Sunday, May 20, 2012

Our Favorite Musical Numbers

Sometimes, words just won't do. Sometimes we have to SING.

Doug: The Nicholas Brothers' tap routine in Stormy Weather is, by far, the most cramazing dance number I've ever seen. Do yourself a favor and watch it till the end:


Honorable mention: Joseph Gordon-Levitt strutting to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams" in (500) Days of Summer. Because, really, who hasn't felt like Han Solo after banging a Manic Pixie Dream Girl?

Mark Ahn: "Bohemian Rhapsody," Wayne's World - So, it's 1992, and I'm a high school kid who doesn't watch that much television because I was too busy finishing homework or sleeping (I was one of the cool kids, obviously). But, my friends were bugging me about going to watch some Saturday Night Live movie, and that statement actually meant something good. I sit down, and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," which I'd never heard ever, blares out of the speakers as a car full of grungy simpletons karaoke and headbang their way through the song. And it's a perfect little moment, because the joy and energy of the characters on-screen matches the joy and energy of the music, and "Bohemian Rhapsody" was forever seared into my brain, and I'd imagine, the brains of plenty of other high school kids who had their first taste of Queen's galactic scale of rock music. I'm sure Mike Myers won't ever forget it, since it pushed him into stardom, nor will Lorne Michaels, who had his first SNL movie spinoff success. 

1. “Love Will Keep Us Together," Get Over It!:

2.  “You’re The One that I Want,” Grease - Because at age 4, I wanted to be Sandra Dee (sorry, “Sandy?!?”) in all-black leather pants with big, curly hair.

3. “Day-O,” John Waters’ Hairspray - Because at age 10, I wanted to be Beatnik Pia Zadora -- sans drugs -- dressed in all black with long, straight hair. Okay -- that definitely does not count as a musical number on film. In all seriousness, the scene with Toussaint McCall singing “Nothing Takes the Place of You” while an actor playing a homeless man is singing the same song in the street still resonates with me. I was pretty young when I first saw Hairspray, but it got me interested in the civil rights movement and in the music from that time period.

4. “Man of Constant Sorrow,” O Brother, Where Art Thou? - It just makes me smile. And Doug does a pretty sweet impression of Clooney’s dance moves.

5. “Dark Side,”Eddie and the Cruisers - This is not too much of a noteworthy musical number, but when I was very young, I watched this movie every time it was on WGN (I miss when they showed movies all afternoon/evening on Saturdays). One Saturday afternoon, my family went to Pizza Hut for dinner. I spent most of the meal worried that I was going to miss Eddie and the Cruisers on TV, and I even told my waitress as much. A side note -- I spent hours by myself in my room making up dances to this song. Am I alone here? I think I’m alone here.

6. “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” Once - This one is another cheat (see #4), because it has nothing to do with the scene in the film and everything to do with the song -- the way it builds and swells to a sense of urgency (the urgency of LOVE!) and then quietly closes out… it breaks my heart every time.

1. “42nd Street” from 42nd Street (1933) - Maybe it is because the damn song is so infectious, maybe it is because I have been showing it in class for twenty-five years, or maybe it is because nobody else ever tap-danced quite the way Ruby Keeler did, this is one of my all-time favorites. From a time when the movie musical was a new entity and musical numbers often started out within the confines of a Broadway stage but then expanded and expanded via the magic of the medium to fill football fields! This musical number was choreographed by the legendary Busby Berkeley.

2. “Moses Supposes” from Singing in the Rain (1952) - Two gifted dancers effortlessly exuding precision, grace, and athleticism -- all in the service of pure silliness. This number revels in the sheer nonsense that good friends often share. Ironically, this number is often cut when the film is shown on commercial television.

3. “Pinball Wizard” from Tommy (1975) - When I was in seventh grade I bought the original Who album, dove in, and lived there for the better part of two years. The Ken Russell film is so over-the-top, it seems conceived and shot specifically for an audience of 13 year-olds. Russell’s staging, the on-screen performance by the original members of the Who as Elton John’s backing band, and the numbers frenetic editing all combine to make this one of my perennial favorites. Years later, I learned that John’s outrageous costume had been sold at a charity auction. Now I will never get to wear it.

4. “The Touch” from Boogie Nights (1997) - From the scene in which Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly try to branch out from pornography into popular music, this ridiculous ditty sticks in my head long after better songs like “Sobbin’ Women” from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) or “Easy to be Hard “ from Hair (1979) have been forgotten. A celebration of pure mediocrity, the song reaches ludicrous heights when the camera catches Reilly’s character behind the glass at the recording studio, singing, dancing, and generally egging Wahlberg on. Why wasn’t this song ever released? (Ed. note: The song actually has been released. The original version, recorded by Stan Bush, was featured prominently in the animated Transformers: The Movie back in 1986 and appears on the soundtrack. Now I know what to get you for Christmas, JB! - Patrick)

4. “Uncle F-----“ from South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999) - Not only is this one of the filthiest songs ever recorded (the concluding “Suck my balls” is a real coup de grace), but it also holds a special place in my heart for enforcing the film’s rating. I saw the film on the day it opened, at a matinee where many children had somehow convinced their parents and grandparents to take them, probably under the pretext that it was a cartoon. This musical number comes very early in the film and caused a veritable stampede of red-faced adults dragging their protesting kids up the aisle and out of the theater. Hooray for Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Patrick: I'm not much for musicals, but I F'ING LOVE when characters break into a musical number in something that isn't a musical. That makes this list particularly challenging for me, because there are just so many sequences to choose from.

