My Top 15 Favorite Film Musicals

Almost everyone, at some point in time, loved a musical. As children, musicals are one of the first genres we are exposed to thanks in large part to the Disney Renaissance of the late 80’s and 90’s. As a film buff who was also exposed to theater in college and has a sibling who is a dancer, the genre has always been one of my favorites (when done correctly). So here is the list of my Top 15 musical films of all time. There have been plenty of sensational musicals on Broadway over the years (*cough* Hamilton), but this is a movie blog so every movie on this list will be ranked based on the quality of the film as well as the music. Enjoy!

15. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)

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It only makes sense to start with a musical classic. Singin’ in the Rain is a staple of old Hollywood cinema and features vibrant set pieces and some fun choreography performed by an iconic cast. For all intents and purposes, it is the first film that comes to my mind when I think of classic musical films.

FAVORITE SONG: “Singin’ in the Rain” of course. It has a wonderful jazzy feel to it.

 

14. INTO THE WOODS (2014)

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This movie had great potential until its somewhat jarring and poorly fitting final act. But that doesn’t change the fact that this blending of classic fairy tales set to music by iconic composer Stephen Sondheim is an overall fun film with a great cast.

FAVORITE SONG: “Agony” is not only a great song, but seeing the two pompous princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) perform it is the funniest part in the movie.

 

13. THE WIZ (1978)

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The Motown re-imagining of L.Frank Baum’s classic novel doesn’t get enough credit. The set pieces and costumes are gorgeous. And you can’t go wrong musically with the likes of Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

FAVORITE SONG: Young Michael Jackson’s soulful rendition of “You can’t win” will always be my favorite.

 

12. LES MISERABLES (2013)

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This would be much higher on the list if I actually enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed the stage performance. Casting Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried was almost an insult to the incredible music created by French composer Claude-Michel Schonberg. I was also not a fan of having the actors sing live rather than having the songs dubbed like most musicals. But Hugh Jackman was amicable as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks all give sensational performances.

FAVORITE SONG: Not even Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried’s lackluster vocals can spoil “One Day More”.

 

11. THE LAST FIVE YEARS (2014)

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This film is undoubtedly the least known as it was essentially only released On-Demand. But if you’re a fan of musicals or romantic comedies, I suggest you check it out. The film chronicles the relationship between a struggling actress (Anna Kendrick) and a successful writer (Jeremy Jordan). It earns points for its unique non-linear narrative along with a great soundtrack.

FAVORITE SONG: The song “A Part of That” shows off Kendrick’s enchanting vocals and also personifies her character’s inner struggle with the success of her significant other while her career sputters.

 

10. DREAMGIRLS (2006)

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This film featured an all star cast that included Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, and famously won Jennifer Hudson a much deserved Academy Award. It does get a bit lengthy, but what Broadway musical turned film doesn’t?

FAVORITE SONG: While I love the song “Heavy”, because it has a Destiny’s Child vibe to it, it’s only about a minute and a half long, I’ll go with the obvious choice in “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” which was powerfully performed by Hudson.

 

9. IDLEWILD (2006)

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This film is highly underrated and features incredible Hip Hop duo Outkast in their musical production debut. It also helped launch the career of Paula Patton. A unique hip hop musical before the likes of Hamilton, this film features some great cinematography (albeit a bit jarring at times) as well as a soundtrack that’s basically just another Outkast album.

FAVORITE SONG: “Movin’ Cool” (which ironically isn’t on the official soundtrack) is a wonderful duet that also marks one of the most endearing moments in the film when Andre 3000’s Percival helps Patton’s Sally B. Shelly become the actual star she had been posing as.

 

8. ALADDIN (1992)

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You didn’t think this was going to be a list of greatest musicals and not include Disney films, did you? Well get ready, because they’re about to come in droves. This film is an animated classic and features a ton of iconic songs as well as some great characters like The Genie.

FAVORITE SONG: “A Whole New World” is easily the best romantic ballad in all of Disney history.

 

7. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)

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The most underappreciated Disney film of all time. The characters were fun and endearing, but what won me over was the music which carries a beautiful touch of New Orleans jazz that is fitting and unique.

FAVORITE SONG: “Friends on the Other Side” is my all time favorite villain song and the scene probably would’ve given me nightmares if I wasn’t 21 years old when I first saw it.

