When asked what the one universal language of the world is, I would venture to guess that many people might answer with one word…dance. It is a form of communication, a form of artistic expression, a form of entertainment and has the ability to unite people across cultures. It is no surprise then that oftentimes in cinema, directors and writers will take to exploring stories that display or revolve around the art form. Step Up Revolution was released over the weekend and while it is probably not in line for any awards, it does have an appeal simply for the fact that watching dance on film is entertaining and enjoyable. The story doesn't have to be brilliant to allow one to enjoy a film about dance, because it can stand alone and entertain based on its depiction of the art form. In honor of this, I will explore ten of the best dance films. However, when creating this list, I realized I missed out on so many, so look out for part two coming soon!
|1. Saturday Night Fever|
One of the biggest and most popular dance films, that took disco to a whole new level. The film became a big commercial success and helped make disco popular around the world. For that reason its cultural influence on disco and clothing style cannot be ignored. I mean, can we talk about John Travolta's white leisure suit for a moment? Awesome. The soundtrack that features songs by the Bee Gees is still the number two best selling soundtrack of all time (behind The Bodyguard.) Now, strike a pose and put your fingers in the air!
|2. Girls Just Want to Have Fun|
A movie that is as wonderful for its dancing as it is seeing the early work of two iconic female actresses. Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt star as high school teenagers that love dance. When Janey (Parker) moves to Chicago she and Lynn (Hunt) bond over their mutual love for the show 'DanceTV.' Once a competition is announced for a new regular couple, they enter the competition and work very hard to make it to the finals. Parts of it are ridiculous (I.e. The party scene where a bunch of "freaks" crash a sweet sixteen party of a snobby rich girl,) but it is so fun and campy that it is brilliant in its own way. I also must say, the final dance scene is pretty incredible, even if it is steeped in 80s cliches.
|3. Top Hat|
You cannot speak about the the world of dance and film without discussing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. There are so many great ones to chose from, but arguable the most famous would be Top Hat. Fred Astaire revolutionized dance in film with such a fine craft, that he could now be filmed in long shots with no cuts, in an incredibly cinematic way. The number Cheek to Cheek is incredible as it starts out seemingly as a simple dance number, with two people enjoying a simple dance together. Then about halfway through, it turns into so much more. We for the last two minutes get treated to Astaire and Rogers dancing in perfect unison with no words. It is captivating. You can also truly feel their passion in the expression of their emotions through dance, which is fascinating.
|4. West Side Story|
West Side story is known for its memorable dance scenes, but more than anything I think its brilliance comes from the fact that it successfully produced a widely appealing film featuring gang members, who dance. If you were to read that log-line with no context, I suspect you might expect a cheesy over the top farce of a film…yet it is far from that. The film won 10 Academy Awards in 1962 including Best Picture and Best Director. The performances are authentic and the snaps are infectious. Now the only question that remains…are you a Jet or a Shark?
|5. Dirty Dancing|
After watching Dirty Dancing, everybody knows, "Nobody puts baby in the corner!" The title of the film promises some Dirty Dancing, but the funniest part is, when you realize now what they actually consider dirty dancing. Compared to today's standards, the moves they make are child's play. However, at the time it was quit controversial and caught on with young girls in a huge, incredible way. When "Baby's" (Jennifer Grey) family takes a trip to a resort in upstate New York she becomes infatuated with the camp's dance instructor. When she has to fill in as his dance partner, they fall in love as they move in each other's arms. There are a couple dance scenes that are so wonderful, that if you haven't seen them, just stop reading and go watch.
|6. All That Jazz|
If someone where to ask you for the name of a well-known and respected choreographer, I can imagine that most people would only be able to come up with one name. That name would be Bob Fosse. He won numerous Tony awards for choreography and worked on some of the most popular musicals and films featuring dance to date, such as Chicago and Cabaret. All that Jazz is a semi-autobiographical film that Fosse directed. Interestingly, the movie doesn't necessarily paint the best picture of himself or the world as Joe Gideo (Roy Scheider) as he is portrayed as a womanizing, drug-using dancer. But, hey, at least he was honest and all that jazz.
|7. Strictly Ballroom|
Baz Luhrman's directing debut, Strictly Ballroom to unorthodox dancers takes the Australian ballroom dancing world by storm. Scott is a champion ballroom dancer, who shocks traditionalists with his new style. They believe that there can be no new steps! However, Scott will not listen and teams with Fran who is a determined beginning dancer. Together, they partner up and show that even the ballroom gurus can't restrict whatever ones body wants to say with dance…even in ballroom.
|8. Black Swan|
Natalie Portman won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the ballerina Nina Sayers. The film is a dark drama that explores what can be a very competitive and difficult world of ballet dancing. When Sayers wins the lead of the White Swan, she slowly loses her mind and becomes more like the Black Swan. I'm not sure if it is more a statement about ballet or that ballet is used as a mechanism to demonstrate the fragile state of mind of this young girl. Either way, her performance is incredible and the final scene in which she is dancing Swan Lake, is breathtaking.
|9. Billy Elliot|
There is a common societal idea that ballet dancing is a type of dance that should only be performed by women. Billy Elliott is the inspiring tale of a young boy that turns that notion on its head and proves that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. He at first is ridiculed and chastised by his family and friends, but in the end, he proves that the dance may prove to be his best opportunity to escape what could have been a hard life. It doesn't hurt that Billy is so damned adorable, that when you see him dance, it can actually make your heart happy.
|10. Save the Last Dance|
A romantic dance movie that centers around the story of a young, girl ballet dancer whose world changes when she moves to Chicago. After losing her mom, she makes a vow to not dance anymore. That all changes when she meets a guy that helps bring her back to life through dance. It shows the power of dance, while also exploring the hardships and discrimation that can occur in an inter-racial relationship. I'm not sure how well it holds up to this day, but when released it was an important part of the genre.
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