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25 Iconic Dance Sequences In Film

Features
by The Playlist Staff
December 3, 2010 6:05 AM
10 Comments
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"All That Jazz" (1979)
It might surprise some of you that David Fincher marks Bob Fosse's autobiographical masterpiece "All That Jazz" among his favorite films, but actually, it makes perfect sense -- its portrait of a workaholic film director and choreographer, based heavily on Fosse himself, and constantly on the verge of a heart attack, must surely resonate with the obsessive filmmaker. But even if it doesn't, the film's worthy of inclusion on anyone's list on merit alone, featuring perhaps Roy Scheider's greatest performance, and, most importantly, a series of killer musical numbers. Virtually any of them could have been included here, but special mention must go to the grand finale. As Scheider's Joe Gideon nears death, he hallucinates a self-eviscerating variety show in front of an audience of friends and family, which turns into a musical number, set to a version of The Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love." Fosse was one of the greatest shooters and editors of musical numbers ever, and he's on cracking form here, with a bravura scene that's not quite like anything you've seen before, and it's basically responsible for Lady Gaga's entire career. And the ending, with the sound dropping out, is killer.

“Donnie Darko” (2001)
There’s two moments in this Lynchian sci-fi head trip worthy of note for an iconic dance sequence list, both having to do with Sparkle Motion, the creepy five girl dance crew, headlined by the titular Donnie Darko’s sister, Samantha. We’re introduced to them early in the film via the brilliant steadicam sequence through the halls of the school set to Tears for Fears “Head Over Heels” as they practice their routine that will see them (later in the film) selected for a shot on "Star Search". When we finally see the routine in its entirety, writer-director Richard Kelly deftly inter-cuts between the performance, played to Duran Duran’s “Notorious,” and Donnie burning down the house of Patrick Swayze’s Jim Cunningham, revealing his kiddie porn dungeon. Both moments push the story forward, but more impressively show how Kelly-- who’s since gone on to show that ‘Darko’ (at least the theatrical cut) may have been a fluke after the absolutely shitty likes of “Southland Tales” and “The Box”-- has total grasp of his time and setting. “Donnie Darko” has many great moments, but this is one of the most memorable.

"Everyone Says I Love You" (1996)
Music's always been a key part of Woody Allen's films -- indeed, the more music-led ones of the last twenty years of the director's career have been the strongest, as a look at "Bullets Over Broadway" or "Sweet and Lowdown" demonstrates. But Allen's only taken on one full-blown musical in his career, and it's one of the most chronically underrated films of his career -- "Everyone Says I Love You." Adding musical numbers to an otherwise standard Allen plot gives it a new lease on life, and a game all-star cast, including Julia Roberts, Goldie Hawn, Alan Alda, Natalie Portman, Drew Barrymore and Tim Roth (who, it turns out, has a hell of a voice) are constantly surprising. The film's pleasures are perhaps best exemplified in the version of Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares For Me," performed by Edward Norton in one of the earliest roles in his career, and the now-troubled Natasha Lyonne. What it lacks in polish it makes up for in gallons of charm -- we defy anyone to watch Norton's fumbled jump across a table and subsequent dad-at-a-wedding dancing on top of it, and not fall a little for the film.

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10 Comments

  • Katie | February 2, 2011 6:32 AMReply

    The Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Barn Raising dance number has to be in this conversation. PERIOD. :)

  • Willem van der Plas | December 6, 2010 9:33 AMReply

    best boney m moment ever:
    From Shanghai Dreams
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUKxDVilH8M

  • Larry Billman | December 5, 2010 12:30 AMReply

    A great - and very provocative- list. The minute you ask for "Iconic" or "Best," it all depends on the age and exposure to dance scenes in film. And what resonates with the viewer. Is it the stars, the characters and the arc they make, the emotion, the movement, the story? And, what is a "Dance?" Is it the over-30-minute-long waltz scene in "The Leopard?" The dizzying and emotionally powerful waltz in "Madame Bovary?" Or is it when Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze simply get into a dance position as he materializes in "Ghost?" How about the finest leg kicking, high-flying, girl tossing, plot developing dance ever in film: the "Barn Raising" in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers?" Thanks for opening heads, as we all start thinking about our favorite dances. And THAT IS A GOOD THING. Too many forget what "dance" can do in film.

  • debra levine | December 4, 2010 11:11 AMReply

    Really appreciate this great effort, and the scope of it, but, come on guys, no Jack Cole? Without whom there would be no Bob Fosse? Jack Cole, the great forgotten genius of dance choreography for film?

    Obvious starting Point: "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" But there is so much more!

    http://artsmeme.com/2010/11/10/jack-cole-marilyn-reunited-jacobs-pillow/

  • John Hickey | December 4, 2010 6:21 AMReply

    I think you made an error in leaving out David Lynch's "Do The Locomotion" scene in Inland Empire.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djh1UprzoLk

  • Eliza | December 4, 2010 6:20 AMReply

    Great list! I agree that there should probably be some Busby Berkeley in there somewhere, and I would add maybe A Clockwork Orange's "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Time Warp" from Rocky Horror. I'm sure I could think of a million more. I may have to go through my collection...

  • MikeD | December 4, 2010 2:40 AMReply

    Also the cafe muller scene (opening scene) from Talk to her (2002)

  • Mz | December 3, 2010 10:06 AMReply

    Dancer in the Dark? The factory AND the court scenes a beautifully depressing~

  • NickL | December 3, 2010 7:44 AMReply

    Where is the triumphant climactic dance scene from Napoleon Dynamite?

  • JoeB | December 3, 2010 6:55 AMReply

    Great stuff- though I was really hoping the great jukebox scene near the end of "Y Tu Mama Tambien" would make the list

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