Saturday, December 31, 2011

Greatest Tracks of 2011


The second installment of my music musings from the past year wastes little time getting down to business with the 15 definitive tracks of 2011.  Look closely now and you'll observe certain patterns emerging.  Two songs have carried over from my opening tracks list, and another few artists make a second appearance.  Signifiers, perhaps, of my forthcoming list of great albums?  Or maybe not.  I'm still not sure I've got that one all worked out.

I nearly went with 10.  I was there, so I thought, until another indispensable inclusion occurred to me, at which point I was more than willing to cheat and declare a tie for 10th place.  That's about when I thought of a 12th, the 13th.  And perhaps you'll forgive my lack of creativity, because this is the third time I've redrafted my intro to accomodate these choices, but I've settled in on a top 15 that I'm really rather pleased with.  One very deserving artist even snagged two spots, and many of the rest could have easily done the same.  But I think 15 is inclusive enough, so there will be none of that honorable mention silliness that would only demean this declaration of the greatest songs 2011 had to offer.  They're ranked, which is a hard thing to stand by since the order could change by tomorrow morning, but that's what I do, even without a number one a decisive as "Sprawl II" was for me last year.

And here it is, friends, for your listening pleasure.

15. "Little Cup" by Thao & Mirah (Thao & Mirah)

Quiet. Unassuming. Infectious. Staggeringly beautiful.




14. "Elijah" by Alela Diane (Alela Diane & Wild Divine)

Apologies for the poor quality.  There's not a song this year with more soul, but I sure plucked it from the depths of obscurity.


13. "Shake It Out" by Florence and the Machine (Ceremonials)

If "Elijah" has soul, then "Shake it Out" has had the soul ripped straight out of it.  It's gothic gospel with one of the greatest vocalists currently working.


12. "Bizness" by Tune-Yards (WHOKILL)

A contender for music video of the year, no doubt, but the quirky highlight of the quirky highlight reel that is WHOKILL cannot be ignored.  It was love at first listen for me.


11. "Midnight City" by M83 (Hurry Up, We're Dreaming)

Funny enough, "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" has done more to remind me that "Saturdays = Youth" ranks among the greatest albums of the last decade than it has to secure it's own place in my pantheon, but it's a mighty fine effort, and that all stems from the electronic epic of "Midnight City."


10. "Video Games" by Lana Del Rey (Born to Die)

Sleepy, but not dreamy, and yet that's entirely a compliment.  Lana Del Rey could crank out ten thousand songs all the same, and I would happy drift along with every one of them.



9. "Get Some" by Lykke Li (Wounded Rhymes)

Ferocious, that's what this song is.  It should probably be higher, if only because it could eat most of my remaining selections alive.  Pop perfection.



8. "Cruel" by St. Vincent (Strange Mercy)

As opposed to pop confection, which despite its indie rock veneer, is essentially what St. Vincent's "Cruel" is.  And I love it for that.  Did I mention the delightful music video?


7. "Only If For A Night" by Florence & The Machine (Ceremonials)

Well, you knew this was coming.  It's miraculous, really, and if Ms. Welch really has taken up that mantle of a modern day Kate Bush (which, in itself, is a bit of a paradox).  She can belt out a song like no one's business, but what really fascinates is how she seems to spring from another age entirely.  Evocative doesn't even begin to describe it.


6. "A Real Hero" by College featuring Electric Youth (Drive soundtrack)

Either the most obvious of choices or one from well outside the box, there was no way I was ignoring the most significant song from one of the most significant films of the year.  It shines and sparkles, but it also glides, and...hell, what do these words even mean?  Just watch the damn movie.



5. "Afternoon" by Youth Lagoon (The Year of Hibernation)

Glorious, hitting the heights that M83 aspired to this year (and very very nearly hit).  What it does better than anything this year is escalate, and that's got to be my most prized trait in any song.  Or better yet, album, but we will get to that soon enough.


4. "Cats & Dogs/Coeur D'Alene"by The Head & The Heart (The Head & The Heart)

The release and subsequent re-release makes this perhaps a dubious choice, but it was a band I firmly discovered in the summer of '11, and at least one of the multiple release dates falls in my favor.  Like "Afternoon," there's a tremendous build to this two-part album opener, which is still one of the greatest packages of indie folk I've ever laid ears on, Fleet Foxes be damned.


3. "The Words That Maketh Murder" by PJ Harvey (Let England Shake)

"What if I take my problem to the United Nations?"  We were long overdue for a album bursting with political fury to emerge from the UK.  Here, then, is blustery core of Let England Shake, and my oh my does it rattle.



2. "The Bay" by Metronomy (The English Riviera)

My most played song of the year by a country mile, though that may be due to the strange power it has to evoke paradise in the most unlikely places.  It's a song that transports you, perhaps to the south of England as the album title suggests, or maybe to some equally unlikely paradise.


1. "Desire" by Anna Calvi (Anna Calvi)

A total vocal explosion with the force of a hurricane.  It sits nicely on top, if only because it seems more singular than so many songs before it.  Most artists, there was at least some debate in my mind as to which song of theirs felt most at home on this list, but to listen to Calvi's self titled album is to instantly gravitate to the deeply hued "Desire."  There were no easy choices across these rankings, but if a number one had to emerge (and that is the point, is it not?) then this is as fine a choice as I could have hoped for.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Opening Tracks of 2011


It's always list season here at the Library of Babel, but were there an official list season, it would now be in full bloom, what with the imminent end of 2011 a mere week away.  Now while it's true that the past month or so has been largely spent overdosing on Oscar bait, the movie list will have to remain on the back burner, as I bide my time, once again, to upstage the Academy and their silly little ceremony.  Yet somehow, I've actually found the time to take in an album or two, and the result is the paltry series of notable tunes to follow.

I'm by no means an expert here.  I've listened to a fraction of what was great in 2011, and stumbled upon more than a few favorites thanks primarily to the generous recommendations of friends, both real and existing only on the internet.  Given my impaired scope, I had thought to limit this to a simple Best Tracks/Best Albums kind of deal, but low and behold, a trend emerged.

2011 was a damn good year for the Opening Track.

