Wednesday, June 9, 2010

2002 - Chicago

The new poll to decide Matt vs. the Academy's next year of review is up. Five different years from the 1940s to choose from. One of them has ten nominees, all the others have five.

Meanwhile, let's get cracking on the nominees from 2002. Yesterday, I had the occasion to watch the first of the contenders for Best Picture that year...

Rob Marshall
Bill Condon
(based on the stage musical by Kander & Ebb)
Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly
Academy Awards:
13 nominations
6 wins, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Zeta-Jones)

Chicago, 1927. Roxie Hart (Zellweger) is bored with her meek husband Amos (Reilly) and dreams of fame as a vaudeville star. She begins an affair with a man who promises her important introductions, but when he admits that he has no connections, she impulsively murders him. This crime of passion lands her in jail, where she awaits her trial. In prison, she meets her idol Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones), who happens to also be a murderess, just with a lot more press. Velma's unscrupulous lawyer Billy Flynn (Gere) takes on Roxie's case as well, promising to make her a star in the process. As the film's poster proclaims, "If you can't be famous, be infamous."

There is an inevitable oddity in characters randomly bursting into song, a fate applicable to most musicals. However, Chicago manages to get around this by staging all of the musical numbers as inner thoughts or fantasies, thereby allowing the drama to unfold a tad more naturalistically. It is a very effective convention, cleverly employed so as to combine theatrical extravaganza with cinematic intimacy. And Chicago is a big, brassy, theatrical show, clearly suited for a big stage, so Rob Marshall is to be commended for his extremely creative direction, taking every advantage of his medium.

From the outset, Chicago promises to be a toe-tapping and sexy picture, maintaining its raunchy energy right to the final frame. The imaginative choreography (also by Rob Marshall) is spectacular to witness. In one number, Renée Zellweger literally walks in mid-air, her legs held up by male dancers, while in another number, female dancers inventively shape themselves into a car that is "driven" by Richard Gere. These stunning visual elements are complemented by the equally stunning design (costume, production and lighting).

The story uses the circus as a recurring theme to great effect. One song sees Flynn act as ventriloquist to Roxie's dummy (pictured), representing his puppetry of her image. Another sees Andy singing as a sad clown. Most poignantly, the hanging of one of the female inmates is inter-cut with a high-diving routine. The whole metaphor is summed up nicely by Flynn's rendition of Razzle Dazzle, explaining how the world loves a spectacle. It is this theme of fame and attention that is most prevalent in the script. Roxie just wants her fifteen minutes of fame, but at what cost?

Catherine Zeta-Jones won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her sultry portrayal of Velma Kelly. Three other cast members were also nominated for awards, namely Zellweger, Latifah and Reilly, all entertaining performances. Also impressive in smaller roles are Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs and Christine Baranski. For Grey's Anatomy fans with very keen eyesight, Sara Ramirez appears in the dancing ensemble.

The film itself was the first musical to take out Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968, a feat that could partly explain the return in popularity of the musical film (even if most of the recent film musicals have been adaptations of Broadway shows). And despite all the songs from the stage version being ineligible for Best Original Song, composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb were nominated for their collaboration on I Move On, a new song written specifically for the film, albeit only heard during the closing credits.


  1. Chicago is one of my favorite films ever!! =) I forgot that it won Best Picture...thank you for the reminder.

  2. I absolutely like all 5 nominees, which never happens...

    The Hours is in my Top 10 ever, Two Towers Top 30 probably, The Pianist in Top 50 let's say, and I have good feelings for both Gangs and Chicago.

  3. I really enjoyed this movie!

  4. Chicago was the only Oscar nominated Best Picture that didn't finish in my Top 10 for the year. It was one of the honorable mentions and having seen it a few more times including last night, it will probably remain in that position.

    There is much to like: inventive staging, costuming and respect for Bob Fosse's choreography. The performances are very good, with only Richard Gere's vocals that left me unimpressed. And let's give John C. Reilly the Thomas Mitchell Award for his most impressive 2002. He joins Mitchell, Claudette Colbert and Charles Laughton as the only performers to appear in three best picture nominees in the same year. Reilly's accomplishment is actually more impressive than the others since 2002 had only 5 picture nominees. His other appearances were in The Hours and Gangs of New York.

    I won't dwell too much on the less impressive aspects of Chicago. I thought some songs were on the forgettable side and they could have used more subtlety; and the editing was geared to camouflage the lack of dancing skills . My biggest gripe is simply that the story was shallow, with nearly every character unsympathetic. The movie lacked heart; but damn, it sure looked good.

  5. I love Chicago!

    Hey, Matt, check out my blog then put me in your "links to related blogs"!

    I'll feel special!

  6. So it seems there's a general positive feeling towards Chicago. Sorry, Mike :) But thanks for bringing up John C. Reilly's prolificness (is that a word?). He's a terrific actor, despite all the silly movies he's done lately.

    P.S. Twister, you may now feel special. :)

  7. Hey, Matt, love the post but just as an edit I do believe Roxie's husband's name isn't Andy but Amos.

    Again, love "Chicago" and glad to see some admiration for Rob Marshall.

  8. Oops, you're right. Thanks, MattyD. I did to Amos what Billy Flynn does to him for the whole movie. Poor Amos. Not even I can get his name right...