I just love making lists. No matter how silly it is to narrow down favorite things in some arbitrary way or how changeable my opinions might be, it’s still a fun way to pass the time.
Here are my top 10 favorite movie musicals – at least as of today. Tomorrow I may remember another one I love and wish I’d put it on the list!
10. Funny Face
Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson, beautiful tunes by Gershwin, gorgeous ‘50s Paris, and super chic fashion by Givenchy. What’s not to love? Think Pink!
Favorite number: “Clap Yo Hands”
9. The Sound of Music
I almost can’t believe this movie is so far down on my list, considering that I’ve loved it since before I was even born! It’s my mom’s favorite musical, so I think I listened to “Do Re Mi” and “My Favorite Things” in utero. This is the warmest, most loveable story, and yet in spite of singing nuns, adorable children, and breathtaking mountain vistas it’s never too cute or precious. The melancholy of impending war hangs like a cloud over everything. I never fail to weep when Captain Von Trapp sings “Edelweiss” at the festival and can’t make it through the song, so heartsick is he about leaving his beloved Austria.
Favorite number: “Something Good.” What can I say? I’m a romantic.
8. Singin’ in the Rain
Pure joy. This is a movie that always cheers me up whenever I’m feeling blue. Gene Kelly dancing with an umbrella, Donald O’Connor bouncing off the walls, Debbie Reynolds popping out of cakes – this movie has everything. I don’t know what else to say except that it’s hilarious, romantic, and contains some of the happiest song and dance numbers ever filmed.
Favorite number: “Moses Supposes”
7. Calamity Jane
I love, worship and adore Doris Day (making it all the more shocking that I haven’t talked about her here before this), and this is my favorite of her musicals. Calamity Jane was Warner’s answer to MGM’s Annie Get Your Gun, and as much as I like Annie, I enjoy Calamity Jane even more. It may not have as many instantly recognizable songs (although “Secret Love” and “Black Hills of Dakota” are classics), but I like the story more and I think Doris Day gives one of her best performances as the rough and tumble tomboy Calamity Jane. She’s a hoot to watch sparring with Wild Bill Hickok, played the handsome Howard Keel. (He was also in Annie Get Your Gun, because you can’t have a western musical without Howard Keel!)
Favorite number: “Black Hills of Dakota”
6. My Fair Lady
One of the wittiest, most erudite musicals ever, and one of the most deliciously snarky. Rex Harrison simply is Henry Higgins. I’ve seen quite a few stage productions of My Fair Lady, and while there’ve been some very passable Eliza Doolittles, I’ve yet to see a Professor Higgins who can remotely touch Harrison’s performance. He’s marvelous as the arrogant, misanthropic, sexist bachelor who finds he can’t quite live without the squashed cabbage leaf he found in Covent Garden. Audrey Hepburn makes a lovely, touching Eliza. Nobody played ugly duckling (ugly, ha!) to swan stories quite like her.
Favorite number: “Just You Wait”
5. Easter Parade
It seems wrong that only one Judy Garland musical made it onto this list, because I completely adore her and think she was the greatest woman in movie musicals ever. (See, these lists are such baloney!) Still, she’s here in Easter Parade, beautiful, vulnerable, spunky, and with more talent than pretty much anyone. Anyone other than Fred Astaire, that is. I love how much fun they seem to have together in numbers like “We’re a Couple of Swells.” Ann Miller is fabulous in this movie, and while Peter Lawford might not have much in the way of musical talent, he’s very pretty to look at.
Favorite number: “Drum Crazy”
4. An American in Paris
For a movie filmed entirely on the MGM lot, An American in Paris certainly influenced what everyone imagines Paris to be like! Gene Kelly took his dancing to another level with this movie, particularly in the “American in Paris Ballet.” It’s so innovative and beautiful, with its painting-come-to-life feel. Leslie Caron is adorable in her screen debut and Oscar Levant is too funny as Kelly’s grouchy concert pianist friend. Plus – can I say this without sounding like a weirdo? – Gene Kelly has an ass that just won’t quit. (Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. This blog post is hilarious!)
Favorite number: “Tra-La-La”
3. The Band Wagon
For many years I couldn’t stand MGM musicals like The Band Wagon. They hardly had a plot! The songs were just thrown in there! I liked the more story-driven musicals like those by Rogers and Hammerstein. Gradually I came to appreciate the “let’s put on a show” musicals, however, and this one is a great example of that. I love the colorfulness, the costumes, the amazing performances by uber-talented stars. There’s a story here, but it’s not the main thing. Mostly it’s about song and dance numbers that transport you, take you out of yourself and your humdrum life, and fill you will joy. Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse make sublime dance partners. Also, this movie makes me wish Nanette Fabray had been in more musicals. She’s so endearing dancing with Fred to “I Love Louisa” and singing “Louisiana Hayride.”
Favorite number: “Dancing in the Dark”
2. Swing Time
One of the quintessential Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, and the one I can never see too many times. It was hard to choose between this and Top Hat, but since Swing Time features my all-time favorite Astaire/Rogers dance number, “Pick Yourself Up,” it’s the one that made the cut.
Favorite number: “Pick Yourself Up”
I love every moment, every song, every little thing about this movie. It’s absolutely perfectly cast, starting with Leslie Caron’s charming turn as Gigi. Her transformation from gangly schoolgirl to elegant young woman is completely believable. Louis Jourdan is a dreamy French dreamboat as world-weary Gaston, and Maurice Chevalier steals the show every time he’s on screen. No one could have played Gaston’s elderly playboy uncle like Chevalier. Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans are fantastic, too. The lush, painterly sets and costumes, memorable music, and a story in which love wins out over cynicism all come together to make this my favorite musical.
Favorite numbers: “The Night They Invented Champagne”, “I Remember it Well”, “She Is Not Thinking of Me”, “Gigi”