(This article was originally published in Fall 2004 in Record Publishing Co. weekly newspapers. Re-posted in Fall 2013.)
Movie multiplexes have been filled with music in recent years. When Chicago took home the Best Picture Oscar in 2003, it was just one of many examples of pop/Broadway music’s rejuvenation in film.
De-Lovely, a recently-released film in which Kevin Kline portrays composer Cole Porter, is only one of many musical flicks this year. Fall will see the release of films starring Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, and the long-awaited film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenally popular Broadway musical “The Phantom of the Opera.”
So in that musical spirit, here in no particular order are the last decade’s top ten most unforgettable musical moments in movies — for my money, at least.
• Pulp Fiction (1994) — When John Travolta and Uma Thurman win a twist contest in a 1950s-style diner — to the tune of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” — it’s the epitome of musical euphoria mixed with laid-back cool. Their dance must have been meticulously choreographed but still looks improvised. This is just one of many instances where writer/director Quentin Tarantino breathes new life into oldies, while simultaneously providing perfect accompaniment to his stories.
• Forrest Gump (1994) — “Run, Forrest, run,” Tom Hanks’ hero is told, and he does — as a montage of American classics fills the soundtrack of this Oscar-winning movie. The Doobie Brothers’ “It Keeps You Runnin’,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” and Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” are just some of the songs which make Forrest’s spontaneous trek across America all the more poignant.
• Magnolia (1999) — As Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling, three-hour drama reaches a climax, the film’s almost nerve-fraying intensity slows down for a “calm inside the storm” moment, as each of the nine main characters sings along to Aimee Mann’s maudlin and affecting melody “Wise Up.” Signifying a crossroads in each of their personal journeys, the song provides the emotional core of the movie.
• Chicago (2002) — The infamous convict Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her fellow prison inmates relate their individual accounts of how they landed in jail, in the hard-hitting, flawlessly presented powerhouse production number “Cell Block Tango.” Seen through the idealized perspective of Renee Zellweger’s Roxie Hart, this is the most impressive number in a movie filled to the brim with knockout tunes.
• Almost Famous (2000) — In a scene which is at once funny and tear-jerking, 15-year-old Rolling Stone reporter William Miller (Patrick Fugit) bonds with the members of the struggling band Stillwater on a cross-country tour bus while crooning the Elton John classic “Tiny Dancer.” “I have to go home,” he tells the love of his life, “Band-Aid” Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who replies to him as if it’s the most exquisite wisdom in the world, “You are home.” And she’s right — he is.
• Everyone Says I Love You (1996) — Gawking at the exorbitant prices of engagement rings for his fiancée, Holden (Edward Norton, whose dancing is endearingly klutzy) launches into an impromptu rendition of “My Baby Just Cares For Me.” An entire jewelry store quickly joins in what becomes a full-blown tap dance, simultaneously mocking and bowing to the musical genre. It’s impossible to watch this scene — or any of Woody Allen’s gloriously upbeat musical comedy — without breaking into a grin.
• Moulin Rouge! (2001) — This gorgeously sappy melodrama hits its fiery peak when star-crossed lovers Christian and Satine (Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman) sing their beautiful love duet “Come What May” one last time.
• Evita (1996) — Say what you want about Madonna; it would be hard to deny that this quintessential diva made a great Eva Peron. The inevitable moment when Juan Peron’s first lady belts out the stunning ballad “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from atop a balcony is the emotional highpoint to director Alan Parker’s movie version of the hit stage show.
• A Mighty Wind (2003) — Folk duo Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) perform a reunion concert after breaking up more than 30 years earlier and recreate their most famous performance — a sweet smooch at the climax of their charming ballad “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow.” It’s a touchingly bittersweet moment in this hysterical “mockumentary” film from director/writer/actor Christopher Guest.
• The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) — As Faramir, a noble soldier of the kingdom of Gondor, leads his men into an impossibly hopeless battle, little hobbit Pippin (Billy Boyd) serenades Faramir’s corrupt and deranged father — who ordered his son to the fight — with a hauntingly sorrowful lament. The song provides a powerful and heartbreaking backdrop to the impending tragedy.