 

6. THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (1998)

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Take notes Ridley Scott. THIS is how you tell the story of Moses. This is still the greatest non-Disney animated musical ever made. The animation is vibrant and pays homage to the art of the era and the music (written by Stephen Schwartz and Hans Zimmer) is nothing short of breathtaking.

FAVORITE SONG: Choosing the late Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey’s rendition of “When You Believe” would be a cop out since it isn’t in the actual movie until the end credits, so I’ll go with the hauntingly beautiful “The Plagues” which features a duet between Moses (performed by Amick Byram) and his brother turned enemy, Rameses (Ralph Fiennes).

 

5. LA LA LAND (2016)

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I knew there was a reason I had waited to post my list of favorite musicals. La La Land was one of my favorite films of 2016 and it featured captivating performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as well as some excellent jazz music fused with the style of old Hollywood.

FAVORITE SONG: “Someone In the Crowd” is a great toe tapping arrangement and the scene features some sensational cinematography.

4. THE LION KING (1992)

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I originally had this higher on my totem pole until I realized I loved the story and characters more than the music itself. But that’s not to say the music isn’t great as well. Lion King still has the best intro song of any Disney musical and all of the songs are memorable.

FAVORITE SONG: “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” arranged by Elton John, comes in a close second. But my favorite is “Hakuna Matata”… duh. It means no worries. Who knew the safari was so hip to jazz music?

 

3. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

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Emphasis on the 1991 version. The remake was fine, but Emma Watson doesn’t have the vocal range of Paige O’Hara. This film features one of the most angelic compositions in any movie to date and it helps that the story itself is full of memorable characters.

FAVORITE SONG: The title song, performed by the great Angela Lansbury, is a fan favorite. But my actual favorite song from the film is the opening number titled “Belle”.

 

2. SWEENEY TODD (2007)

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Tim Burton’s grungy, wonderfully gory and gothic, musical horror film adaptation is not actually as great as the musical stage play I once saw in person at my alma mater (UNCG), but it’s still excellent. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and the late Alan Rickman deserve credit for holding their own musically and not spoiling Stephen Sondheim’s vivacious soundtrack. If the movie had true vocalists, this would actually be #1 on my list as it is my favorite musical (excluding Hamilton).

FAVORITE SONG: As a fun and exciting duet that is ironically vibrant and boisterous despite being the prelude of attempted murder, “Pretty Women” is the epitome of the overall tone of the film.

 

1. MULAN (1998)

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One of my favorite animated films features a soundtrack that I believe is flawless. The empowering story is also great so this film is in this spot simply because it is the ultimate combination of wonderful music infused with the culture of its setting and a movie worth watching even without the music.

FAVORITE SONG: Let’s get down to business, to defeat the Hun. Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons? You’re the saddest bunch I’ve ever met, but you can bet before we’re through… mister “I’ll Make a Man Out of You!” Yes… I wrote that without looking up the lyrics. Judge away.

 

Honorable Mention: West Side Story (1961), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Hairspray (2007), Chicago (2002), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Pocahontas (1995), Tangled (2007), Moana (2016)

Think I left something off of my list? Feel free to comment and share! And if you have any suggestions for other lists, feel free to comment them below! Thanks for reading!

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La La Land (Full Review)

There’s something about old Hollywood films that feels wholesome and fun. These nostalgic films are what birthed the modern film industry, and although musicals are still relatively prevalent, films like Singin’ In the Rain (or any film starring Gene Kelly) have essentially died off. La La Land, directed and written by Damien Chazelle, is a gorgeous modern day throw back to those vibrant musicals of old.

la_la_landThe film follows a pair of struggling artists in Los Angeles; Mia (Emma Stone) a barista who is an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a pianist who dreams of opening his own jazz bar. After a few chance meetings, the two begin a fun and exciting romance that is tested as they chase their lofty career goals.

There is so much to not just like, but love about La La Land. For starters, any musical needs to have good music. And the music in this film is energetic and infused with soulful jazz and wonderful choreography. This should come as no surprise if you’ve ever seen Damien Chazelle’s directorial debut, Whiplash. The wonderful array of music is aided by colorful scenery and well maneuvered cinematography that make the film feel like a Broadway show.

