Top 5 Thursday | Movie Musicals

I asked my twitter friends for suggestions for my ‘top 5’ lists and got some really great ideas. One was an idea I’d already had so I decided that, this week, I would do my top 5 movie musicals…made after 1970. Musicals are my favourite kind of movie so to do a definitive top 5 of all time would be just too difficult so I’m breaking it up. I’ve also not included the 3 musicals that appeared on my top 5 all-time favourites list. Even doing one for post-1970 (not sure why I picked that year) was very difficult! But I managed to make a list so here we go…(the write-ups are going to be a lot more brief this time as I’ve ‘real life’ things taking up my time.)

1. Cabaret directed by Bob Fosse, 1972

When did I first see Cabaret? I don’t even remember now but it is easily one of my favourite movies even if I now often skip all the bits that aren’t songs when I’m watching it. It’s all so great but sometimes I just want to watch Liza sing! Putting aside the fact that Liza’s Sally Bowles is one of the single most fabulous characters to ever grace the screen (that make-up! her hair! clothes! nail polish!) I love the blending of the seemingly carefree lives of the main characters (which we do know aren’t that carefree at all) and the world of the Kit Kat Klub contrasted with the progressively, well, scary situation of the world outside. Also, Bob Fosse. I just adore his choreography, as cliched as it may be by now. It was interesting when I finally watched I Am a Camera and then Christopher and his Kind and experiencing the very similar stories (obviously, as they are all based on Isherwood’s book) in different ways…and without the musical lens we view it all through in Cabaret.

2. Hedwig and the Angry Inch directed by John Cameron Mitchell, 2001

“It is clear that I must find my other half. But is it a he or a she? What does this person look like? Identical to me? Or somehow complementary? Does my other half have what I don’t? Did he get the looks? The luck? The love? Were we really separated forceably or did he just run off with the good stuff? Or did I? Will this person embarrass me? What about sex? Is that how we put ourselves back together again? Or can two people actually become one again?”


How do I sum up my feelings about this film? A high school friend urged me to see it but I think it took me far too long to get around to it (I was still in high school but he’d been insisting for a long time before I watched it). It’s such a gorgeous film and it’s funny and it’s serious and Origin of Love has to be one of the loveliest, most beautiful songs ever written. I honestly can’t think of anything else to write about it, at the moment.

3. Hairspray directed by Adam Shankman, 2007

This is the only film on the list of which I’ve also seen the stage production…twice. Once in New York and once in Melbourne – very different productions, but both thoroughly enjoyable. I’m also a huge John Waters fan so I’m familiar with the film the stage production is based on. Neither of these facts lessened my enthusiasm when I learnt a motion picture was in the works and I think I may have even seen the film the day it was released (with my mum). It’s such a visual feast and so beautifully filmed and designed (the sets, costumes, etc.) and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the casting (I certainly never realised James Marsden could sing) and just plain delighted by the rest (Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, John Travolta, Christopher Walken et al)! And the cameos by John Waters, Ricki Lake, et al were a nice touch, too. My only disappointments were that some of my favourite songs from the stage production were cut: Cooties, Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now and It Takes Two, though all were recorded for the movie soundtrack. (I was also disappointed that the line ‘without love, life is like making out with Perry Como’ was cut from Without Love – I guess they thought kids wouldn’t get who Perry Como is? Or was it the previous line referring to Bromo-Seltzer? Oh well). I do love The New Girl in Town, which was written for the film and how the scene it is in is a nod to how many songs were re-recorded (ripped off, really) by white singing groups at the time. It may just have one of the best endings of a movie musical that I’ve seen. Oh, and Seaweed makes me swoon…sigh.

4. Little Shop of Horrors directed by Frank Oz, 1986

One thing that’s noticeable in stage to movie productions (well, in this case, movie to stage to movie) is that there is a conscious effort to tone down the theatricality (I noticed this in Chicago where many of the lines are delivered with more gravitas than I’d heard in some stage recordings) but that’s not something I feel with this film. From the acting style, many of the sets and the way scenes are choreographed it definitely feels a lot more like a stage musical than necessarily a movie musical, if that makes sense. The song Skid Row (Downtown) always gives me shivers which I usually only experience when I see musicals onstage. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are perfect as Seymour and Audrey, and Steve Martin as her jerk boyfriend is kind of genius. Oh and Bill Murray as the masochistic dentist patient?! But I think my favourite thing about this film is the chorus of three local girls named after ’60s girl groups: Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette.

5. 8 Femmes directed by François Ozon, 2002

It’s set in the 1950s. It’s a musical. It’s a murder-mystery. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert. I’m not sure I have to say a whole lot else about why I love this film, really. Each of the costumes was created around each character and I feel the songs have been treated in the same way, whilst still reflecting various kinds of French pop music from around the time the film is set. And I really don’t want to give anything away because I want anyone who hasn’t seen it to be able to (hopefully) react the same way I did. (I once wrote a post at my other blog about how much I love all of the costumes in the film.)

I had got to the end of my top 5 list when I realised that I’d made a horrible mistake because Xanadu was nowhere to be seen on it! As a way to rectify that, whilst still keeping the 5 films I originally wanted on the list, Xanadu gets an honourable mention for being one of the most amazing films I’ve ever seen. (As I’m writing this I’m thinking of all the other films I forgot while I was compiling the list…)

I doubt Xanadu is all that well thought of by critics (or, indeed, by many people on IMDB it seems) but I love anything campy, trashy, tacky, etc., and Xanadu kind of embodies a lot of that. It has Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton-John, roller-skating, bizarre costumes, a cartoon sequence I always forget about and incorporates Greek mythology. Yeah. But if you think Xanadu couldn’t get kitschier or more camp then you clearly haven’t seen the stage production.

Once again, I’d love to hear anyone else’s top 5 list for this theme. I’ll probably be debating my own list with myself but I will happily take recommendations of other musicals (even if you think I may have seen them) that fit the theme (i.e. made after 1970…we can keep others for my other lists!)

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11 thoughts on “Top 5 Thursday | Movie Musicals

  1. I absolutely love this post! Cabaret is undoubtedly one of my favorite movies ~of all time – the plot, costumes, music – everything is just PERFECT ;_;

  2. i haven’t seen the little shop of horrors, and didn’t make it all the way through xanadu (wasn’t in the mood), but i love all your other choices! hedwig and the angry inch is SO. GOOD. cabaret’s dance numbers have left such a big mark on me, and i love it when the 60s-70s do the twenties. so pastiche, silly, beautiful.

    that said, i’m really surprised you don’t have the rocky horror picture show on this list!

    • Rocky Horror was #1 on my all-time favourite list so I didn’t want to double up – technically it’d be #1 on this list too 😀 plus it made room for some others as three of my all-time favourites are musicals made after 1970 haha (I also left out two that will be in one of my favourite Australian movie lists…so many musicals!!)

      Oh and I agree re the 60s-70s doing the 20s! Thoroughly Modern Millie is a great one for that

  3. Pingback: Rainy Day Movies | The Sofa Cinephile

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