"I Want You Around," Rock 'n' Roll High School - The Ramones musical that's all about punk rock anarchy pauses for three and half minutes of sweetness. The depths of Riff Randell's love of the band is visualized during a fantasy sequence in which she's serenaded by Joey and the boys. Best part? Dee Dee Ramone playing bass in the shower.

"Tonight is What it Means to Be Young," Streets of Fire - Walter Hill's awesome "rock n' roll fable" climaxes in this performance by Ellen Aim and the Attackers, and it makes me so happy that it moves me to tears every time I see it. Seriously. When The Sorels emerge from the back of the stage to join in on the song, I well up with joy for everything that has led to this moment. I'll never forgive Hill for not ending the movie on the perfect shot -- the song climaxes, Tom Cody says goodbye WITH HIS EYES from the side of the stage and the camera cranes over the audience. Instead, it goes on another two and half minutes. I'LL ALLOW IT.

"That Thing You Do," That Thing You Do! - Either I'm strongly affected by music in movies, or I am a total pussy, because this one makes me cry, too. There are actual several points in That Thing You Do! that make me so happy I tear up, but the band's performance at the Mercyhurst talent show is the first. Actually, it's a single shot that does it: about 30 seconds in to the song, there's a wide shot of the gymnasium, and down on the floor we see a handful of college kids starting to dance. That moment is where it all begins for the Wonders. It gets me every time.

"All These Things I've Done," Southland Tales - I've talked often on F This Movie! about my affection for the ambitious failure. The movie I'm referring to is Richard Kelly's Southland Tales. The best sequence in the movie has little to do with anything else; the "story" stops for a short music video in which Justin Timberlake's battle-scarred war veteran lip syncs along with this song by The Killers. There's a moment near the end, in which JT just stares off camera, that's the best acting he's ever done. Even those people that didn't like Southland Tales (sometimes referred to as "Everyone who saw Southland Tales") singled this scene out as being pretty great.
Alex: "Wise Up," Magnolia (duh-doy!) - I’ve seen Magnolia probably 25 times, and that’s a fairly conservative estimate. It’s in my bones, my genetic makeup. It’s gotten to the point that I’ll sneak obscure quotations from Magnolia into everyday conversations to see if anyone is “of the tribe,” so to speak. Just the other day I was at the pharmacy and told the guy “Don’t you call me lady!” He was not of the tribe.

I’m pretty familiar with Magnolia, is my point. And yet, every single time the film rolls around to this perfect, cathartic sequence, it’s like it’s happening to me for the first time all over again. Oh, this killer Aimee Mann song is playing. Are they…are they singing along? All of them? Well of course they are.

At its core, Magnolia is a movie about attempts at controlling chaos. The characters in the movie, for the most part, are pretty terrible at this, though not from a lack of effort. They employ a multitude of tactics from the logical to the insane, the well-intended to the downright malicious. But there is something so profound about the unity of this moment that just levels me. The diversity of the characters’ circumstances is lifted for a few beats when they all retreat to Mann’s comforting song.

Furthermore, I wholly believe that Paul Thomas Anderson is attempting to give his own answer to the fundamental question hanging over every conventional musical: What compels the characters to suddenly break into the same song for no reason? In Magnolia, Anderson spends a good two hours ahead of this sequence putting these characters through the emotional wringer to the point that, for once, everyone singing the same song makes a modicum of sense.


  1. "Day-O", Beetlejuice. Like Patrick, I love when movies that aren't musicals break out in musical numbers. This musical number is my favorite part not including Micheal Keaton. Even though this song is technically lip-synced(hilariously I may add), all the actors do a great job of selling a ridiculous scene on paper. It worth the Catharine O'Hara reaction shot alone.

    "Somebody Kill Me" and "Grow Old With You", The Wedding Singer. The movie may have a treasure(?) trove of 80's hits, my favorite songs are the two original songs, co-written by Adam Sandler. "Somebody Kill Me" a Sandler-esque riff on The Cure, and "Grow Old With You", which shows that Sandler is a decent(DECENT!) singer and reminds me of a better time when Sandler at least gave a damn at being a better actor.

  2. Minor bone (BONE!) of contention for Mark -- I'd argue that SNL's first successful movie spinoff was THE BLUES BROTHERS. Case closed (I rest my case).