You can probably name a few off the top of your head.  The year's most memorable single, for one.  Or the opening teaming of two pillars of rap, right alongside a rapidly rising star.  Or the title track off the year's most timely, politically charged album.  And what better way to launch into awards season than with a tribute to the album opener, presented here as 10 tremendous tracks that proved to be tough acts to follow (at least half are the best songs on their respective albums).  Some will resurface later on my Best Tracks of '11 list, others mark the only appearance by their artist this time out.  All can be proud to take part in these opening ceremonials.  Commence the fanfare.

10. Perth - Bon Iver (Bon Iver)


9. Don't Carry It All - The Decemberists (The King is Dead)


8. Youth Knows No Pain - Lykke Li (Wounded Rhymes)


7. To Begin - Alela Diane (Alela Diane & Wild Divine)


6. No Church in the Wild - Kanye West & Jay-Z featuring Frank Ocean (Watch the Throne)


5. Rolling In The Deep - Adele (21)


4. Let England Shake - PJ Harvey (Let England Shake)


3. Intro - M83 (Hurry Up, We're Dreaming)


2. Only If For a Night - Florence & The Machine (Ceremonials)


1. Cats & Dogs/Coeur d'Alene - The Head & The Heart (The Head & The Heart)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hugo: Or, Young Scorsese in Love


 Oh, hello.  I swear I didn't mean to set down the pen for so long.  It's actually been a very eventful few months.  There was much frolicking around the New York Film Festival, and my extensive foray into the films of '11 has kept pace ever since.  I've even managed to work in some revival screenings of favorites - the exhilarating Raiders of the Lost Ark, the mesmerizing Red Desert - so suffice it to say I've been having a good year.  And yet it's telling that it took a film like Hugo to inspire me to reopen the Library after what has been my longest absence since I first got it up and running.  Hugo, you see, is my favorite kind of film, a movie fueled solely by a burning passion of movies, and as such, it's a movie about falling in love.  That is was made by the reigning cinemagician of the day was just too perfect.  And now, awestruck and inspired, I've returned to recount what dazzling sights I've now seen.

You likely only know the vaguest details about Hugo, Martin Scorsese's first sojourn into the family film, and perhaps more significantly, the current 3D craze.  Residing within the walls of a Parisian train station is a mischievous waif who embarks on what's sure to be a wild and magical adventure.  So the trailer indicates.  That it reveals little else is just as well, for it allows even those who get a whiff of what's coming derive not-insignificant wonderment from the artfully handled reveals.  But I've already made up my mind to lay the cards on the table, so while this is not a film which hinges on any grand twist, should you prefer to remain in the dark, now is the time to turn away.  Just do so with my most enthusiastic endorsement on your mind.


Down to business.  Movie about movies come in all colors.  There are the clever, insider baseball kinds (The Player), the ones who take rapture in the creative process itself (8 1/2), and the one's that do or die based on your tolerance for name-checking (hi Quentin!).  And on the rarest of occasions, there are those that lovingly crafted odes to the medium itself, which without fail win me over every time, whether they're maudlin (Cinema Paradiso), erotic (The Dreamers), or practically perfect in every way, which I may prematurely be stating, is how I'm feeling about Hugo.  I mean, this film gets quite literally to the core of the medium, what with a budding cinefile stumbling upon the aging George Melies in (of course) a fucking train station.  And no one but no one was better suited to bring this story to the silver screen than Marty Scorsese, as not a director alive (save Godard...perhaps) possesses a better command of film grammar, nor a more deeply rooted love for his chosen profession.

And we're back again to love (or have we ever left the topic?).  Here it's a quantifiable object emanating from every frame of the film, though how much of that translates to each member of the audience will vary considerably.  While in no way inappropriate viewing for kids of any age, I suspect many will find the first half especially an exceptionally nice nap.  More than a few adults will sympathize with this as well, but I don't doubt that those who have a genuine love for movies will find within Hugo the ultimate validation for their obsession.  Here we get an automaton reminiscent of Metropolis, and our hero hanging Harold Lloyd style from a clock hand, and a runaway train breaking off the rails (and through the 4th wall!) as it careens through the station.  And of course the great Melies himself, illuminated late in the film though the most magical and heart-wrenching flashbacks you'll ever lay eyes on.  The honest devotion of Scorsese's achievement is enough to silence any cries of pretension, and those who find it overlong, my reasoning is that I'd rather spend a slow hour in a world as enchanting as Hugo's than a quick one anywhere else.  The movie isn't too long.  Your attention span is too short.


I haven't even scratched the surface, have I?  Perhaps some specifics then.  The cast populating Scorsese's Parisian snow globe circa 1930 is an absolute dream.  As Hugo, Asa Butterfield makes the ideal mirror image of any young artist or dreamer, not the least of whom would be Marty himself.  Chloe Moretz provides a nice foil, what with her literary aspirations aligned to counter his cinematic ones, and she delivers with great relish a handful of precocious adjectives ("clandestine" being my favorite).  There is Christopher Lee in a marvelous brief turn as a bookseller and Michael Stuhlbarg nearly stealing the show later on in full film preservationist glory.  We all could have used a little more Emily Mortimer, Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, but their parts were the minor details that really elevated the show, and love him or hate him, Sacha Baron Cohen has all the mannerisms of the stars of silent cinema in his bones, and nowhere has this daring been put to better use.  Ben Kingsley and Helen McCrory are better still.  They're situated right at the emotional crux of the only film this year to bring tears to my eyes (three times, but who's counting?) and they breath such humanity into Georges and Jeanne, but also sadness, fear, and eventually wonder.

Technically, Hugo is no less an achievement.  Scorsese's use of 3D is never flashy, and if not absolutely crucial to the viewing experience, here marks one of the few instances where I've found it add to, as opposed to cheapen, the overall impact.  Thelma Schoonmaker's editing reaches new heights in the artfully constructed flashback sequences, Robert Richardson's photography thrives from being ever curious of its surroundings, and Howard Shore's score may even top his exceptional work in A Dangerous Method

But my superlatives are starting to sound silly.  It's abundantly clear by now that I love movies that love movies, and that Hugo is practically my new gold standard.  But while I'm here telling, Scorsese is out there doing a bang up job of showing, and you really won't find a better argument for why movies can mean so much to people than this film here.  And so that's what brings me back to this site, hopefully with a little more frequency, but certainly with a reignited passion for the medium I'm writing about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ten for the High Road

Scottish films are for lovers.  Also drunks.  And junkies.  And feverish pagans with a torch to bear for law enforcement.  Since I identify with most of these categories, I feel a list coming on.

