Film musicals used to be some of the most popular cash cows in Hollywood, but sometime over the years, the musical fell out of vogue. I blame the '80s, when we got disco dreck like The Apple and Xanadu (guilty pleasures, I admit), or perhaps the '90s (in two words: Spice World). So it was heartening for this musical fan to witness the revival of the genre that happened during the '00s, when movie musicals re-entered the Oscar race and everyone from Tim Burton to Lars von Trier put a little razzle dazzle in their step!
Of course, this rebirth had its highs and lows. Rent was still annoying as ever, even when adapted for the screen. The Producers didn't really work, either. On the other hand, we learned that our friends and neighbors (and husbands and boyfriends) shared our secret love of song, of seeing A-list, serious-talky actors belt out show tunes (or at least try valiantly) and dance their way across the screen. Remember Fred and Ginger? They used to sing and dance for a living, and they were great actors to boot. This decade, we got an X-Men mutant hero who could hoof his way to a Tony award and tear bad guys to shreds with his adamantium claws in the same year!
So here's to the best movie musicals of the decade, filtered, admittedly, through my own personal preferences. (For example: I wasn't into Sondheim's tracks, so no Sweeney Todd. Sorry.) We've got Broadway adaptations, musical biopics, and everything in between, save the rockumentary, which I'd place in the documentary category – and yes, I've dared to rank these ten musicals of the 2000s in order from good to great to greatest.
10. Dreamgirls (2006)
As the soulful Effie White in Dreamgirls, former "American Idol" finalist Jennifer Hudson owns every inch of the screen – an impressive feat, given that she shares it with diva extraordinaire Beyonce Knowles (who dared to take a role that drew striking parallels between her Diana Ross-like character and her real-life former group, Destiny's Child). Despite its weak parts, Bill Condon's mostly-glitzy musical shines best when it allowed its performers to perform. Hudson's powerful rendition of Jennifer Holliday's "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," attempted to lesser effect in the Sundance musical Camp three years earlier, became the year's most evocative war cry of female assertion and earned Hudson an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her film debut. ("Glee" fans can also thank the popularity of Dreamgirls for leading to Amber Riley's own powerhouse solo rendition of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" this season.)
9. Hustle & Flow (2005)
Some of the best musicals of the decade came from the most unlikely of places; Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow, about a Memphis pimp who dreams of being a rapper, was one of them. An independent film financed by John Singleton, Hustle & Flow captures a palpable grittiness in its setting so potent you could feel the sweat dripping from star Terrence Howard, whose DJay becomes more than just a hood cliche. The scene in which DJay finds a groove with his producer (Anthony Anderson) and his beat-maker (D.J. Qualls), building a few rhymes and sound cues into the anthemic "Whup That Trick," is a raucously catchy moment of discovery and one of the film's highlights. With tough, lived-in lyrics, Howard found a compelling voice for his reluctant Southern pimp, and, with a Best Oscar win for underdogs Three 6 Mafia and their song, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," Hustle & Flow put hip hop on Hollywood's radar.
8. Corpse Bride (2005)
Of Tim Burton's three musicals of the decade, the stop-motion animated film Corpse Bride best marries music to film; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was just bizarre, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, as mentioned above, felt better served by its handsome production design than by its soundtrack. Frequent collaborator Danny Elfman's signature sense for whimsy played well with Burton's macabre story of a Victorian nerd who accidentally marries an undead bride. With shades of their earlier collaboration The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride served as an appropriately morbid and romantic return to the realm of musical animation and earned an Oscar nod for Best Animated Feature.
7. Chicago (2002)
If Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! brought spectacle back to the film musical in 2001, Rob Marshall's Chicago picked up where it left off, clearing the way for a renaissance in Broadway-on-film. Based on the 1975 Kander and Ebb stage production, Chicago gave the movie musical the jumpstart it really needed: beautiful women wearing dazzling clothes in smoky, show-stopping numbers. Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones turn in stand-out performances as the fame-hungry Death Row inmates Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, leading a cast dominated by recognizable stars like Lucy Liu, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly and Richard Gere. The picture picked up 13 Academy Award nominations, winning the first Oscar for Best Picture in the musical genre since 1968.