The two lead actors are both sensational. Emma Stone is loveable and earnest throughout while Ryan Gosling’s signature passion and charisma shines through every scene. The two are so good and their chemistry so electric, that you can easily forgive their descent, but not great vocal performances.

The movie’s biggest flaw, a relatively cliché love story, is even rectified with a beautifully crafted ending that feels both happy and heartbreakingly real. With liveliness and magnetic performances, La La Land manages to be an homage and a revitalization of Old Hollywood filmmaking. Flowing with romance, comedy and soulful music from start to finish, it is a triumph and one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

FINAL GRADE: A

 

 

May 2015 Quick Reviews

Summer movie season is in full swing. Here are some quick thoughts on some of the films that capped the month of May…

San_Andreas_posterSAN ANDREAS Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as rescue pilot Chief Ray Gaines in this earth quake disaster film about the San Andreas fault (mainly encompassing California) ripping apart. The film is pretty much everything you’d expect a disaster movie with The Rock to be. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

San Andreas is stuffed full of nearly every disaster movie cliché imaginable: A scientist that no one listens to until it’s too late (Paul Giamatti), a significant other that the main character must reconcile with (Carla Gugino), an offspring that needs saving (Alexandra Daddario), and a character who turns full a-hole when everything starts to go south (Ioan Gruffudd). But it’s still fairly entertaining. The action sequences are no less (or more) interesting than the events in films like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow, but the 3D is a nice added touch. And as far as leads go, Dwayne Johnson is right in his element here, when he isn’t trying to show too much emotional depth. All in all, the film is decent time spent, but don’t expect anything earth shatteringly original. Pun intended. FINAL GRADE: C+

Tomorrowland_posterTOMORROWLAND In this day and age when spoilers are released via on-set cell phone footage and each movie gets four trailers to show you all of the interesting parts, Tomorrowland is an absolute breath of fresh air. Kept relatively under wraps, the story revolves around an intelligent, young girl (Britt Robertson) who is recruited to save a futuristic world kept secret by history’s best and brightest. George Clooney co-stars as the former child genius turned cynical recluse who reluctantly aids her on her journey.

The cast, especially Clooney, deserves credit for strong, emotionally grounded performances. The only problem is that this adventurous build-up comes to a highly underwhelming climax that manages to weigh down the entire film. And, although highly relevant, the movie beats you over the head with its overarching message. Still, kudos to Disney and director Brad Bird for withholding all of their secrets to make this film feel wildly original. FINAL GRADE: B-

Aloha_posterALOHA Where do I start with this one? I guess I’ll begin with the overly convoluted plot. Yes, a romantic comedy has a complicated story. Anywho, Bradley Cooper stars as a contractor for the military who returns to his hometown in Hawaii to help a billionaire (Bill Murray) with a satellite launch. Yes, that’s actually the plot. Emma Stone co-stars as his Air Force watchdog who falls in love with him and Rachel McAdams as his now married ex-girlfriend.

If the military and NASA dribble involving secret missiles and land negotiations with Hawaiian natives doesn’t make this film feel droll enough, the lack of chemistry between the characters will. The film is filled with awkward moments, and not the entertaining kind of awkward that makes you laugh, but rather those moments where you just want the scene to end. The most enjoyable moments in the movie come from Rachel McAdams’ husband, played by John Krasinksi who communicates non-verbally for nearly the entire movie. He provides some snickers in spurts, but other than that, this film is neither endearing or humorous. FINAL GRADE: D+

Final Reviews of 2014

2014 Has come to an end. Here are a few quick reviews to cap off Year 2 of BSReviews. Have a Happy New Year!

Birdman_posterBIRDMAN   Like Chris Rock in Top Five, Michael Keaton plays the lead in a self referential story about the nature of “show business”. In what is likely an Oscar Nominating performance, the former Batman actor portrays the star of the fictitious super hero film trilogy, “Birdman”. Now a struggling actor in his late 50’s, Keaton’s Riggan Thomson is looking to make his comeback on Broadway with the help of his best friend/manager (Zach Galifianakis). All he has to do is wrangle his manic co-star (Edward Norton), manage his former addict daughter (Emma Stone), and keep his strong case of schizophrenia at bay.