Top Ten Films Set in Scotland

The idea came to me last week as I exited the theater from a revival screening of the Powell and Pressburger classic, I Know Where I'm Going!.  Those who know me are well familiar with my belief that The Archers can direct circles around every filmmaker you hold dear, so little wonder that I left the theater that night in love all over again.  With Wendy Hiller, with P&P, and with the mystic Scotish Hebrides, a strong contender for my favorite cinematic backdrop.  Hence, I decided to cull together a little list.  Exactly what you were hoping for, I know.

Top 10 Films set in Scotland is what I chose to dub this.  Note that I didn't say Scottish films, though nearly all qualify for that distinction as well, but I didn't feel it fair to exclude several excellent foreign flicks that so beautifully capture the spirit of the land, nor did it seem right to make room for a (terrific) Scottish film like Morvern Callar, which spends much of its time abroad, when so many others would be equally deserving.  You will also notice the absence of Braveheart.  If this seems an oversight, then it pales in comparison to Mel Gibson's complete disregard for Highland fashion and historical fact.  And quality cinema.  The eviscerations abound.

Finally, a few honorable mentions, because there's a few other classics who's absence would not go unnoticed.  First, there's Andrea Arnold's modern surveillance drama Red Road, which truth be told, I didn't love as much as Fish Tank, but deserves a mention nonetheless.  Next, perhaps the definitive Scottish comedy, Whiskey Galore!, which treats a community's debilitating alcoholism with precisely the lack of gravity that it should.  Most drastically, I've just narrowly left off the heartwarming and hilarious Gregory's Girl, which perhaps I can only justify with another inclusion later on.  I was astounded that there wasn't room for this one in my top 10, but I do think the other inclusions make up for it.  Perhaps even more egregious is the lack of any adaptation of That Scottish Play, but we all know that the prize on that one goes to Throne of Blood, and feudal Japan is hardly the Scottish highlands, now is it?

And it's go, lassie, go.

10. Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1999)
As atonement for my omission of Morven Callar, I threw Lynne Ramsay a bone with Ratcatcher, which admittedly, is a pretty fantastic inclusion itself.  Hands down one of the best depictions of youth in the last twenty years, and the exquisite framing and stunning photography are hard to resist.


9. The Wickerman (Robin Hardy, 1973)
Long before Nicholas Cage donned a bear suit and kicked the crap out of some women, The Wickerman had a reputation as one of the creepiest horror films of all time.  The original taps religious fanaticism for some truly terrifying situations, culminating, of course, in the disturbing and inevitable bonfire.  And Christopher Lee has the uncanny ability to make everything creepier, so more points for that.


8. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)
The one you were no doubt waiting for.  Trainspotting more or less lives up to its reputation as the British film of the 90s (though it will always be Mike Leigh's decade to me), and it certainly made it abundantly clear that Danny Boyle was a force to be reckoned with.  The film is slick and cool and a total rush of blood to the head, and must-see viewing for any aspiring film buff.

7. Breaking The Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)
Between this and Trainspotting, 1996 marked a great rebound for the Highlands, with Western culture still in the thrall of a Scottish history that never quite existed.  True, Lars von Trier is hardly on home turf here, but the breathtaking exteriors and Emily Watson's decade defining performance are so affecting that there's little else to notice.  Warm and fuzzy this film is not, but that's nothing new for fans of von Trier, who at least seems well suited to the Scottish fog and gloom.

6. The Edge of the World (Michael Powell, 1937)
Ye-gods, what a gorgeous film.  The single greatest argument for location shooting to come out of the 30s, with vistas as menacing as they are breathtaking (though curiously, Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus ten years later works equal wonders for the Himalayas, all on a studio lot).  This is a true labor of love for Michael Powell, and a unforgettable, endearingly pastoral movie-watching experience.

5. The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
So this one's French.  Maybe, just a little.  And no less unconventional of a pick for being just shy of a year old.  That doesn't change a thing though, as The Illusionist was easily one of the great films of 2010, and not insignificantly thanks to the character that the brilliantly animated culture of Scotland lends to the proceedings.  The Edinburgh cityscape is something to marvel at, and the misty Scottish isle that the titular magician travels to is enchanting, but it's the local character that define the film, all lovingly drawn frame upon frame, for what may well end of being the animated film of the decade.


4. The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)

Though well-known enough in name alone, The 39 Steps remains one of Hitchcock's most underrated films, especially considering this belongs near the top of his top tier.  Any spy story that detours at length through the Scottish mores, and works in a train journey alone the way, is precisely my kind of movie.  The chemistry between Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll is staggering, and so their adventures across the countryside amuse and thrill in equal measure.


3. Shallow Grave (Danny Boyle, 1994)
Well look who's back: Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor, in what comes dangerously close to the best thing either have done (better than Slumdog and The Pillow Book respectively?  the jury's still out).  What is certain is that Shallow Grave is a thunderous debut feature, a film that evolves from an above average apartment comedy to a disarming tale of suspicion and betrayal.  Shit gets real, and fast.  And Boyle's lively direction never lets our attention waver.  The guy's energy is remarkable, especially considering he has yet to slow down.

2. I Know Where I'm Going! (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1945)
The inspiration for this impromptu top 10 clocks in at last at #2, though on another day, it could land not only at the top, but near the top of my all time favorite films list.  I Know Where I'm Going! is one of the great movie romances, and certainly one of the most relatable of them.  And so much of that romance stems from the land itself, which is why this is for many the definitive Scottish movie.  It features a cadre of local flavor that could only exist on the mythic Hebrides, and the central romance is bound at the end to the very mythology of the isles.  It's a film of immeasurable beauty, one which has been proven to reduce a grown man to tears, though on that subject, I'm afraid I will have to keep mum.


1. Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983)
There can be only one, one film to define my entire fascination with the people and culture of Scotland, and that film is the magical Local Hero.  Maybe it's that I find my love mirrored by the Western protagonist, sent to the fictional seaside town of Ferness as an emissary from Knox Oil and Gas, who falls truly, madly, deeply in love with the land he's been sent to develop.  It's a very simple film, but one with deeply endearing characters and the occasional well-deserved laugh, and it's a reminder of just how much mileage can be gotten from quality storytelling alone.  Without benefit of showboating that the Paddy Chayefsky's and Aaron Sorkin's of the world rely on, Bill Forsyth has here one of the greatest screenplays of all time.  Overflowing with local color, basking in the gray Scottish seaside, and knee-deep in tradition (is there a more rousing dance than a Ceilidh?), Local Hero is the one film I would steer and Celtophile to in a heartbeat, and one that's near and dear to my heart.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Top 10 Movie Musical Numbers

Let's not drag this out any longer, I say, on day 29.  I'll cut to the chase (preferably jump cut, because those are the most fun) and foist upon you my picks for cinemas grandest musical numbers.  A rush job? Or the lingering effects of the week mid-month where I inexplicably disappeared?  Whatever the case, I couldn't wait any longer, and if you know me, then you know there is nothing I like better than a good top 10 list.  Included under "nothing" are vitals such as sex, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, murder mysteries, and oxygen.  I have yet to find a way to combine all these things.

Crafting a list of 31 is easy.  It's just long enough to fit in all the concessions you would possibly care to, and yet the total number of entries is small enough to be fathomable.  Meaning, your list doesn't appear so exhaustive that an omission (intentional or otherwise) is offensive.  I could have easily gone to 50, and a slew of other classic numbers would have reared their fabulous heads, but that's just more reviews, more justifications, and more time stalling before the grand spectacle of any "Best" list, the Top 10.

And Top 10s are hard.  Lemme whip up a fancy analogy here and say it's not unlike creating a signature recipe.  There's not necessarily a right or wrong way to make a dish delicious, but certain ingredients help, and there's nothing quite like concocting something they've never tasted before.  And in being unique, you often have to go a ways out on a limb, and yet there still has to be something cohesive about the whole thing, otherwise it just won't taste right.  End lame metaphor.

Where was I?  Right, griping to myself about the significant mental anguish I expended for the sake of this neatly package Top 10.  Is it diverse?  To a point, although seven of the ten entries come from within two decades.  And four of those seven are divided (by decade, naturally) between two directors.  That points rather definitively toward my preferences as a film-lover, specifically my longstanding status as an Auteur Theory bannerman.  And while I usually vehemently deny any bias against contemporary films, there is some truth to that within the genres where the peak productive periods exist in days gone by.  This would cover westerns, noir, epics, and of course, musicals.

And yet, I do consider this an exciting, even eclectic mix, with nearly 50 years between the earliest entry and the latest, some of which have directly beget others within these ranks.  All are pivotal in one way or another to the history of the medium, or at the very least the genre, though as many as three of these will strike the musical purist as unfair play.  But I'll leave the justifications for a little later down the line.  For now, let me proudly present:


10. "Remember My Forgotten Man" from Gold Diggers of 1933

Musicals rose to prominence in the 30s because they were the ultimate form of escapism: wild, joyous fantasies that allowed audiences temporary reprieve from the ever-present Depression that was consuming them.  Busby Berkley was the grandmaster of such spectacles, and yet here, in a musical that includes the oft-cited Depression classic "We're In The Money," the film closes its curtain on a number that forces audiences to reflect not only on their current sorry state, but specifically on the inelegant fall of veterans of the Great War in these lean times.  To put it mildly, it's kind of a downer.

Well, as far as musicals go, that is.  I'd be hard pressed to think of a song with a stronger build to it, mounting on Joan Blondell's poetic lament until it reaches the astonishing closing setpiece.  It's the kind of song that sends chills down your spine, and with years removed now from the immediate critique present in the song, it feels no less effective, just less personal.  That makes it a rare musical number that deals with a social issue, and rarer still, one that feels relevant for when it was (oh, silly Hairspray, you untimely thing you).  Considering also, that the haunting music is one of the great tunes of classic Hollywood, "Remember My Forgotten Man" earns its lofty place on this list no problem.

Next, for those familiar with my tastes, the least surprising inclusion on this list:



9. "Bye Bye Life" from All That Jazz

I'm gonna repeat this again, All That Jazz is the high point of an entire genre, the last bona-fide masterwork in the history of movie musicals, and as I'm bound not to let you forget, the greatest of them all.  Opinions differ, but packed in here is everything there is to love about musicals.  Yes, it's relentlessly self-indulgent, but if you have any affection for this most self-indulgent of genres, then you'd better be used to that by now.

Why I chose "Bye Bye Life" shouldn't mystify anyone.  Few films have drawn to a close on such a spectacle as this, a song and dance farewell to the mortal coil on an ethereal stage that could only have existed between 1977 and 1980 AD.  Central to it all is Roy Schieder, wrapping up the performance of his career and proving that actors in musicals can mine real emotional depth from their roles.  Lending ample support is the one-of-a-kind Ben Vereen, who would probably also be my choice to MC my last moments on earth.

So the song ends up being by turns surreal and spectacular, devastating and divine.  Were it not for that chilling endcap, I might request this played via video projection at my funeral.  But those last two seconds are just so frighteningly...final...that it might be viewed in bad taste.  Well, considering this essentially prophesied Bob Fosse's own impending exit from the stage of life, that only makes this all the more unnerving.

Upswing, Fosse will always live on through my eternal listing.  Small consolation, you say?  Well I say Fred Astaire never found it in him to complain...


8. "Girl Hunt: A Murder Mystery in Jazz" from The Band Wagon

Poor Fred Astaire was one of the casualties of my early list-cutting, back when I hoped to find room for something out of glory days alongside Ginger, probably from Swing Time or Top Hat, but while my whims didn't fall that way, at least I knew he'd be making one hell of a lasting impression with this final, spectacular number from The Band Wagon.

Right from the wicked-cool title on the program within the film, "Girl Hunt: A Murder Mystery in Jazz" promises some unprecedented union of two of my favorite genres.  What results is a sleek noir-ballet, and my pick for the best choreography on the silver screen this side of an Errol Flynn movie.  Rightly, this is Astaire's greatest triumph, though the film itself looks back fondly on his earlier days.

The number, however, owes itself to more contemporary influences (at the time), including the imaginative resurgence in the genre propagated by Donen and Kelly, not to mention a certain unparalleled achievement that we will be getting to in due course.  Yes, I will continue to be cryptic while there is still time.  This crazy-cool feast for the senses pushes the limits of what you might think of as a musical number, but I'd like to see any argument why it doesn't belong.  It essentially amounts to little more than a violent ballet set to voice-over narration, yet the motion and the music are perfectly at one with each other, and if this isn't a musical number, I don't know what is.  Certainly not this next entry...


