Well it's been a long time since I've made any "silly" lists such as this, but now things are changing. Lately it seems I've been asked to give recommendations and pointing people towards what to see. A knowledgeable source I am, but with each recommendation I wonder whether my opinion or my recommendations might either convert a potential cinephile into a fanatic or make someone run in horror at the strange and scary world of "art house" cinema. I dug out my DVD of Singin' in the Rain which was purchased several years ago at a store that went out of business a couple years ago (which shows how quickly I watch DVD's I buy). Obviously this would get my vote as the best of all musicals but where to go after that?
Now I've always hated trying to define genres and find it even more baffling to describe hybrid genres, or sub-genres. Rick Altman has described three distinct types of musicals that every musical can embrace one or more categories. There's the fairy tale musical epitomized in the early Lubitsch musicals and perhaps most famous in Fred and Ginger films as well as numerous Disney features. The show musical which is perhaps the easiest to define although it can get tricky because of the distinction of whether the music originates from a show or stage setting or whether characters who might be "puttin' on a show" still sing in public in expertly choreographed numbers. The Bandwagon is a key example of this kind particularly the station sequence and the stroll through the park. Last we have the folk musical as first defined in Hallelujah but evident in films like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof, and films that generally deal with a rural setting. The Wizard of Oz is a perfect hybrid taking it's first half right from the folk tradition of films like The Green Pastures and then going into prime fairy tale land of Oz.
Now I realize I've listed nothing but American films and I haven't openly decided to eliminate them from contention. Documentaries will be exempt from this list which includes concert films. So what's my top ten, and more importantly what's yours?
Animated films DO count
I chose to pick films that are musicals because the music is significant to the story and adds to the picture, not simply a film that has a musical number (Duck Soup, Monty Python and the Holy Grail). So this is certainly a personal bias but with only ten to pick I had to be picky.
Although I didn't exclude having more than one film per director that's just how my list ended up.
Rock and roll films (Quadrophenia, Pink Floyd the Wall) I chose not to count. The Wall I also excluded because it's closer to an opera than musical, and Altman defined musicals as having non-musical breaks (such is the problem with Umbrellas of Cherbourg as well).
Now you don't have to employ my criteria, but that's just how I handled things.
1. Singin' in the Rain (1952) - Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly
2. All that Jazz (1979) - Bob Fosse
3. Top Hat (1935) - Mark Sandrich
4. 42nd Street (1933) - Lloyd Bacon
5. Moulin Rouge (2001) - Baz Luhrmann
6. Help! (1965) - Richard Lester
7. Love Me Tonight (1932) - Rouben Mamloulian
8. Dumbo (1941) - Disney and Co.
9. South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut (1999) - Trey Parker
10. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) - Michael Curtiz
Many more I would have liked to count.