2021 is the year of the musical. No, that’s not what’s officially written on the zodiac calendar, but it really should be. Cinema musicals are making a comeback, in part thanks to streaming services and in part thanks to the iconic Lin Manuel-Miranda. Many of those films were slated for 2020 and pushed back a year. Because of that, we got twice as much!
This year there really was something for everyone. Some musicals were big and bombastic, while others were more calm and heartfelt. Hispanic and LGBTQ representation was offered, with an additional Newfoundland representative. Even if you are not a music lover, I think you will find one that speaks to you.
For this ranking, I did something different. In addition to a simple worst-to-best, I will also be giving each of these films a special prize. Not all of them will be recognized at the Oscars, but The Young Folks wanted to give them a little something. Whether you’ve seen all of this or not, I still hope you enjoy my ranking of the movie musicals of 2021.
100. Most Eclectic Soundtrack – Cinderella
Yep, it really is that bad.
Usually, musicals hold on to a particular musical style. There is variety, of course, but it’s consistent. Cinderella violates this rule in an extremely discordant way. The film opens with âRhythm Nation,â which is already odd for a princess movie, but maybe would have worked if they stuck to it. Spoiler alert: they don’t. The rest of the songs oscillate between pop and rap, without explanation, and at one point a gospel choir shows up to sing “Somebody to Love”. This movie gets points for scoring Idina Menzel and Minnie Driver, but that’s the only good thing to say.
6. Most Intense Solo Numbers – Dear Evan Hansen
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Dear Evan Hansen focuses intensely onâ¦ Evan Hansen. He’s on stage for the majority of the show and almost half of the songs are solos. It was a show created to showcase Ben Platt’s talent, and the film amplifies it even more. Most of the group numbers and scenes that don’t focus on Evan are cut off (RIP, “Disappear”). The result is a show where each song is a close-up of Ben Platt’s face. It gives a good performance, but it’s still too much. This movie is filled with great actors doing their best. However, he never embraces his identity as a musical, preferring to remain a solo piece, to his detriment.
5. Exceptional musical duel – Cyrano
One of the most energetic, inspired and cinematically satisfying moments in any film in 2021 occurs approximately 20 minutes later Cyrano, Joe Wright’s sophisticated romantic musical drama based on the 2018 musical, itself based on the classic play by Edmond Rostand. A dashing and fitting Peter Dinklage, the main character, wields mischievous insults as sharp as his sword, making an impromptu blacksmith battle after heckling a hack on stage, then engaging in a subsequent sword fight in accordance with the stages and pace of said poetic duel, now extended to someone who believes himself superior to a man incredibly in love with his best friend.
While the rest of the film never reaches nearly the same thrilling heights as that first scene, it’s still a remarkable accomplishment and certainly in the service of Cyrano like a triumph in its own right. Even if you have to resign yourself to several other songs of a weeping and merciless nature.
4. Best streak – Paciencia y Fe (In the heights)
In the heights, Lin Manuel-Miranda’s creation that won the award for Best Musical in 2008, is practically full of elaborate and exaggerated dance numbers. It fully embraces its status as a musical and takes full advantage of the opportunity for a colorful drama. “96,000” and the title song in particular stand out. “Paciencia y Fe”, however, is the one that stood out for me, six months after seeing it in the cinema. It’s rare that an older woman can sing the showstopper, but Olga Merediz, who also created the role on Broadway, kills him. This issue shows us all the hardships Abuela had to endure coming to New York in a beautifully visual dreamlike sequence, something musicals do best. At the end of the song, when Abuela chooses to die peacefully and join her mother, you will be in tears. It is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.
Biopics are incredibly difficult to pull off, especially when we have access to tons of live footage of the person being commemorated. Jonathan Larson, creator of iconic musical comedy To rent, died less than 30 years ago and still idolizes many members of the theater community. The idea that an actor could capture who Larson was may seem ludicrous. But Andrew Garfield fingernails the role. He plays Larson with the right energy and the right manic vision, all the while managing to make his self-centeredness an undesirable quality. Without forgetting that he can to sing.
tick … tick .. BOOM! is a beautiful tribute to Larson and the Broadway community at large. He’s not afraid of being a musical and he uses the language of the movie to his advantage in a big way.
2. Most catchy soundtrack – Encanto
Lin-Manuel Miranda has a real talent for writing songs that you will hum for weeks on end. He often repeats motifs and tunes, but in an intentional way that reinforces the themes he is trying to convey. You can see Hamilton influences in several big group numbers like “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and “All of You”, both of which feature fantastic layered vocals that showcase the great family dynamic. And there is a bit of rap, because it wouldn’t be an LMM project otherwise.
Another thing that I really liked is the way several little characters, like the sisters of Mirabel, receive solos that flesh them out beautifully. My favorite is âSurface Pressureâ, Luisa’s song. He’s a mostly silent character throughout the film, but this song does a great job of showing his inner thoughts and world in a way that many of us can relate to.
Sometimes the remakes are better than the originals. This is certainly the case with Spielberg West Side Story, which breathes new life into a classic. Much of the screen time belongs to the Jets, the White Gang, and their dance moves have brought News in mind, which makes sense, since several of the actors also starred in this show. âGee, Officer Krupkeâ is the number that brings these boys to life.
Every song was a joy to watch, and they advance the plot and themes instead of stopping the story. One number that stood out was âThe Dance at the Gym,â where the Jets and Sharks are supposed to get along, but only dance with their own. The hostility between them is fully visible, not only in the way they dance, but even in the color scheme. The Sharks dress in rich yellows and reds, while the Jets wear cool blues. Stunning visual storytelling.
Beyond that, what makes this film shine are the performances. Mike Faist (Dear Evan Hansen) humanizes the character of Riff and breaks your heart for him. Ariana DeBose (Prom) dazzles like Anita, and Rachel Zeglar sells me Maria’s naivety. This is another musical that will leave you sobbing.
Best Misfits Set – Come from afar
Unlike the rest of the movies on this list, this one is a pro-shot (professional recording of a live performance), not an actual musical. However, it’s so good it deserves to be included. Come from afar is a true ensemble piece, which is becoming rare as Broadway focuses more and more on showcasing celebrity performances. In this musical, each member of the small cast plays multiple roles, including the members of the small town and the passengers on the plane. Each character is original and colorful in its own way. Throughout the show we see a determined female pilot grappling with the aftermath of 9/11, an animal lover who takes care of all the animals left on planes, a gay couple who are not sure they are accepted to this small town, a happy news intern doing her best to cover the story, and many more. Along with the music, the characters are the real strength of this show.