7. "Hot Voodoo" from Blonde Venus

There's a scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers where Eva Green, decked out in the sexiest painter's apparel you've ever seen, wielding a makeshift spear, pays glorious homage to this number.  It's just about my favorite scene of the last decade, and it owes nigh everything to what happens to be just about my favorite scene of the 1930s.  Coincidence?  Yeah, probably.

"Hot Voodoo" comes at the midpoint of the great Josef von Sternberg's obsession with Marlene Dietrich, the stage just before that obsession turned to madness, madness which incidentally resulted in one of the greatest films of all time, The Scarlet Empress.  I think I've already exceeded my superlative quota for this review, so I'm going to back off a bit, but suffice it to say that this to me plays as so much more than a cabaret act or musical number.  "Hot Voodoo" isn't in the traditional sense a spectacle, but there is something special about it, if I can only put my finger on it.

There's the obvious.  The beauty and the beast dynamic is kinda fun, and the whole thing reveals itself to be one phenomenally cool entrance (not into the film, but the scene) for one of Hollywood's most untouchable goddesses.  It's also quite the catchy beat, and while perhaps not wholly politically correct, you'd have to be looking for a fight to deem this offensive.

But for me there's some deep kind of movie magic at work here, the kind that's imminently tied to an icon's defining image.  For Dietrich, she was never more electric than when under Sternberg's lens, and this is the perfect encapsulation of his pageantry.  In this cabaret-act-cum-musical-number, she scarcely has to do a thing, but that's because Sternberg has created her not as an entity unto herself, but as one in perpetual contrast to her surroundings.  Odd how with minimal exertion one can so effortlessly command one of the great nightclub acts in cinema, but that is the magic of movies for you.


6. "Isn't It Romantic?" from Love Me Tonight

I spoke vaguely of three musicals that could vie for the title Greatest Ever, the breathless Umbrellas of Cherbourg, my personal favorite All That Jazz, and the third, at long last revealed, Love Me Tonight, hands down the most influential and important movie in the entire genre, the one without which I could not fathom everything to follow existing as it does.  Have you heard of it?  No?  Get on that.

It feels good to finally, all the way down at #6, work in a Maurice Chevalier song.  I mean, I knew this one was a shoe-in for the upper ranks, but I'd have loved to include something from Gigi (which I love, and will defend to my dying day) or from the marvelous early Lubitsch musicals that made Chevalier a Hollywood name in the first place.  But I will settle for a little Love Me Tonight, by one month the oldest movie on this list (just ahead of the aforementioned Blonde Venus), and yet prophetically more akin to modern musicals than anything to come out for the next dozen years.


"Isn't It Romantic" is a song of soaring ambition.  We start with the affable Chevalier himself, chirping wistfully about joy of true love, infectiously enough that the tune begins to carry.  Therein lies the marvel of the song, as our mouths hang agape in wonder while the simple song carries itself from flat to cab to traincar and well beyond.  The artist and the soldiers and the gypsies keep the song alive and bridge the countrywide gap between Chevalier and the lovely Jeanette MacDonald, who at long last emerges on the balcony singing the song that her future paramour began some time ago.  Lovers united by song.  What a novel idea.

Ugh, blogger is doing that thing again.  The thing where it won't let me embed certain videos.  One3 of those videos being our next entry.  I considered, briefly, uploading a version performed on The Muppet Show, but nifty as that may be, it was not directed by Bob Fosse, so instead we'll just live with a picture and a link.




First impressions are so important, right?  And by logical extension, so are opening numbers.  No discussion of these is complete without mention of the sexy and surreal "Willkommen" from Cabaret, the highest ranking adaptation of a stage number on this list.

Joel Grey is sensational.  This is not the kind of performance that wins Oscars, except that it did, and in doing so trumped a gaggle of Godfather goons,  Under any other circumstance, that would have earned Grey the scorn of movie history, but his MC is one of the defining characters of 70s cinema, and even to the detractors, the win is not as egregious as it may seem.  Personally, it's one of my favorites in the entire category.

But things are not as they seem: this number is a two man show.  Grey's magnetic weirdness has us at hello, but Bob Fosse's staging of the whole spectacle is no less memorable.  Grey had previously won a Tony for this very role. but from the opening reflection, we can tell we're not in for a standard stage adaptation.  The camera never settles into place, while the editing exposes every nook and cranny of the Kit Kat Club (exactly what you wanted to picture, I know).  There no better example of a musical adaptation moving beyond the theatrical and into the cinematic than Cabaret, and it is first in "Willkommen" that we understand what kind of a ride we're in for.

And now for something completely different:


4. "Haan Jab Tak Hain Jaan" from Sholay

Everything about Sholay is downright mythic, the essence of the American western cloaked in the guise of a Bollywood musical.  Heroes, anti-heroes and villains loom larger than life, and from early on it's perfectly clear that this is a battle of white hats and black hats.  Unlike so many American westerns, however, Sholay succeeds in making its leading lady no less fascinating than the boys.

"Haan Jab Tak Hain Jaan" comes well into the film's roughly 3 hour run time.  After the hero has been taken captive by Gabbar (who is one bad dude), his lover Basanti is offered the chance to prolong his execution, so long as she continues to dance.  Rarely has Bollywood needed a reason to launch into a musical number, but never was there a more opportune time than here.  Her song is a plea of love and desperation, and one of the most beautiful numbers I've ever witnessed on film.  Her dancing, nothing short of mesmerizing.

Then Gabbar and his bandits up the anti, smashing bottles and scattering broken glass across the ground.  The dance for life itself becomes a dizzying fight of perseverance for Basanti, bleeding all across the dust, her strength rapidly failing her.  Everything about the number exists on such a grand scale, with love and devotion and justice all at stake in a battle of good vs. evil.  What makes it all the more special is the realization that this is what art and entertainment in the world of globalization can achieve: a distinctly Indian movie that nonetheless owes a debt to American cinema, across multiple genres no less.  Then again, I could reduce the discussion of this song's merits to the hypnotic movements of Ms. Malini and this would still be deserving the estimable rank of fourth on this list.






