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Astaire and Charisse in The Band Wagon
Sorry.  I dropped the musical ball here, but since no one was complaining, I had no motivation to hurry up, except my own nagging need to finish up.  Here are numbers 19 through 11:

19.  On the Town  (1949)  This film was one of the most enjoyable on AFI’s list.   I’d never seen it and thought the cast, which includes Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, totally captivating.  That probably had something to do with knowing what gigantic legends they would all become.

Highlights:  Vera-Ellen as Miss Turnstiles, and scenes of New York as it was in 1949.

18.  Yankee Doodle Dandy  (1942)   Black and white biopic about George M. Cohan, the stage entertainer who was born into vaudeville and wrote Give my Regards to Broadway, You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag, and Yankee Doodle Boy.  I admit it was long and took me two sorta painful sittings to finish watching it.

Highlights:  Realizing George M. Cohan was a real person, and that James Cagney was a fab tap dancer.

17.  The Band Wagon  (1953)   Another musical about – wait for it – actors.  This was a charming one starring the hopelessly charming Fred Astaire and the exotic Cyd Charisse (who until a few years ago I thought was a man, having never seen a photo beside the name Cyd).  The film’s most famous song is probably That’s Entertainment.

Highlights:  Incredible dance number at the end called Girl Hunt Ballet (to which Michael Jackson gave a big nod in his Smooth Criminal video), and a super cute short number early in the film called Shine on Your Shoes.

16.  Funny Girl  (1968)  I’ll just say it.  I don’t dig Barbra Streisand.  But I didn’t really know until I tried to watch this movie.  I was interested in Fanny Brice’s story, but Barbra got in the way.  So did the hair, makeup and costumes, which (to me anyway) horribly confused the looks of the 1920s/30s with the 1960s.

Highlight (a big highlight):  The song Don’t Rain on My Parade.  One of my all-time fave tunes.

15.  Top Hat  (1935)  I’ll use the word charming again here, mainly because this one stars Fred Astaire, who is absolutely the definition of the word.  Add Ginger Rogers to the cast and - is there anything more to say?  Well, I’ll say one thing: there are some really solid comedic performances here, particularly those of Erik Blore as Bates, and Helen Broderick as Madge.  Check them out.

Highlights:  the sweet Astaire dancing on a sand-covered floor in the room above Ginger’s to lull her to sleep, and any scene with the totally silly “Bates” character in it.

14.  All That Jazz  (1979)  Wowee wow wow.  Dark, gritty and very late 70s, this one is a biopic about Bob Fosse directed by Fosse.  It is a musical technically, but it also stands on its own as a dramatic film.  Roy Scheider and Ann Reinking are amazing, and I’d argue that the best performance in it is not Scheider’s, but Reinking’s.  I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she was on the screen, and definitely see whatever Fosse saw in her…

Highlights:  Tough to pick.  Not being a dancer myself, I found every scene that highlighted the body and movement of the dancers captivating.  Take Off With Us is a good one for a group, but another different kind was the cute scene where the girlfriend and daughter do a song and dance number for Dad/Fosse/Gideon in their home (to the song Everything Old is New Again).

13.  42nd Street  (1933)  Ugh.  Double ugh.  After having seen this on Broadway with Jerry Orbach when I was a child, watching this very early film version was probably the biggest surprise let-down of any on the list.  It lacks some of my fave songs and is incredibly different from the stage version.  Also, Ruby Keeler was a crappy tapper.

Highlight:  When it ended.

12.  Chicago  (2002)  This was very good fun.  I don’t care much for the casting choices of Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere, but the film must’ve done a lot right because my lack of interest in the cast didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all.  I think this one appeals to pretty much everyone at almost every age, though my significant other may disagree slightly ;)

Highlights:  The All That Jazz overture and reprise, and the clever Cell Block Tango number with all the lady inmates.

11.  The King and I  (1956)  I know I’m supposed to really like this one, and I did think it was grand in scale, but the songs didn’t grab me the way some others have.  I think there are some obvious stand outs like Getting to Know You, which is, of course, adorable.

Highlight:  Yul Brynner as the King of Siam.  Amusing and thoroughly entertaining character.

Gonna try to be back with the list's top 10 this weekend :)

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Fred and Ginger in Top Hat
 
 
In December I was sitting at home one weekend lamenting the absence of even one decent film worth heading to the cinema for (or even worth renting).  It then occurred to me that it might be time to reach back to Hollywood’s Golden Age for some entertainment.  Not knowing quite what I was looking for, but feeling a bit weary of all the Hitchcock films in my cabinet, I stumbled onto the American Film Institute’s list of the 25 Best Movie Musicals, and a goal (of sorts) emerged:  to watch all 25 musicals in rapid succession.

I make no claim to be a film critic, nor am I particularly well-informed when it comes to the structure of a musical, but below are a some brief comments on each of the movies, in case there’s anyone out there interested in visiting the genre:

25.  Moulin Rouge!  (2001) – A visual feast.  The costumes, sets, make-up and editing are so fantastic you can barely rest your eyes (or ears) the entire time.  Truth be told, I did not care much for the actual story, and think its only original song (“Come What May”) is kinda bland, but I remember seeing this in the theatre when it was released and know it thrilled me completely at the time.  I also like the fact that Nicole and Ewan did their own singing.

Highlight:  Opening sequence with a mash-up of Fatboy Slim’s “Because We Can-Can-Can” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  The Nirvana sample is possibly my favorite moment, listen for it early in the film.

24.  Show Boat  (1936)

I’ve been unable to view this because the 1936 version is incredibly expensive to obtain on DVD (over $50, if you can find a used copy online somewhere).  I plan to get an old VHS of it eventually, but will still need to find a VHS player on which to view it… maybe on my next trip to the States.

23.  Guys and Dolls  (1955) – Even with the insanely talented male leads of Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, this one was a bit tough to endure.  Several of the songs are super fun, but overall it's particularly ridiculous.  Especially when it's Marlon Brando's turn to sing.

Highlight:  The song “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” (led magnificently by actor Stubby Kaye) was in my head all day after watching the movie.  A close second fave was the song “Fugue for Tinhorns” (aka “I Got the Horse Right Here”).  I subsequently watched both of these scenes repeatedly on Youtube.  Good fun.

22.  Beauty and the Beast  (1991) – The only animated feature on the list.  I had a lot of folks tell me the various reasons why this is/was the appropriate Disney/animated musical on the AFI list, but personally I didn’t much dig it. 

Highlight:  Broadway veteran Jerry Orbach as the voice of Lumiere, the French candlestick.

21.  Seven Brides for Seven Brothers  (1954) – In a word, painful.  I won’t even get into the - umm… sexist and politically incorrect plot, because things like that don’t really apply in period musicals.

Highlight:  Amazing choreography for the brothers (and other men) in this one.  Oh, and Julie (Catwoman) Newmar when her screen name was still Julie Newmeyer – playing a girl named Dorcas.  I couldn’t keep from saying “Dorcas Malorcas” over and over in my head once I heard that name.

20.  Grease  (1978) – What’s to say?  This musical rules, and most of us already know it.  If you’ve never seen it, get ye to your Netflix cue and add.

Highlight:  Three words… 

young John Travolta.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the next five films on the list.

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Grease is indeed the word.