I casually brought this category, which deals with scenes where a song is performed onscreen by the characters, into existence in the first Golden Stakes and kind of came to regret it ever since. Modern movies don’t really have a lot of musical performances in them so often I need to stretch to even find five eligible sequences, but that wasn’t the case this year. In fact I actually needed to make some tough cuts in order to get the final list. Worth keeping in mind, this category is looking at the scenes as whole entities including staging, placement in narrative, and novelty and not necessarily just the quality of the music itself.
- “The Greatest Love of All” – Toni Erdmann: Late in the film Toni Erdmann our heroine reluctantly finds herself at a party with her father when he sits down at what sounds like a cheap Yamaha keyboard and starts playing the chords to this incredibly cheesy song made famous by Whitney Huston. After some coaxing our heroine goes along and begins singing a rendition of the song quite skillfully given the circumstances. The movie doesn’t explain it but it’s not hard to recognize that this is a routine that this father and daughter must have rehearsed when she was a young girl and this experience is taking her back and the lyrics seem oddly applicable to this woman’s situation.
- “No Dames”: Hail, Caesar: Leave it to the Coen Brothers to get the idea of paying tribute to Hollywood musicals some nine months before doing so would be deemed cool. This scene sees a film within a film being made involving a song and dance sequence where a bunch of Navy sailors sing about the fact that they won’t have the company of the fairer sex while deployed. It immediately becomes clear to the viewer that this song and dance they’re performing has a lot of seemingly unintentional homoerotic undertones and is filled to the brim with sexual innuendos. That’s funny and a sly little statement about the “Celluloid Closet” of the era, but it’s not a lazy parody either. The singing here is solid and the tap dance choreography is actually pretty impressive by the standards of “real” musicals.
- “Another Day of Sun” – La La Land: La La Land is odd in that it kind of becomes less and less of a musical as it goes but it certainly opens with a bang. This opening scene has a bunch of frustrated Angelinos spontaneously get out of their cars and sing a showtune. The scene is shot so as to make it look like it’s done in one shot and they apparently blocked off an actual overpass in order to make this happen. I don’t necessarily love the song and I think the sound mixing is a bit off, but it’s clearly bravura filmmaking that can’t be ignored.
- “You’re Welcome” – Moana: When submitting songs for the Oscars Disney opted only to get behind the epic ballads, but to me it was Moana’s uptempo and comical songs that best played into Lin Manuel Miranda’s lyrical abilities. The particular standout is this song sung by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Maui as he humblebrags about all his accomplishments. There is of course a certain perversity to writing a song in which a literal god is a bit of a dick about having created the universe, but this also manages to be a fun way to get some exposition about the character’s past accomplishments out there.
- “Drive it Like You Stole It” – Sing Street: One of my main complaints about Sing Street is that the music seemed a bit too good to be coming from a rag-tage group of fifteen year olds. One of the arguments its fans have made against that accusation is that the music isn’t “really” that good so much as the movie is presenting the image the kids have in their heads of how good they are. For most of the movie I don’t find that persuasive, but something like that clearly is going on in this scene in which the band reherses a pretty damn good song and imagine their dream scenario for how the gig will go complete with better costumes and various characters from the movie accepting them.