I'm gonna have to ask that you take my word on this one.  You'll notice the lack of video above.  I did provide a youtube link, which offers a nice prelude, but that's maybe a third of the whole song if that, hardly enough to justify its rank as the third greatest movie musical number of all time.  I would say youtube dropped the ball on this one, but the likelier culprit is society's waning interest in classic film.  There's no good excuse for a masterpiece like Footlight Parade to be falling through the cracks.  The clip above may be enough to pique your interest (if "By a Waterfall" hadn't already), but this is one you'll have to seek out on your own.

Lament over.  Here's the substance.  I think it only appropriate that one of the first great musical numbers in movie history would be directly inspired from the number one box office hit of the year before (that film is Sternberg's Shanghai Express, and it is marvelous).  That is, of course, merely what enticed me to Footlight Parade in the first place, and the number itself, which closes out the film in spectacular fashion, is anything but an homage.  It starts with the brilliant lead in of the multi-talented James Cagney literally falling into a musical number, where he promptly assumes the lead role. That's a pretty grand entrance, wouldn't you agree?  It only gets better, moving along from a familiar bar song to a rousing dance routine before coming to a head in a triumphant march, all set to one of the catchiest songs in Hollywood history.  Alas, I'm stranding you without proof on this one, but if you consider yourself an advocate for this strange and improbable genre, then you'll be wanting to catch up with Footlight Parade sooner than later anyway.  When you do, kindly remedy this little youtube travesty for me.



Never has one man expended so much energy in such a short space of time.

The titular song of "Singin' in the Rain" gets all the credit, but nearly any fan will point to "Make 'Em Laugh" as the film's signature track.  If Donald O'Connor's reckless abandon can't make you a believer in the power of musicals, then there is literally no hope for you, and your very existence has already ceased to interest me.  There's a hint of desperation in the performance here, the kind where one man throws literally everything he's got against the wall and hopes it will stick.  Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, but mostly, it just crashes right on through.  That's the moment you realize you're in the company of greatness.

Best of all though is the song's function as a whacked-out defense of the entertainment industry, one which neatly sums up the role of musicals in general.  It's not strictly about laughter per se, but there is definitely something to the saying "give the people what they want."  This number is the beating heart of a movie that's a fantastical celebration of show-business, and a love-letter to those who've fallen under its spell.  To watch O'Connor run amok here is to completely forget oneself if only for a moment, and that is the kind of escapism that entertainment at its finest can offer.  Even such a skeptical film viewer as myself can appreciate that sentiment.  To bask in the hilarity of "Make 'Em Laugh" is one of the great wonders of cinema.


1. The Ballet from The Red Shoes

A relentless excursion into the dreamspace that exists at the crossroads of artistic modes of expression.  This is equal parts stage and sound and dance, packaged in a way that could be described as nothing but cinematic.  Don't let the drawing of the curtain fool you, no traditional staging could possibly replicate the wonders of The Red Shoes and its central ballet.  Yes, this is a musical number.  No, there's really not anything else quite like it.  If it stands a measure apart from the other entries on the list, that's only because it belies comparison.  This, friends, is the genuine article.

It shares all the essential ingredients of the other musical numbers ranked before it.  The star of the show, Moira Shearer, turns in a transcendental performance, her hair afire as she dances from backdrop to backdrop, confronting her demons both onstage and off.  There are elements of surrealism at play here, but the influences are more firmly rooted in artistic mediums than anything else.  Only through the magic of movies is such an onslaught of art and dance and music possible.  Time falls by the wayside as one image merges with the next, with Shearer's intrepid Victoria Page commanding every frame with her effortless poise.

This could only be the work of The Archers.  No directors, save perhaps Peter Greenaway many years later, can boast a grander commitment to the assessment of the place other artistic mediums have within cinema.  The Red Shoes ballet is a summation of their devotion to this subject, and within these frames the cinematic artistry knows no bounds.  The camera itself might a well share a billing as it grants us access to angles of the stage we would never be privy to, and the hypnotic effects owe directly to the hand of a master editor.  The tricks are little different than the other landmark musical numbers, but the illusion burrows miles deeper.  We're I a man prone to hyperbole, I would call this more than the greatest musical number of all time, I'd decree it the greatest scene ever captured on film.

But of course, I am a man prone to hyperbole, and so I will pronounce with significant enthusiasm that art simply doesn't get any better than this.  And on that bit of extravagance, it's time to bring this spectacle to a close.  Good night.  See you next month.

Friday, August 26, 2011

11. "Singin' In The Rain" from Singin' In the Rain


Hey look, it's the greatest musical number of all time!  If this is what it's like being number 11, then surely the top 10 must have some trick up its sleeve.  At any rate, the pressure is on.  I'm afraid I didn't just set the bar high, but in fact tossed it onto the roof.  Seriously, what could be better than this?

"You'll see" is the answer, but fact is, this could have been swapped out with any of the nine numbers to follow (not #1 though) and I'd have called it a fair trade.  As to why not, I had my reasons, which may or may not have had something to do with spreading the wealth in the top 10.  Was that a giveaway?  Whatever.  Carry on.

There's a reason why this song is the defining moment of one of the greatest films of all time.  I don't bandy with that label lightly.  Among the top 10 or so films AFI considers to be the greatest ever, Singin' in the Rain is for me the one that most delivers on its classic status.  It's the one that most fully delivers on the hype, and every ounce of the fulfillment is readily apparent in the titular song.  Crucial, too, is the presence of the genre's leading man, Gene Kelly, singing and dancing in his finest hour.  In a genre that truly plays to the strength of star persona, there was never a finer face than Kelly, and could I fall into the shoes of any Hollywood star, he'd be my choice in half a heartbeat.  Well, him or Lee Marvin, but poor old Lee's adventure into musicals was somewhat less successful.

Also, lest we forget, "Singin' in the Rain" is the greatest song about being in love ever.  Or rather, it captures that giddy feeling of romance on the horizon - how you see beauty in any situation because you're just so damn overwhelmed with the desire to be alive - and right from the "doo-doo-doo-doo-doo..." he hums on the sidewalk you realize that you've been in that situation before and wish that you lived in a society where it was socially acceptable to burst out into song on the street corner.  You have done that, right?  Because that can't just be me.  Can't.

