Battle of the Year (or as a good friend of mine has preemptively titled it, The Greatest Story Ever Danced, is in theaters for you to consume before “Oscar season” kicks into high gear. And I’m not here to talk about it at all. Or films like it. Because you expect dancing in a movie about dancing. You expect dancing in musicals. But I like the unexpected. I like it when dancing breaks out of nowhere, when it jumps out of the dark like a cat in a horror-movie closet and then disappears after a few minutes, as though every element of the film, both human and inanimate, in thought and deed, collectively agreed that it never happened. Here are some personal favorites…
(500) Days of Summer
There’s a blip of a teen comedy from 2001 called Get Over It with Ben Foster, Kirsten Dunst and Sisqo that begins with a dejected Foster walking down a suburban street while an ever-growing crowd of people dance to Captain and Tennile’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” all around him, compounding his misery. (500) Days steals this idea and explodes it, turning it into an elaborate goof on postcoital bliss and movie cliché as Joseph Gordon-Levitt struts down a Los Angeles thoroughfare and the entire population joins him in dancing to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.” Along with Oates’ mustache, it’s the reason why all the young people like Hall & Oates again.
She’s All That
When you’re at your prom and Usher is your DJ and you wonder if he’s ever going to stop talking on the mic during the songs, you just decide to go with it and obey him when he shouts, “We’re about to do that dance I taught you! And I know you’ve been practicing!” Obviously you’ve been practicing because suddenly you all know the same dance. But you still decide as a group that you never want Usher to DJ at prom again.
Band of Outsiders
Jean Luc Godard’s French New Wave take on the American heist genre also contains one of film history’s coolest and most hypnotic dance sequences where the director interrupts the music to narrate his characters’ emotions. And it goes on forever but you don’t care because you get to keep watching Anna Karina.
Why would Quentin Tarantino insert a dance scene into the middle of a self-aware crime movie? 1. To rip off Godard’s Band of Outsiders for starters. 2. To hack into John Travolta’s then-calcified career, make him reference his own history and remind audiences they thought he was cool not so long ago. Later Travolta will do his best to reruin his career but in 1994 anything seemed repossible.
Rosario Dawson tries to teach Dante (Brian O’Halloran) how to dance to the Jackson 5’s “ABC” on the roof of a fast-food joint. Because it’s “ABC” everyone in town stops to dance with them (including a nun and a postal worker – there’s always a nun and a postal worker). The fantasy here, though, isn’t that everybody wants to dance to “ABC” and knows all the right moves, but that Dante could get a woman like Rosario Dawson in the first place.
Do the Right Thing
It’s an incendiary, game-changing comedy drama about race and poverty and power and righteous anger, so of course it needs Rosie Perez furiously dancing to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” over the opening credits. In boxing gloves and shorts, sports bra and a camera-smashing glower, she’s more or less the definition of perfection.
The sequence that makes smoke come out of the ears of every devout Spider-Man fan is part Saturday Night Fever mockery, part jazz-club fantasia and the one part of this film that everyone remembers and talks about. Yes, it’s idiotic. Yes, it’s wrong. Yes, it makes very little sense. And it is burned into your mind forever. “Now dig on this!”
This moronic and underappreciated nonsense comedy features Andy Samberg re-creating (sort of) the angst-y dance Kevin Bacon does in that warehouse in Footloose. For no good reason. Then he falls down a mountain. Its importance to the film’s narrative is surpassed only by costar Danny McBride’s green tea-fueled rage.
The Sweetest Thing
The weirdest moment in an already very strange female-bonding comedy involves Cameron Diaz, Selma Blair and Christina Applegate sitting in a restaurant and making up a very R-rated song and dance about penis size to an “I’m Too Sexy” riff conveniently provided by a guy at the next table who just happens to have a portable keyboard. The entire place joins them and it all proves that the funniest word for penis will always be “penis.”
Damsels in Distress
International dance crazes and their origin is an obsession for Greta Gerwig’s character in this oddball indie from Whit Stillman. So at the end when she realizes her dream of starting an international dance craze called the Sambola, it’s pretty heartwarming. The entire cast dances in the finale as instructions for how to do the Sambola flash on-screen. The instructions even come with encouragements like: “Thor can do the Sambola! So can you!”
Mac and Me
The all-time champion of incomprehensible filmmaking decisions, this McDonald's-themed E.T. rip-off sends its government agents chasing a fast-food-loving alien named—what else—“Mac” into a children’s birthday party at McDonald’s where a huge dance number breaks out. Football players, Ronald McDonald, neon-clad teenagers, bored ballerinas, children whose stage parents were probably convinced that this was their kid’s big break into showbiz, uniformed McDonald's employees and Mac in a teddy bear costume will teach you that sometimes the world is a chaotic, meaningless place full of nightmare imagery and fear.
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