    1. I will never, ever accept your bones!

      I meant Lorne Michaels' first major SNL success. The Blues Brothers would be the first SNL spinoff success for sure. Wait, did I accept your bone (of contention)? Dangit.

  3. Major props to Alex on the Magnolia love! In recent movies, nothing beats Natalie Portman turning into the Black Swan in "Black Swan".

  4. Love the lip-sync jam-out session by Jordana Brewster to "A Little Respect" in D.E.B.S., turned what could've been a pretty forgetful misfire of a movie into a delightful guilty pleasure. Also, not really a musical number bit I'm always entranced by the opening credit sequence in Watchmen to Bob Dylan's The Times They are a Changin'.... also as honorable mention, ALL of Pink Floyd's The Wall.

    1. And the winner for first D.E.B.S. reference at F This Movie is...

      Good call on Watchmen. I'm a big, big fan of that movie, but even the people who didn't like it called out that sequence for being rad. Zack Snyder must have realized, too, since he pretty much tried to do the same thing again in Sucker Punch. Surprise! It didn't work.

  5. Get out of my brain JB! I'd add this number from Hellzapoppin to my list...I love how they dance with reckless abandon.

    1. "Recklessly abandoned" is my favorite way to dance. It was also the way I was raised.

  6. I don't like "Magnolia" at all (seen it in its entirety three times, once theatrically, and each time it becomes more endless and unbearable than the previous viewing) but I have to agree with Alex, 'Wise-Up' by itself is a mini-masterpiece of musical filmmaking virtuosity. It's the two hours before and 20-25 minutes after I have problems with. And this coming from someone that thinks every other P.T. Anderson movie is either very good or a classic.

    And my favorite musical number from "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" (my #1 favorite musical of all time) is La Resistance,' which starts as an individual piece and seamlessly morphs into a medley of every previous tune heard until that point. This is the only movie that, after seeing it opening day, made me literally run out of the theater and through many (NYC) street blocks to get to the nearest music store and buy the soundtrack CD.

    Other randomly-thought favorite musical numbers from movies from this self-proclaimed non-fan of musicals (which explains why so few actual musical numbers):

    -Woody Allen and Goldie Hawn's gravity-defying dance set to score music next to the Seine in "Everybody Says I Love You."

    -The four 'we're off to see the wizard' short dance segments as Dorothy goes to Oz and picks up her gang along in "The Wizard of Oz."

    -The opening minutes (which are actually the movie's postcript) of Dusan Makavejev's 1981 opus "Montenegro" in which we meet the character/actor (Susan Anspach) that is the inspiration for the Marianne Faithful song 'Ballad of Lucy Jordan' heard during the opening/closing credits.

    -Faye Wong cleans Tony Leung's apartment while the latter is away to the beat of the Wong-sung Chinese version of 'Dreams' in Wong Kar-Wai's "Chungking Express." Also from the same movie, the final use of 'California Dreamin' puts the previous many uses of the song in perspective and ends the movie on a high.

    -Every use of the same 4-5 note basic song (over and over and over again) in Nobuhiko Ohbayashi's crazy-cult flick "House". Ditto for Narciso Yepes' guitar songs in René Clément's Forbidden Games.

    -the opening Paris montage of every conceivable angle of the Eiffel Tower in Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" set to the Jean Constantine's amazing tune.

    -the 'River of Jordan' guitar song and the 'Stayin' Alive' disco dance number in ZAZ's "Airplane!"

    -Jeanne Moreau sings 'Le Tourbillon' in Truffaut's "Jules and Jim." Pure movie magic.

    -the rooftop foot chase scene in "The Untouchables" set to one of Ennio Morricone's finest music scores, ever.

    -Claudia Cardinale sings/dances the Henry Mancini-penned 'Meglio Stasera' in Blake Edwards' "The Pink Panther."

    -Gene Kelly sings/performs the titular number in "Singing in the Rain."

    -The 'Desert Chase' music bed (syched so damn perfectly with the action) in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and the opening credits of "Superman: The Movie." John Williams at his prime.

    -The 'fallen women' segment set to 'The Seraphim' song in Ron Fricke's "Baraka." Simultaneously poetic and heartbreaking.

    -Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo sing/dance 'Ma Ligne de Chance' in Godard's "Pierrot le Fou."

    -The opening montage/credits of Stallone's "Rocky III" set to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger."

    -Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sing the title song at the very end of "Easter Parade."

    1. Don't you mean Fred Astaire and Judy Garland?

  7. Fudge, you're right. That's what I get for writing replies to 'F This Movie' at 5AM. Which is fine because it's the only free time now that I have a job that keeps me working some odd hours (3PM to midnight) most days. But it sure beats replying to F This Movie during the day when I was unemployed. ;-)

  8. That 500 Days of Sumner sequence gets points for me for the transition to one of the saddest shots in the movie.