6. Across the Universe (2007)
Critics were divided on Julie Taymor's Beatles-themed ode to hippie Americana, but I'd argue her inventive, sprawling treatment is a moving ode to the iconic catalogue of the Fab Four. Placing a song like "With A Little Help from My Friends" into an Ivy League campus carousing scene may seem a little cutesy, for example, but Taymor's relentless devotion to the songs, and the inventive ways she puts those familiar lyrics into new contexts, is a winning conceit. Not sold? Take a look at her version of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" – sung by a high school girl to her lesbian cheerleader crush while she walks obliviously in slow-motion through a chaotic football field – and I dare you to not be delighted. Across the Universe is more earnest than perhaps it should be, but in this cynical day and age, can't we all use a little more heartfelt sincerity and romance in our lives?
5. Once (2007)
Speaking of heartfelt and sincere, 2007 was a particularly good year for the musical outside the flashy, fleshy confines of Hollywood. And one of the best films of the year across all genres was a little movie about a Dublin street busker (Glen Hansard) who connects with a Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová) over their shared love of music. John Carney's Once, filmed for the unheard of sum of $160,000, benefited from the tentative chemistry between its leads (who dated and collaborated in real life) and the stirring, sweet soundtrack they wrote and performed. The theme "Falling Slowly," which won the Oscar for Best Song, along with other standout tracks like "Lies" and "Say It To Me Now," are so evocative and yet work fluidly in the framework of the film. If this soundtrack doesn't move you, then you probably cannot be moved.
4. Control (2007)
This musical biopic about the brief and tragic life of Joy Division front man Ian Curtis was one of my favorite films of 2007. First-time director Anton Corbijn, who had his own history with the band early in his career, turned a photographer's eye to this retelling of the rise to fame and abrupt suicide of the tormented young artist resulting in a beautiful, evocative black-and-white presentation. Corbijn punctuates his observation of Curtis with performances played live by his actors, who pay worthy homage to the classic post-punk tracks of Joy Division (other bands of the era, including Buzzcocks, Iggy Pop, and the band Joy Division would become following Curtis' death, New Order). A hauntingly authentic performance by star Sam Riley (and an excellent turn by Samantha Morton as his wife, Deborah Curtis) anchor the film.
3. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Only Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier could take something as innocuous as The Sound of Music and turn it into a tragedy about a single mother (Bjork) too trusting and innocent for her own good. That von Trier played with the conventions of the genre while challenging the genre itself made Dancer in the Dark one of the decade's most original and self-reflexive musicals, and enough to earn him enough credit in my book to make up for what he does to poor Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist. Bjork stars as Selma, a slightly daffy daydreamer who struggles to stay focused at her factory job in 1964 America because elaborate Stomp-like musical numbers keep erupting in her imagination. The greatest joy in her life, besides her young son, is going to the movies to watch musicals – only, perversely, that love of musicals is exactly what gets her into trouble at work and in life. Eventually her disassociation from reality leads to prison and worse, and in really depressing fashion, but her road to martyrdom is paved with many delightful, off-kilter musical numbers.
2. Moulin Rouge (2001)
There's an odd sort of phenomenon I've noticed over the years whenever Moulin Rouge comes up in conversation. In the years since Baz Lurhmann's bold, splashy romance hit theaters, the magic has worn off and popular opinion has reversed itself to some degree. Is Moulin Rouge still the masterwork we thought it was back in 2001? I'd say yes, if only because without it – and it's audacious, go for the gold sensibility, shameless pop music mélange, and unabashed love for the golden era of movie magic – the film musical might not have enjoyed the resurgence that it did. Lurhmann's musical made it ok to love musicals again, reviving a fondness for old-fashioned romance and richness (and fabulous costumes!) that we'd been sorely lacking. Ewan McGregor's Elephant Love Medley may sound a little cheesier in 2009, but you know you still know all the riffs from Xtina, Mya, Lil' Kim and Pink's pop single version of "Lady Marmalade."
1. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
I'm happy to say that the best musical of the '00s is a cult film adapted from an off-Broadway play about a transgender glam-rock star named Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell), a blonde wigged East Berlin immigrant who finds love, heartache, and stardom after falling for a young prodigy (Michael Pitt) in the Midwest. Hedwig gave me everything I wanted in a film musical: great original songs (by Stephen Trask), fabulous sets and costumes, and a complex central character who could belt it like a natural born diva. Also, I love drag queens. And how often do you get to root for a lovelorn drag queen-rock star in the movies? Mitchell, who also directed and co-wrote Hedwig, balances just the right amount of comic moments and egotistical posturing with raw, emotional revelations – and, like any good musical, those developments are mirrored in song. The film's lyrical rock soundtrack is one of the best of the decade as well; listen to songs like "Wicked Little Town," arguably the album's best track, and you can remember exactly which scene it's from no matter how long ago you've seen it.
Whaddya think, musical fiends? Tell us what made your best of the decade list below.