As we embark on another awards pre-season, and anticipate the legions of “For Your Consideration”-style advertising we have to look forward to over the coming months, we felt it an opportune moment to highlight a film that is unlikely to be figuring largely in those conversations: this week’s “Battle of the Year” starring widely disliked person Chris Brown alongside Joshes Holloway and Peck. Because the funny thing is, no matter how B-grade its cast, formulaic its plot or potentially jingoistic its premise (“Bring that trophy back for AMERICA”) there will be a certain segment of the Playlist population who will don sunglasses and fake mustaches and go see it. It’s a dance movie, you see, and the love that a shockingly high proportion of us bear this unworthy genre is one of our best kept secrets.
Well, we’re outing ourselves with this list. “Battle of the Year,” as the name suggests is about an international dance battle that, the trailer tells us, was established and pioneered by the US of fucking A, yet Amurica has not won it in 15 goddamn years, which I think we can all agree is totally wack. So in an effort to dethrone the current holders (those wily, disciplined but likely soulless and potentially communist Koreans) a ragtag bunch of talented misfits from disparate crews across the nation must put aside their diff… oh I don’t think we need say more. Because no one but the foolhardiest naif will be going into this for the plot; it will all be about the dancing, most specifically, the dance battles in which the troupe must prevail along the route to restoring National Pride and learning about Teamwork and Friendship and Sacrifice and Twerking. How will the dance-off sequences stack up? We’ve assembled 15 of our all-time favorites to get us in the mood.
“You Got Served” (2004)
Dance Style: Hip Hop
Rival Crews: David (Omarion) and Elgin (Marques Houston) are BFFs who live to dance in underground dance battles (MC’d by Steve Harvey aka “Mr. Rad”) in this seminal dance-off flick (directed by B2K’s manager Christopher Stokes). When rich white boy Wade (Christopher Jones) and his crew introduce money into the mix, the fallout (as well as their own shady dealings with drug dealer Emerald) drives a wedge through the group, and they splinter into separate dance factions. Which leaves Elgin’s Li’l Saints and Wade’s Crew to face off at the MTV Big Bounce for the cash prize of 50 large.
Who Got Served? When Li’l Saints and Wade’s Crew tie, judge Li’l Kim announces the tiebreaker is a no-rules, “straight hood” affair. David reunites with Elgin to trounce Wade’s Crew to the thumping “Pump It Up” by Joe Budden. While both crews bring sick tricks and synchronization, the Li’l Saints’ b-boy skills and showmanship put them over the top. Still, it’s hard not to think that Wade’s Crew was robbed… but there’s no arguing with the applause-o-meter.
See Also: Quite a few of the new crop of dance films featured here owe a debt to "You Got Served" but one we didn't have room to include is David La Chapelle's documentary on krumping, "Rize" which also culminates in a final battle.
Dance Style: Hand Jive
Rival Crews: While the kids from Rydell High go apeshit doing the hand jive during their school dance, which is being broadcast live on the Corny Collins Show, the scheming Cha Cha DiGregorio (Annette Charles) ditches her wild man partner, Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) to cut in on Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) in order to secure her place at the top with the school’s best dancer.
Who Got Served? Unfortunately, our heroine Sandy, who stomps out of the gym at the first sight of Cha Cha and her skirt whirling madness (lotta granny panties exposed in this number). Beautiful, clueless Danny jumps right in step with Cha Cha and their raunchy moves steal the show and win them the trophy. Sandy may have lost this battle, however, she sure doesn’t lose the war.
See Also: No battles per se, but "Saturday Night Fever," obvs.
“Step Up 2: The Streets” (2008)
Dance Style: Hip Hop
Rival Crews: While Andie (Briana Evigan) and her new art school crew (including 3 time “Step Up” franchise regular Adam Sevani as Moose), battle her old crew the 410 IN THE RAIN, the more exciting dance-off happens in the beginning of the film when she battles Channing Tatum in the club, with excellent use made of the incongruous trampoline installed in the floor.
Who Got Served? Andie of course. One doesn’t simply win against C-Tates in a dance battle. The young trainee takes her great abs and gets them to art school to enhance her hip hop street dancing with something a bit more avant garde. And as this is Tatum’s only appearance in the sequel to the film that made him a star, you know he’s going to dominate.
See Also: Its lack of direct battles excludes it, but the first "Step Up" is so adorable that stars Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan fell in love and got married for ever and ever for reals and had real babies in real life, so come on.
Dance Style: Breakdancing/Body Popping
Rival Crews: Our heroes Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones) and Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers) team up with jazz ballet dancer (remember when Jazz Ballet was a thing?) Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) and face down Electro Rock, a threesome who had previously schooled them only by having a secret weapon in their line-up: a girl! And yes, that’s Ice-T in his debut (he now considers the film “wack”) and “Boardwalk Empire” dude Christopher MacDonald in a suit.
Who Got Served? This time out, Electro Rock go down when it’s proved that Ozone’s slick moves and Turbo’s (incredible) popping are are complemented by Kelly’s high-kicks and back flips. But also, the audience kinda gets served for anything that isn’t a dance scene, suffering under the yoke of terrible acting, and some eye-gougingly awful ‘80s costumes. Still, spotting Jean Claude Van Damme (Black unitard, from 9 mins) in an early beachside scene is a marvellous pause-and-rewatch moment.
See Also: Turbo's dance with a broom
“Step Up 3D” (2010)
Dance Style: Hip Hop
Rival Crews: Aspiring filmmaker Luke (Rick Malambri) houses his diverse band of a Lost Boys/dance crew, House of Pirates, in a Brooklyn warehouse squat, recruiting Natalie (Sharni Vinson) after he spots her on a club security camera, and basically kidnapping Moose (Adam Sevani) from his NYU dorm. They battle House of Samurai, led by richy rich Julien (Joe Slaughter), who is, gasp!, a former Pirate, and Natalie’s brother.
Who Got Served? While the entirety of “Step Up 3D” is an insane surrealist nightmare that makes little to no sense (though it serves as the seed for some of the almost Communist ideals that are espoused in the even more nonsensical “Step Up Revolution,” wherein there are no dance-offs, just dance flash mobs battling against The Man), it features some of the best battles in the series, probably because director Jon M. Chu is more concerned with the 3D capabilities than the story itself. The ultimate battle at the World Jam is one of the flashiest and best of the series. And obviously, the Samurai get served and the Pirates remain supreme. The embed is poor quality but the link beneath will bring you to a better version.
See Also: That scene in HD on youtube