All that's to say, this song is total cinematic bliss.  A musical tour-de-force that is crucial viewing whether you're a film lover or not.  And if you're not, why then then this right here could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

12. "By A Waterfall" from The Footlight Parade


It pains me, wounds me deeply, to leave this one out of my top 10.  Because when I talk about spectacle, well, there ain't no musical number that can hold a candle to this here.  It could teach the kids these days a thing or two about putting on a show.  Think musicals have only gotten better?  Bitch please, this is the bee's knees.

We've already established that Busby Berkley is the man, right?  I mean, aside from commanding a seemingly inexhaustible arsenal of synchronized swimmers, the guy was responsible for the greatest cinematic gymnastics of his day.  "By a Waterfall" as a song is a bit too drawn out, too brassy even, for my tastes, but that's just fog on the glass of the greatest window dressing of all time.  This is surrealism on a Hollywood sized budget, the kind of epic scale event that might as well have been born from an early improbable union of Salvador Dali and Ernst Lubitsch.  Berkley achieves transcendence here from going where no theatrical spectacle could possibly go, training the camera in on birds eye views and dreamy poolscapes, bombarding the senses with an array of visuals that are his and his alone.  To be immersed in a Busby Berkley number is to drift temporarily from your body and hover above a world of his creation.  Time stops, only sound and image exist.  It's a trip worth taking again and again.

13. "I've Seen It All" from Dancer In The Dark


You want some Bjork?  Well here's your Bjork.

From time to time, a director strays from his own beaten path and does something entirely unexpected, and for a great many filmmakers, that unexpected something would be making a musical.  Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet, John Huston and Martin Scorsese have all tried their hands, but more successful (and surprising) than them all is Lars von Trier.  Whether thanks to him, or his most unlikely leading lady to date, Dancer In The Dark is a modern cult classic, and the consensus is generally strong enough that you could probably drop the cult label all together.  Thus far, at least, it seems to have held ground as one of the more important European imports of the last decade, and really, was there a better musical in all that time.  I think not.  Ok, I secretly think 8 Women, but the technical mastery of Dancer is hard to argue with, and its emotion impact is earth shattering.

And then we get to the best song and dance of the show, the melancholy, but not-overwhelmingly depressing slice that is "I've Seen It All."  Credit for the music goes to the Icelandic songbird herself, while von Trier taps into ethereal greatness for the dreamy locomotion that moves the music along.  It also fulfills my suspected hypothesis that no great genre of cinema is without at least one memorable train scene.  Yes, I guess we got a bit of that with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as well, but here we get train dancing, and train dancing is infinitely more uplifting than train farewells.  A shame the rest of this film isn't.  If you thought Umbrellas was a tear-jerker, than Dancer in the Dark will probably make you walk into traffic.  "I've Seen It All" is an emotional high in a film that relishes every emotional low.  Soak it up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

14. "42nd Street" from 42nd Street


This deep into the list and the legendary Busby Berkley makes his first (far from last) appearance with the film that landed him on the map.  Like a few other numbers to miss out on my top 10, "42nd Street" is one of the obvious choices for greatest musical numbers of all time.  I'd prefer to think of it as Berkley's warm-up act.

That's clearly not meant to devalue this spectacle, when in fact on the magnetism of the great Ms. Ruby Keeler's alone, this stands as one of the great set-pieces of the genre.  She casts out those opening verses so effortlessly that it seems anyone could step into her shoes, but like all born hoofers, she made a career of being light on foot and in verse.  That classic opening launches us into Berkley's first masterful orchestration, a gritty odyssey through the streets of Mid-Town, by turns both tragic and comic, with the artful deception allowed by camera laying groundwork for his spectacular triumphs to come.

It also may well be the best song of the whole batch.  The lyrics stay on point and never feel the least bit forced, and the interludes offer ample opportunity for Berkley's legendary choreography to take the stage.  42nd Street has worked its way into the annals as his finest hour, and beholding this climactic production, that's not exactly surprising.  Here though, is where I'd pull out the ole, 'you ain't seen nothing yet,' because grand as this all is, one of the hands-down most important directors of classic Hollywood was just getting started.  Hopefully one or two of my selections still to come will inspire some further viewing.  Until then, watch the clip above and remind yourselves of what Hollywood at its most ambitious was once capable of.

15. "Do-Re-Mi" from The Sound of Music


Surely you've been expecting this.

I've never been over the moon for The Sound of Music, but classic status I cannot deny it, and it does some things very very right.  Those things would include the casting of Julie Andrews, and of course the stunning on location scenery, both of which come to a head in the film's best song, the indefatigable "Do-Re-Mi."   Is there a more infectious tune in musical theater?  Doubtful.  Or even a more joyous one?  I'd argue not.  Simple in nature, but it banks its energy steadily becoming the grand musical romp that it is.  By the time Maria leads the children through the gardens and fountains of the ancient estates, something special has transpired.

It's a feeling that doesn't come across the same in the stage show.  This is where location shooting and sweeping camera motions can make all the difference, and there's almost no other movie adaptation that can boast such successful ascension over its musical theater roots.  To love musicals is to love this song, though it helps, I'm sure, that it's one deeply rooted in childhood nostalgia too.  For many, it's like a gateway to the genre, and I think that's why I love it so much.  Hearing this as a child may well determine whether you'll grow up to be a fan of musicals, so I feel I'd best lend it my endorsement.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

16. "Belle" from Beauty and the Beast


First of all, isn't that gorgeous in HD?  Everyone needs to buy this on Bluray, then invite me over to watch it.

That aside, this one probably demands more explanation than most other selections, because why, you ask, out of dozens upon dozens of worthy Disney (and other animated) musical numbers would I settle on this as the best of the best.  It is from one of the all-time great animated musicals, so that probably makes it easier to swallow, but even then, why not "Be Our Guest" or "Beauty and the Beast" or even the glorious "Gaston?"  What about the Jungle Book and The Lion King and The Little Mermaid?  I would chalk it all up to personal preference, but were that the case, I'd have gone and snuck "I Won't Say I'm In Love" from Hercules into the top 10 (and that is, incidentally, far and away my favorite Disney song).

But consider these points.  First, "Belle" sets the pace for everything to follow, and it does so much the way a classic musical would.  The song drives the plot, a lot of plot, and by the time it has played through, we're so thoroughly immersed in provincial France that we feel we've known it all along.  The music never plays as a distraction, not as something to hold the kids attention, nor does it squeeze maudlin pop songs in just for the pleasure of eroding our souls (coughTarzancough).  The song is intricate to the story in a way few other Disney songs come close to being.  This is one of the many reasons why I'll always go to bat for Robin Hood and Hercules - both also make the most of their musical roots. 

