Every year I think that I’m not going to find five nominees for this category and that I’m going to have to drop it, and yet every year I seem to find five worthy entrants by year’s end. Almost none of these scenes are from actual musical films, but all of them show a character engaging in a musical performance of sorts within the film’s plot. To be clear, I’m not judging this by which scene depicts the most talent or skill, in fact some of these performances are outright bad. The key is that the performance needs fit with the plot and work within the scene.
- Tap Dance- The Artist: The Artist is all about a silent movie actor trying to find a place in the world of sound cinema. In the real world there was no place for these people, but in the world of this movie there is a place: movies that consist of nothing but two straight hours of nothing but dancing. That would see stranger if we saw any more of the film than the one scene we do, but that one scene is pretty damn good, and the movie breaks its silence gimmick in order to let the audience hear the tapping sounds as the two dancers do their Astaire/Rogers thing.
- Propaganda Number- Captain America: You don’t often expect to see musical numbers in the middle of your superhero movies, but a third of the way into Capitan America we see the hero performing in a propaganda performance accompanied by a Rockettes-like chorus line singing an original song about a “star-spangled man with a plan” in the middle of all this there’s a clever reference to the iconic cover of the first Captain America comic book.
- Marcy’s Song- Martha Marcy May Marlene: During Martha/Marcy May’s time in the commune/cult she joins she becomes enraptured with a song that cult-leader Patrick writes for her. The thing is, this song doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense, it’s just a bunch of pretentious ramblings. She doesn’t realize this though because it sounds sort of cool and mysterious and she’s flattered by the attention she’s getting. In this sense it’s a good allegory for her overall indoctrination by this group.
- The Daughter’s Song- Moneyball: When you’re making a movie that could be reduced to “the baseball statistics movie” you kind of have to do a lot to turn up the human factor. One way they did this was by incorporating a sub-plot about Billy Beane’s daughter and her budding musical hobby. At one point the kid sings a cover of this twee little song and does well for an amateur. A recording of her doing this song is then reused to great effect at the end of the film, where the lyrics seem to tie in with Beane’s mood.
- New York, New York- Shame: The song “New York, New York” debuted in the in a Martin Scorsese movie and has since been covered by Frank Sinatra himself, so it takes balls to use it in your own New York film, but the ever fearless Steve McQueen does just that in a pivotal scene in Shame. Carey Mulligan sings a stripped down version in a restaurant with a lot of pauses, it’s not a cover that makes you think she really wants to “be a part of it,” but it’s captivating nonetheless.