I can’t really say I’m a fan of musicals. I always get those cringy feelings when the actors suddenly break into song, watching my clock waiting for the story to finally go on. But there are some true masterpieces out there, movies that implement music in an original way to tell a unique story. Musicals with lyrics you really want to pay attention to, as they are essential in moving the story forward. These four incredible movies changed my perception of musical movies forever. I am now much more open-minded towards the genre.
I also must add that there is something very powerful about loving a musical movie, because as the story fades from your memory the songs don’t. They never leave you. Here are the four musicals that made a huge impact on me.
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Musicals usually tell pleasant stories, with catching tones and a happy ending. But it wouldn’t be a Lars Von Trier movie if he didn’t do the absolute opposite. Dancer in the Dark is far from a sweet tale, but it is an incredibly powerful one.
The music begins, but the picture is a greyish dark dim. The realization arises, I’m watching Dancer in the…. Couple of minutes of a pleasant symphony goes by, and the screen lights up as the story starts. We see music lover Selma, a Czechoslovakian woman who works in a factory in the US. But Selma has a secret, she is going blind. She suffers from a hereditary disease that causes blindness, and in order for her son not to meet the same fate as her, she must earn the money to afford a surgery he so desperately needs. Selma hides her defect in order to keep her job, but soon enough some notice her changing behaviours, and opportunities to take advantage of her arise.
Dancer in the Dark is the darkest of tails. I’ve watched it many times, and each time I feel just as much pain as the first time. The last song “Next To Last Song” still haunts me and even thinking about it I feel the pain and anxiety throbbing in my chest. Trier wanted the music to be presented as if the character came up with it at the moment, and so it’s not supposed to rhyme perfectly or sound amazing – it is meant to tell the story of Selma’s inner life.
Sweeney Todd (2007)
Goth master Tim Burton took a musical and adapted it into something fit for the big screen. Once again with sidekicks Johnny Depp and his wife Helena Bonham Carter as the leads. Together they tell the morbid story that could perhaps be too horrid for music lovers and too musical for horror fans. But with a perfect Burton atmosphere, he once again creates his own genre and accomplishes something close to perfection.
Sweeney Todd arrives back to London where his wife was taken from him 15 years earlier. He is now aged, emotionally wounded and deathly pale after having spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit. With vengeance on his mind and faith in humanity perished, the barber picks up his razors again, but this time it’s not to shorten mustaches, but the lives of those who hurt him.
Tim Burton took the stage version of this grimly gothic tale and made it his absolute own. Sweeney Todd is a macabre, bloody masterpiece about cannibalism, serial murder and madness. This stage-to-screen adaptation captures you from the very beginning until the end.
Across the Universe (2007)
Julie Taymor, known for portraying the remarkable story about Frida Kahlo later went on to creating a beautiful movie about war, love and friendship through The Beatles music. A breathtaking move that combines pure emotion with stunning cinematography, dance, and song.
A young man alone on the beach looks into the camera and sings “Girl” from the Beatles. His name is Jude, and we get to follow his journey as he leaves Liverpool in the early 60’s and travels to America hoping to find his father. But he finds much more. A wealthy wild friend whose sister he falls madly in love with. Together they are drawn into the turbulent time of the Vietnam War, its resistance movements and rock n’ roll.
Across the Universe is probably the movie I’ve seen the most times. Not because it’s my absolute favourite, but because it is a genuine treat to all senses. The movie grips your ears, sight, heart and soul and never lets go. An amazing story mixed with timeless songs.
Once was created with a budget of only $150,000, and it shows – but not negatively. This independent film is evidence of how a movie can be hugely successful with a shoe-string budget. Once has a heart that no money can buy and a voice richer than any studio could afford.
An Irish street musician (Glen Hansard) falls in love with a newly immigrated Czech flower girl. They begin writing music together, something the man, despite his incredible talent, never dared to do before. Music becomes their salvation, an escape from the grey everyday life plagued by financial and personal difficulties. A love letter to each other.
Once is the movie that introduced me to Glen Hansard, and his music has stayed with me ever since. This beautiful story tells the very raw reality of two people, their suffering, love and loneliness. There is not much going on, and not much that has to- it’s just a movie about life, in all its ugliness and beauty.
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