Did I mention Belle is also Disney's best character, and on such a list Gaston would surely factor in somewhere as well.  If you're going to use your songs to tell your story, it's most welcome to have characters of this caliber strolling and strutting about.  And while we're at it, the song itself is pretty marvelous, not quite a showstopper, but I maintain you could ask for a better scene setter. 

17. "I Will Wait For You" from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg



 

Unlike so many of the entries on this list, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a film that is more than the sum of its parts.  That explains why arguably the greatest movie musical of all time (and it's one of only three films I'd consider for that title) makes it's first and only appearance at a middling #17 on this list.  To those who know and love the film - and if you love movies, this is a non-negotiable - you'll understand just how hard it is to excise any section from Jacques Demy's cinematic valentine, though the main love theme which comes to a head with "I Will Wait for You" is the elegant emotional crux and the most obvious selection.

Still, I fear the clip loses much of it's power out of context.  If it doesn't feel particularly like a spectacle itself, that's because the entire film is a wall-to-wall spectacle, and an emotionally draining one at that.  Dancing doesn't factor in here, though you can get an excellent dose of that by watching the film's spiritual successor, The Young Girls of Rochefort, but the gorgeous music, the teary melodrama, and the candy-colored palate spirit you away to the realm of musicals just the same. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

18. "Ain't There Anyone Here For Love" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes


Because it's just about the strangest thing to ever emerge from the annals of classic Hollywood.


If you've watched the clip - or are already familiar with the movie, which is worth every ounce of its reputation - then there's nothing much I can say as a follow up.  Your take on it may vary based on gender or orientation, but I find it interesting how sterile the field of flesh constantly on screen feels, whereas Jane Russell's sexual magnetism is untouchable (and her costar is Marilyn Monroe!).  That she navigates the gymnasium in such a blasé fashion is kind of the point, but it's almost a feat in itself how mechanical Howard Hawks managed to make the athletes.  Russell is easily the life of the most bizarre party ever held on a studio lot.  Ok, so probably no where near the most bizarre, but if you happen to hear about these parties, please pass along the info.

Mostly, I'm just impresses that this exists.  I believe this was a song created specifically for the film, which had been a stage musical beforehand, but doesn't seem to use most of the original music.  Anyway, I don't know who thunk this one up, but it belongs to the ages now, and over 50 years later, it still has the power to raise a few eyebrows.

19. "Everything Old is New Again" from All That Jazz

Sidelined for a week, but I'm back and this will still be up and finished by the months end.  I'm planning to unveil the top 10 all at once, in what surely will be the movie musical event of the season.  First, though, are nine almost as amazing selections, starting with one I'd call a personal favorite, moreso even than many of the more spectacular numbers to follow.


All That Jazz is the apogee of the movie musical, or at the very least, the last landmark of the genre, directed by one of the definitive filmmakers in that particular field.  Bob Fosse was one-of-a-kind, and it's only fitting that the film which served as his cinematic autobiography would be his greatest. 

The film's musical numbers are few and far between, but they all leave an impression when they roll around, but although there are grander and stranger things to follow, I've always been totally fixated on the simple routine performed by Fosse surrogate Joe Gideon's (Roy Scheider) daughter and girlfriend.  "Everything Old is New Again" is a musical number as a labor of love, and there's more genuine emotion in these few minutes than in the genre's next 30 years all together. 

Fosse was one of the few directors who understood stage and screen in equal measure, which meant he also played to the strengths of his medium.  His own patented brand of choreography is on display here, but of no less importance is the way he uses the camera to frame it all.  This right here is a classic slice of 70s cinema, when it could easily have been little more than a filmed dance routine.  I suppose it also helps that no one before or since could move like Ann Reinking.  I mean, I know she pulls it all off so naturally, but that ain't easy.  And I can't look away.

Friday, August 12, 2011

20. "Springtime for Hitler" from The Producers


That turning point where movie musicals finally learned that anything goes.

I'd be tempted to dock points from this for being a largely standard filming of a stage performance if the whole scene wasn't so damn influential.  Also catchy (is that bad), maverick, and entertaining.  Entertaining as hell.  A thousand numbers of musical comedy have come and gone and still this remains near the top of the heap, an ode to the offensive like cinema had never seen.

The Producers remains Mel Brooks' finest achievement, and this number is the moment you've all been waiting for.  The remake never really taps into the tawdry greatness of the original, but here's the only version that matters, perhaps the greatest comedy number of the movies.

21. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" from Fantasia


I'm prone to outside the box choices.  Rarely, though, am I prone to ones you're not doubt familiar with.  Fantasia was a staple of my childhood, and odds are you've at least crossed paths with this one once upon a time.

Ah, but is it a musical number?  Well, it is musical, that's clear enough, but there aren't lyrics, nor is there dancing in any tradition sense.  My justification though is that the story itself seems to serve the music, and actions on the screen transpire in great, glorious time to the cascading sounds.  Everything from the march of the brooms to the sweeping gestures of Mickey and the magician match every rise and fall in the music, and with image and sound in such perfect union, I wouldn't know what else to classify it as. 

My decision becomes easier when considering the context it plays in.  "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is but one of many threads within Fantasia, and while some have more abstract relationships with their accompanying music, others such as "The Dance of the Hours" and "The Nutcracker Suite" full on embrace their roots in performance art.  My selection in question falls somewhere in between, but in my infinite wisdom, I've deemed it appropriate.  If not a musical number, what else is this?  What fun are musical numbers anyway if you have such a narrow definition of them.

And yet, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" wouldn't even come close to my favorite segment out of Fantasia (I adore "The Rite of Spring" and I have a soft spot for the "Pastoral Symphony").  It is, however, the most iconic, and in many ways, the most cinematic, especially with early cartoon folk hero Mickey Mouse finally coming into his own here (it's his finest hour).  It also challenges our conception of the musical more than "Dance of the Hours" and I like that about it.  I think it fits, and not even merely as a fringe entry.  Alas, I don't think any of my other choices are from as far left field, though this should set up nicely for some of the other more...symphonic....entries still to come.

Also, not the last animated number.