Glen Hansard (left) and Markéta Irglová star in John Carney's Once.
It was another decidedly melodic year in film. With the movie musical resurrected -- thank you forebears Chicago and Moulin Rouge -- and seemingly not going anywhere, and with more writers, directors and stars willing to throw in the occasional song-and-dance routine into typically non-musical fare, the modern multiplex feels a whole lot like the local performing arts center.
But for every true musical theater adaptation that migrates from stage to screen, there are 10 or more films in which music plays a vital role. It could be a poignant scene, underscored perfectly with a soulful tune. Or it could be a tension-cutting song that takes that summer comedy into a new hilarious direction.
It is with that in mind that I list my top five musical moments in film in 2007. Feel free to hum while you're reading. It could help.
´ The "Falling Slowly" scene from Once
Could there be a more perfect, understated and under-appreciated "musical" than Once? Not this year, and maybe never.
This is the post-modern movie musical. During the golden age of cinema, folks could break out into song just walking down the street and it was acceptable. Then the new trend, brought on by Rob Marshall's Chicago, allowed big production numbers but only by way of fantasy sequences. In Once, writer-director John Carney imagines a musical in which all the musical moments are real -- actual musicians playing their music in real musical situations: street busking in Dublin, recording at a studio, noodling on a bus.
But it is in the piano shop scene when you realize there's a hearbeat within this musical reality. Two people, so close to falling in love when everything around them says they can't, express their feelings in one simple, beautiful improvised song. Falling slowly, indeed.
´ "These Eyes" from Superbad
Michael Cera might well be a comic genius. That everything about him and his over-developed wit says otherwise is the proof. Fans of TV's brilliant (and fittingly cancelled) Arrested Development already knew that Cera was scary good. But it was his so-real-it-hurts turn as an awkward teen in Superbad that finally exposes him to the masses. And within this masterpiece -- hands-down the funniest film of the year -- is a simply conceived party scene in which Cera's character is mistaken for someone with a great singing voice. Watching this play out, culminating in Cera's hysterical rendition of the Guess Who's "These Eyes," is picture perfect.
´ Bowling alley scene from Across the Universe
Admittedly, Across the Universe is a flawed experiment in musical filmmaking -- that not-so-rare instance where the concept is better than the execution. So it goes with a film built around and told entirely through the music of The Beatles. Taking itself a little too seriously at times, the film gets muddy and a little stodgy by the third reel. But early on, when director Julie Taymor and her cast still played with the concept with light whimsical touches, Across the Universe shined. And nowhere more than in the silly, bright and fun bowling alley scene set to the Beatles' "Just Seen a Face."
´ Saying goodbye scene from Into the Wild
In a movie filled with touching, personal moments of self-discovery, mulling what it means to live and what impact one life can have on another, there is one scene that still haunts. As Christopher (Emile Hirsch) says goodbye to Ron (Hal Holbrook) before he departs for his great and ultimately final adventure, there are the faintest strums of guitar, a haunting almost non-existent melody penned and performed by Eddie Vedder. Both because of Holbrook's masterful performance and because of the non-linear way director Sean Penn structured the true-life narrative, it is arguably the most significant scene in the film. So it's amazing and refreshing that that moment isn't overwhelmed with swelling orchestrations. Instead, thanks to Vedder, it is sweet and underplayed, moving and organic, the perfect complement to the story.
´ Supporting performances from Hairspray
Too much hay had been made of the stunt casting of John Travolta as Edna Turnblad, the over-the-top matron of Hairspray and of then-unknown Nikki Blonsky as his/her daughter that all the amazing supporting performances were sadly overshadowed. At least in the marketing of the film. And so it was a pleasure to be legitimately bowled over by the strong work of Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes and James Marsden. Bynes, in particular, could be someone to watch as the movie musical continues its renaissance. Hairspray uncovered enough talent and screen presence to warrant a leading-player part, and soon.
´ "Three Birds" from I Am Legend
If you saw the movie, you know the scene. It haunts.
´ "Johanna" from Sweeney Todd
Is there a prettier Sondheim melody? Probably not. It's one tune you don't mind the continuous reprises.
´ "Let's Duet" from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Double entendres don't get much funnier than this instant classic musical moment. "In my dreams you're blowing me … some kisses." John C. Reilly is pitch-perfect.
´ "My Humps" from Blades of Glory
Will Farrell's slightly confused rendition of the Black Eyed Peas' anthem might be better than the original. And that's saying something.
´ The car radio scene from Transformers
Bumblebee helps Shia LaBeouf woo Megan Fox with some mood music on the radio. Great light moment in the otherwise loud summer blockbuster. "Baby come back…"