11 December 2008


Submitted for the annual Chlotrudis poll: this is a list of my favorites as opposed to the "best": witness the good, the bad and the ugly - all together!

1. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (dir: Stanley Donen, 1952)
You arguably could take out the songs and still have a brilliant satire of early-sound cinema (even though she doesn't sing, Jean Hagen gives the best performance here), but why even imagine a world without such iconic numbers as "Make 'em Laugh", "Good Morning" and the graceful, wistful title song?
2. ALL THAT JAZZ (Bob Fosse, 1979)
Some of it is incredibly dated, but Fosse's fearless self-portrait is above all an innovative hybrid of theatrical attitude and cinematic technique that nearly three decades later has not been surpassed.
3. THE WIZARD OF OZ (Victor Fleming, 1939)
I can't think of anything else to say about this perennial gem that hasn't already been said, except that it has flying monkeys, and more films should have flying monkeys.
4. HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
Finally, a true "rock" musical that comes from the heart (instead of a record company's A/R department). It has a handmade quality that makes Mitchell's arresting persona and poignant songs all the more so.
5. THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (Jacques Demy, 1964)
Often imitated (to a degree) but never matched, Demy's masterpiece is a gorgeous, melancholy treat (as is a young Catherine Deneuve.)
Very little in this world makes me as happy as this, Miike's lovingly deranged cross between THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and an all-singing, all-dancing episode of THE LOVE BOAT.
7. WEST SIDE STORY (Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, 1961)
For all its flaws (I'm looking at you, Natalie Wood), you can use this often-stunning film as a dividing point in Hollywood musicals: everything good that came after is noticeably different from everything before.
The TV series is maddeningly uneven, but occasionally everything aligns perfectly, as it did in this hilariously profane (and oddly humane) parody of/homage to animated musicals.
9. ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (Jim Sharman, 1975)
I've probably heard its glorious soundtrack hundreds of times. It falls apart in the final third, but c'mon - Susan Sarandon singing in her underwear, "The Time Warp", the all-encompassing awesomeness of Tim Curry...
10. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (Brian De Palma, 1974)
ROCKY HORROR'S evil, groovy stepsister, in which mad scientist De Palma gives us a delightfully glam take on FAUST, introduces the incomparable Jessica Harper to the masses and imagines diminutive Paul Williams as the devil.
11. CABARET (Fosse, 1972)
This might have placed higher if I hadn't last seen it more than a decade ago, but in an entirely different way, it's as iconic as THE WIZARD OF OZ, and nearly as much of a game changer as WEST SIDE STORY.
12. THE BOY FRIEND (Ken Russell, 1971)
Before he went way over the top with TOMMY and LISZTOMANIA, Russell struck a perfect balance here between classicism (the 1920s stage setting with Twiggy and Tommy Tune) and revisionism (inventive musical numbers that play out like a pleasant acid trip).
13. AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (Vincente Minnelli, 1951)
The genuinely strange, impressionistic 17-minute ballet that concludes the film is Gene Kelly's finest moment, even if most of the remainder is a slightly lesser (but not much less entertaining) predecessor to SINGIN' IN THE RAIN.
14. POPEYE (Robert Altman, 1980)
A childhood favorite that endures because of a well-cast Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall, and also because it's an Altman film through and through. The self-contained universe here is also just a lot of fun to look at.
15. A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (Richard Lester, 1964)
You can debate each of the Fab Four's acting chops, but this cash-in on a phenomenon more than aptly captured the zeitgeist and it still shows why a simple rock band mattered so much.
16. THE APPLE (Menahem Golan, 1980)
Possibly the worst film I've ever seen, and unquestionably the most fascinating. "It's a natural, natural, natural desire to meet an actual, actual, actual vampire!"
17. THE WAYWARD CLOUD (Tsai Ming-Liang, 2005)
An arthouse film alternating musical numbers with scenes of graphic sex is a lot to live up to, but the musical numbers are so fantastic (and original - you will never look at orange traffic cones the same way again), you're caught between pleasure and discomfort to a degree no other musical offers, except for maybe...
18. DANCER IN THE DARK (Lars von Trier, 2000)
I don't know if I could ever sit through this film again, which blew my mind but also left me absolutely destroyed. Say what you will about von Trier and leading lady Bjork, but the few, fleeting musical numbers here are as entertaining as they are cathartic.
19. HEAD (Bob Rafelson, 1968)
In which the Monkees end their career with an avant-garde deconstruction of their myth, and the world is that much richer for its mere existence.
20. SWEET CHARITY (Fosse, 1969)
It was between this and CHICAGO for the final slot, but I'll take an actual Fosse production over an adaptation of Fosse any day -- as long as this film's wonderfully bittersweet ending is kept intact.
Chicago, On the Town, Funny Face, Holiday Inn, The Muppet Movie, 8 Women, 42nd Street, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Topsy-Turvy, Velvet Goldmine, Once, A Mighty Wind

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