Barn-raising dance, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Okay, so it’s a little implausible that seven misogynistic backwoodsmen could learn manners and the ins and outs of partner dancing in such a short period of time. But don’t think too much about it. Lean back, relax, and enjoy this expertly choreographed scene that features not just stellar dance moves, but stellar dance moves involving axes.
23. The Music Man (1962)
Robert Preston repeats his Broadway role as Professor Harold Hill, a swindler who organizes small-town kids’ bands so he can steal their uniform and instrument money. Costar Shirley Jones has great chemistry with Preston, little Ronnie Howard lisps and mugs shamelessly, and composer Meredith Wilson gives his melodic all to ”Seventy-Six Trombones,” ”Marian the Librarian,” ”Till There Was You” (later a hit for the Beatles) and lots more. Best corn you’ll ever consume that’s not popped.
22. Gigi (1958)
Screenwriter-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe basically cloned their stage hit My Fair Lady for this adaptation of French author Colette’s 1945 novel about a teenage Parisian courtesan. It’s got the same ugly-duckling-to-swan transformation for the leading lady (Leslie Caron), and the same half-sung 11th-hour epiphany for the confirmed-bachelor leading man (Louis Jordan). But thanks to director Vincente Minnelli, it feels original — and works better as cinema than George Cukor’s film of Fair Lady does.
20. Funny Girl (1968)
Can you imagine today’s pop machinery making a star out of someone as unusual looking as Barbra Streisand? She keeps this biopic of Fanny Brice, her movie debut, from becoming completely soggy in the second half, and takes her vowel-bending vocals to spine-tingling places in ”People” and ”I’m the Greatest Star.” Homage alert: The belting-out-on-a-tugboat shot that caps ”Don’t Rain on My Parade” shows up transposed to a garbage truck in Hairspray.
18. The Busby Berkeley Disc (2006 compilation)
The trouble with all those old ’30s movies with Berkeley production numbers is you have to sit through a lot of creaky, tedious exposition to get to the good parts. But this DVD roundup (sold as part of a Berkeley boxed set) gives you just about every sequence you need from 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933 and 1935, Footlight Parade, and many others. Highlight: The expressionistic mini-epic ”Lullaby of Broadway,” a sort of retro club-kid cautionary tale.
16. A Star Is Born (1954)
Judy Garland’s character, Vicki Lester, wins an Oscar for Best Actress, but Garland lost offscreen (to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl). Dopey vote, given Garland’s powerhouse takes on ”The Man That Got Away” and ”Born in a Trunk.” She’s also got a freaky ability to cry so hard onscreen she gets hiccups. The studio chopped half an hour, but a theatrical and video reissue put most of the scenes back (some as still-photo montages). If those are missing, you’re watching a butchered version.
"You're the One that I Want," Grease (1978)
How do you celebrate your sweetheart’s (Olivia Newton John) transformation from a nice girl to a promiscuous, chain-smoking girl? With a catchy dance number, of course! (Watch out for flying cars, though!)
13. On the Town (1949)
Three randy sailors (Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin) have 24 hours to find love in New York City. Producer Arthur Freed chopped out much of the original Broadway score by Leonard Bernstein and Comden & Green. (Too sophisticated, and too raunchy.) But what remains of it — buoyed by the leggy dancing of Ann Miller and Vera-Ellen, and a hilarious turn by horse-faced Alice Pearce as a loser named Lucy Schmeeler — is, as a Brooklynite might put it, ”cherce.”
12. Swing Time (1936)
The lightest, sweetest outing for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Lots of folks say the pinnacle is 1935’s Top Hat, with a score by Irving Berlin, rather than this outing, with songs by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. But Swing Time deserves the edge for the passionate romantic longing on display in ”Never Gonna Dance.” It’s enough to make your loins ache. Dancing with the Stars? Amateur night by comparison — a joke. This is dancing with starlight itself.
''An American in Paris'' Ballet, An American in Paris
Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly shine in this show-stopping ballet set to George Gershwin’s ”An American In Paris.” It’s a whole 18 minutes long, but worth the attention. Simply, c’est magnifique.
10. Love Me Tonight (1932)
You won’t believe how frisky the pre-Production-Code banter is between Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald in this delightful fable about a tailor who falls in love with a haughty princess. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote the songs, and director Rouben Mamoulian finds ingenious ways to use them — especially in a segment that follows ”Isn’t It Romantic?” as it’s passed along from a taxicab to a train to a marching regiment of soldiers, the orchestration shifting with each dissolve.
6. The Band Wagon (1953)
In which screenwriters Comden and Green (see Singin’ in the Rain) and director Vincente Minnelli (see also Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris, and Gigi) send up the New York theater world. Meet Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), a pompous windbag of a director-producer-actor who convinces a washed-up movie hoofer (Fred Astaire) to star in a musical Broadway version of Faust. It bombs, then becomes an old-school revue. Peak scene: Astaire glides through Central Park with Cyd Charisse to the strains of ”Dancing in the Dark.” Patently fake set, sublimely convincing star chemistry.
4. Cabaret (1972)
A truly adult movie musical — yet rated PG! — charting the ”divine decadence” of 1930s Berlin as the Nazis come to power. A kinky M.C. (Joel Grey) is your host, along with delusional fag-hag chanteuse Sally Bowles (winningly played by future tabloid staple Liza Minnelli). Bob Fosse’s direction copped him an Oscar, and the smash-and-grab editing helped usher in modern music videos. The songs, by John Kander and Fred Ebb, never wear out their Wilkommens.
Prologue, West Side Story (1961)
We’d be much more willing to hang out with street thugs if they could all relevé like this.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
The yellow brick road is the setting for every moviegoer’s first road movie. In typical road movie fashion, Dorothy discovers that the point of her journey is not the destination but the friendships made and lessons learned along the way. (One lesson: It’s not necessarily a good idea to stop and smell the flowers.)