here impersonated by Bill Murray).
A musical about teens in love in the 50’s! It’s California 1959 and greaser Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Australian Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) are in love. They spend time at the beach, and when they go back to school, what neither of them knows is that they both now attend Rydell High. Danny’s the leader of the T-Birds, a group of black leather jacket-wearing greasers while Sandy hangs with the Pink Ladies, a group of pink-wearing girls led by Rizzo. When they clash at Rydell’s first pep rally, Danny isn’t the same Danny from the beach. They try to be like each other so they can be together.
West Side Story (1961)
West Side Story is the award-winning adaptation of the classic romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. The feuding families become two warring New York City gangs- the white Jets led by Riff (Russ Tamblyn) and the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernardo (George Chakiris). Their hatred escalates to a point where neither can coexist with any form of understanding. But when Riff’s best friend (and former Jet) Tony (Richard Beymer) and Bernardo’s younger sister Maria (Natalie Wood) meet at a dance, no one can do anything to stop their love. Maria and Tony begin meeting in secret, planning to run away. Then the Sharks and Jets plan a rumble under the highway – whoever wins gains control of the streets. Maria sends Tony to stop it, hoping it can end the violence. It goes terribly wrong, and before the lovers know what’s happened, tragedy strikes and doesn’t stop until the climactic and heartbreaking ending.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor star in Singin’ in the Rain, one of the greatest and most successful musicals ever filmed – filled with memorable songs, lavish routines and Kelly’s fabulous song-and-dance number performed in the rain. Set during the advent of “talkies,” Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) has risen to stardom during Hollywood’s silent-movie era – paired with the beautiful, jealous and dumb Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). And when Lockwood becomes attracted to young studio singer Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), Lamont has her fired. But with the introduction of talking pictures, Lockwood finds his career in jeopardy after audiences laugh when they hear Lamont speak in her shrill voice for the first time… until the studio decides to use Selden to dub her voice.