2. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Moulin Rouge! is a fever dream brimming with jewelled tones, gleaming performances, and more gusto than one could ever imagine. Nothing is considered too eccentric for this bewitching, expressionistic tale of love and entrapment amidst the backdrop of 1899 Paris. Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman star in this larger-than-life experience that displays Luhrmann at his creative best. Each scene has a movement to it, both through the quick pacing and the transformative, frenzied lens that has no hesitance in literally jumping around during the many musical numbers, with the camera physically almost joining in with the onscreen fan kicks and shimmying from the film’s cabaret sequences.
The sheer sprightliness is further exaggerated by the striking palette. Every visual is caressed with more colours than any rainbow could dream of, with one particular scene involving the infamous performance of “Silly Love Songs” mediating the lush cinematic tone with a sapphire blue sky, complete with iridescent stars that make the hopelessly romantic storyline seem like a replica of a fanciful Disney movie. This is precisely the distinct juxtaposition that only Luhrmann could get away with. No matter the heartbreaking premise, or the horrid nature, he insists on putting the beauty of cinema at the forefront.
Luhrmann’s attentive eye bestows meaning onto even the finest of cinematic components, which is made all the more permeating by the film’s playful score. No matter the personal preference, it is almost impossible to deny that Luhrmann knows how to manipulate a film’s creative liberty to integrate a superb and varied soundtrack. Moulin Rouge! is a classic jukebox musical film, integrating colloquially known hits into the diegesis of nearly every scene, which is made even more distinct against the contrasting 19th-century setting.
Moulin Rouge! is a kaleidoscopic affair, bursting at the seams with oddities and devotion, resembling an almighty Paris-inspired pageant that maintains an exuberant energy for the whole 128 minutes.
1. Elvis (2002)
The most contentious question in cinema is ‘what is the best film of all time?’ Besides the obvious subjectivity of personal taste, many fans of Baz Luhrmann will immediately answer with Elvis.
Not a single facet is blemished. Austin Butler is a force to be reckoned with. The soundtrack nailed which songs to include. And more than anything, for diehard Elvis Presley fans, it was a chance to see the King of Rock and Roll’s story be treated with respect and a spark of life put back into the commonly mocked singer, performer, and all-around legend.
As with any biopic, at the news of an Elvis film being greenlit, the number one question revolved around who could possibly step into his shoes and do the job justice. Austin Butler, known for his early days at Nickelodeon before moving onto teen dramas, was a somewhat debatable choice for such a significant role. However, just as Elvis himself did decades ago, Butler shocked everyone with his impeccable, transformative talent. He even won a BAFTA for Best Actor. Every actor has that one special film that will solidify their name, a career-defining performance. Butler’s will no doubt be Elvis. There are only a few instances where an actor has ever taken on a role like he did; he was not Butler playing Presley but, for those 159 minutes, he was Elvis.
Any musical biopic needs to have an outstanding soundtrack that both accurately and effectively showcases the talent at hand and best displays their story. Elvis Presley officially recorded nearly 800 songs, with supposedly dozens more in the vault. Luhrmann worked diligently with composer Elliot Wheeler to formulate a selective range of Elvis’s best songs from the multiple eras of his career, with the film featuring hits such as “That’s All Right” and “If I Can Dream”, as well as underrated gems including “Polk Salad Annie” and “Any Day Now”.
Where Luhrmann’s buoyant charm really lights a spark is through the various montage sequences that tackle animation, black and white flashback scenes, and admirable recreations of Elvis’ Vegas showtime days. The concert segments that take over the third act are entirely all-consuming; they cross the boundaries between screen and viewer to make each of us feel as if we were sitting at the International Hotel in 1969 watching Presley sing “Suspicious Minds” to a live crowd for the very first time.
Elvis ignites a sense of dignity back into Presley’s story, with Baz Luhrmann showing the singer in a light that has not been screened before. Elvis was more than talented: his voice was incredible, his stage presence was magnetising, and above all he knew how to excite an audience. Luhrmann was the only filmmaker who could have done this momentous biopic justice, and whilst every single one of his films has that unique, tenacious quality that makes him an auteur, there is no other film that comes close to Elvis.
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Which of Baz Luhrmann’s films do you most enjoy? Did Elvis manage to have a profound impact on you, too? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with more insightful movie lists.