As stories go, when it isn’t being too depressing or too pretentious for its own good, Birdman is an absolute marvel. There are several key moments that strike a chord, such as Thomson’s angry rant about the nature of Critics or a special effects laden dream sequence that deconstructs the nature of the average moviegoer. Where the movie makes its biggest mark is in its cinematography. Set mainly within the confines of a theater, Director Alejandro González Iñárritu manages to shoot and edit the entire film to look like one long take, creating a true sense of an onscreen stage play that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

FINAL GRADE: B+

 

The_Interview_2014_posterTHE INTERVIEW  Although it is one of the most controversial film’s in recent history, don’t be fooled into thinking The Interview is something that it isn’t. Just because terrorist threats and an angry North Korean government nearly brought about the end of the film before its begging, doesn’t mean it’s actually good. In fact, the movie is exactly what it was advertised to be: A James Franco and Seth Rogen movie. This time it revolves around the two bff’s trying to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Have you seen This Is The End? Have you seen Pineapple Express? Did you enjoy them? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you will enjoy The Interview. Franco’s TV host character is a moronic, yet somewhat charismatic, man-child who can’t be taken too seriously. Seth Rogen’s producer best friend tries to keep him in check and tries to navigate around his stupidity. As you should expect from their earlier works, the movie is garishly dumb. Kim Jung-un (Randall Park) is portrayed in a fashion no different than how any sketch comedy show portrays George Bush Jr. or Bill Clinton so don’t expect to find anything groundbreakingly controversial. I, personally, found the aforementioned films absolutely hilarious. So it goes without saying that I laughed out loud watching this movie. And it goes without saying that if you aren’t a fan of Rogen and Franco’s antics, don’t watch. That goes for you too, North Korea.

FINAL GRADE: C+

My countdown of my favorite and least favorite films of 2014 will be coming later this week. See you in 2015!

Not Quite So-Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

Yep. Another superhero movie is here to kickoff the summer movie season… as if there weren’t enough of them. First up, is another Spider-Man movie… as if there weren’t enough of them.

ImageMarc Webb (no pun intended… I think) returns to direct the sequel to the 2012 Spider-Man reboot. His last outing, almost a complete retread of Sam Raimi’s original film, was saved by its two leads. I don’t think anyone will argue that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone aren’t a step up from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Still… it’s hard to shake the fact that Tobey and Kirsten did it first. Thus, yet again, it’s hard to watch this film and not rummage through it for reasons to care about its existence.

So let’s go ahead and get the negatives out of the way first, so we can end on a good note going forward into the Summer Movie Season. First off; the tone. With the creation of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the Avengers’ Universe, and the X-Men franchise, I’d have sworn we’d left the campiness and corniness back in the 90’s with Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. And yet, the bad puns and goofiness seem to pop up in this film far too often. In fact, the movie seems to go from silly to serious to heartfelt as if someone is flipping a switch in the projection booth.

“It’s my birthday… now it’s time to light my candles”… *proceeds to electrocute everything*… I mean, c’mon Electro, you can do better than that.

And then there’s the cast. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti fan. But casting them in the clichéd, cookie cutter roles of Electro and Rhino is like hiring an architect to draw a stick figure. In fact, there were literally times where I felt like Foxx was going to turn into this guy.

But… Spider-man is here to save the day. Andrew Garfield is once again marvelous as Peter Parker. Comparing him to Tobey Maguire’s dinky turn as the titular hero is like comparing Christian Bale’s Batman to Adam West’s. Garfield is the embodiment of the character and makes you root for him and believe in him every time he’s on screen. Then there’s Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey who’s just so darn adorable. Franchise newcomer, Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), is also not too shabby as Harry Osborne.

So what it all comes down to is: Is a good Spidey and a culpable love story enough to save a clunky script? Well, yes and no. For a superhero movie, the film is lacking on the action… which is weird, considering the movie is packed with three villains. And when it does hit, you’ll either love or hate the constant shifting in and out of super slow motion. But, considering it has a strong lead actor and a dramatic climax (perhaps shocking to non-comic aficionados who can’t guess the inevitable end), the movie isn’t a terrible way to spend a few hours and a couple of bucks. Unless of course, you haven’t seen Captain America 2 yet.

FINAL GRADE: C