Tom Beasley taps his toes and sings along merrily with ten of the best movie musicals of the decade…
The musical is one of the most unusual genres in Hollywood. In the early days of the “talkies”, much of the studio system ran on these movies. They were the oxygen keeping the film business afloat. At the beginning of this decade, however, the movie musical had somewhat declined, with Disney animated musicals forming the lion’s share of the genre’s output.
A number of high-profile movies in the last decade have changed the mould though. The musical is now well and truly back at the pinnacle of cinema, so here are the ten best examples of the genre from the last ten years. The only caveat is that I’ve tried to limit it to one film by each director and only one of those Disney animations.
10. Les Misérables (2012)
Tom Hooper is about to give the world something utterly bonkers with his adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Cats. But before that, he took on another of the West End and Broadway’s most popular and long-running productions with Les Misérables. A movie adaptation of the stage show had been mooted since the late 1980s, just a couple of years after the production started. It took several decades for the film to get off the ground, but Eric Fellner of Working Title was finally able to break the deadlock and get it going.
Hugh Jackman approached Hooper almost as soon as he got the directing job, with a view to taking on the role of Jean Valjean – the released convict who breaks his parole, triggering a decades-spanning feud with the ruthless lawman Javert, played by Russell Crowe. It’s an epic tale told entirely in song, with all of the cast members performing the music live on set. Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen and an Oscar-winning Anne Hathaway are also part of the ensemble.
This movie is something of a divisive one, earning a huge array of Oscar nods and becoming a huge $400m hit at the global box office despite the protestations of numerous hardcore fans of the stage musical. Years later, it stands as an imperfect but broadly well-made take on the material with some tremendous performances and memorable musical numbers.
9. Sunshine on Leith (2013)
The concept of a movie musical based on the work of The Proclaimers doesn’t seem like the most obvious proposition for one of the best films of the decade. Dexter Fletcher’s Sunshine on Leith, however, is something very special. Starring George MacKay, Antonia Thomas, Peter Mullan and Jane Horrocks, it’s a delightful and emotionally rich journey through a terrific songbook. Horrocks’ tear-filled performance of the title song alone is worth the price of a DVD.
MacKay and Kevin Guthrie play brothers who return home to Scotland after fighting in Afghanistan. Through the prism of the Proclaimers’ songs, we follow their family lives and romantic entanglements as they readjust to civilian life. It’s occasionally heart-breaking, often uplifting and always very entertaining. This one went under-appreciated on its initial release, but it deserves reappraisal years later.
8. The Greatest Showman (2017)
Michael Gracey’s film had an interesting journey to the top. Released during the Christmas period of 2017, it was savaged by critics who had basically been saving a spot on their Oscars prediction lists for the latest big ticket musical. However, in the weeks to come, audiences fell in love with this zany, colourful semi-biopic of circus impresario PT Barnum. The film made well over $400m globally and, here in the UK, the soundtrack album spent 28 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the album chart, equalling a record set by The Beatles. It’s fair to say it was a phenomenon.
Hugh Jackman led this one as well, alongside Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya. Keala Settle, meanwhile, broke out as the bearded lady and the lead voice on the potent ballad of self-love ‘This Is Me’. The film is flawed and messy, as well as concealing the darker elements of the real Barnum, but there’s no denying its sense of joy and the earworm quality of those excellent songs.
7. A Star is Born (2018)
A Star is Born should not have been as good as it was. It was the fourth version of its story to arrive on the big screen, starred a pop singer in the lead role and was directed by an actor who had never helmed a feature before. But somehow, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga proved to be a big screen double act with lightning in a bottle chemistry. With an arsenal of instantly classic new songs, including the goosebump-inducing ‘Shallow’, they made something special. Surprisingly, and perhaps because of its status as an early frontrunner during festival season, the Oscars largely snubbed the film in every category except for its inevitable and undeniable Best Original Song win.
Cooper is terrific as the gravel-voiced country rocker Jackson Maine, while Gaga is perfect as Ally, almost more convincing as the humble waitress than the Gaga-esque pop princess she becomes. The movie’s emotional trajectory is perhaps never as satisfying as in its white hot opening act, but there’s a reason this story has been told over and over again. It’s a doozy.
6. Pitch Perfect (2012)
It’s easy to forget, looking back, how much of a phenomenon Glee was in its TV heyday. Suddenly, show choirs were all the rage and the programme’s covers of popular songs were littered throughout the charts, breaking the record for most songs to hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart previously held by Elvis Presley. So, when Pitch Perfect arrived, it felt like a slightly more attitude-filled take on the world of acapella performing groups – if such a thing were possible.
Anna Kendrick is Beca, who finds herself somewhat cajoled into joining the all-girl Barden Bellas singing group at her college. Her attempts to bring a more modern, remix-fuelled style into the repertoire lead her to clash with the prim group leader, played by Anna Camp. The musical numbers are fun, mash-up twists on the pop hits of the time, with the song known as ‘Cups’ becoming a chart success.
The film was followed by a couple of sequels, which gradually diminished in quality, but the original is a spiky and sharp teen comedy helped along by Kendrick’s excellent performance. With a supporting cast of great singers and comic actors, the feel of family is definitely present in the Barden Bellas. That first time at least, it was a pleasure to be in their company.
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