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Tues Top Ten: The Year in Dance Scenes

Michael C. here. Over at Serious Film I've been handing out awards for 2012, but when I tried to name the dance scene of the year I realized 2012 was too packed with great contenders to choose only a single champion. So here is a more comprehensive list of the best scenes where characters couldn't fight their dancing feet.

Honorable Mentions

I consider Holy Motor's accordion scene more parade than dance otherwise it would surely top this list. Likewise I don't know quite how to classify Philip Seymour Hoffman's disturbing performance during The Master's nude party fantasy although it certainly impossible to forget. As for Magic Mike all the movie's dance scenes blended together in my memory, so maybe some Ladies of Tampa can enlighten me in the comments as to which one was the standout. 

 Top 10 Dance Scenes of 2012 

10. Take This Waltz 
I wasn’t as in love with this infidelity drama as many were, but it had a handful of great scenes where I could see what everybody else was so excited about. The finest was a house party where the secret life of Michelle Williams’ character threatens to spill out into public view on the dance floor to the tune of Feist’s terrific cover of Leonard Cohen’s Closing Time. 

9. Silver Linings Playbook (and 8 more films after the jump)
Silver Linings is at it best when its off-kilter characters are freed from the requirements of plot to bounce off each other. This is why I much prefer the early rehearsal scene with Chris Tucker acting as dance coach to the big crowd-pleasing finale. 

Danny: Black it up, Pat.

Pat: What’s that mean?

Danny: You know damn well what it means. 


8. Bernie
Sure you’ve just unexpectedly murdered somebody but that’s no reason to delay the dress rehearsal for your local production of The Music Man. Jack Black tamps down his natural vitality for a stilted rendition of 76 Trombones which, like everything else in Bernie, seems normal on the surface but odd in a way you can’t quite put your finger on.


7. Greta Gerwig Double Feature
Dance scenes were the highlight of two Gerwig films in 2012. (It would have been three if Frances Ha had secured an earlier release date). The centerpiece of Whit Stilman’s Damsels in Distress was the self-proclaimed International Dance Craze,”The Sambola!” while in Lola Versus Gerwig hit the dance floor in a scene that will have you rushing to iTunes to download Dan Deacon’s “The Crystal Cat”.


6. Anna Karenina 
One thing you can’t accuse Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina adaptation of is a lack of effort. I thought the film suffered from a lack of chemistry between the two leads but you wouldn’t know it to watch the camera swoop and dive through the ballroom dance sequence. It’s not a good sign when the film’s avant-garde choreography is more memorable than the romance but it is sure was a sight to see. 


5. On the Road
Anna Karenina tried to force passion into the film but it proves no amount of elaborate staging can substitute for two actors giving off genuine heat. Case in point: Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund whipping up a sexual tornado with their frenzied dancing to Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Parker’s “Salt Peanuts” Stewart gives off more erotic sparks in seventy seconds then in untold hours of passionless dead-eyed “romance” scenes. 

4. Cabin the Woods 


3. Moonrise Kingdom
I’ve already written plenty on Moonrise Kingdom, so I’ll just say that movie moments don’t come more purely joyous than the young heroes’ beachfront dance to Françoise Hardy’s Le Temps de L’amour 

2. This is 40 

Wow, you really leave everything on the dance floor.” 

So says the stunned hockey player to Leslie Mann after witnessing her bust out some of the most inventive dance moves since Romy and Michelle. One of the comedic highlights of 2012 and more evidence that the everyone missed the boat with the total lack of buzz around Mann's performance.


1. Perks of Being a Wallflower

Living room routine!” 

If you’re going to have the word “wallflower” in the title of your movie then the one scene you absolutely have to nail is the one where the title character gets up the nerve to approach his dream girl on the dance floor. 

Stephen Chbosky staging is inspired, timing Logan Lerman tentative head-bobbing steps to the rising crescendo of Come on Eileen. It perfectly captures the butterflies-in-the-stomach leap of faith it requires for the shy kid to peel himself off the sidelines.

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Reader Comments (13)

Thanks for the mention of Feist's superb cover of "Closing Time" from Take This Waltz. I find it so annoying when great songs are featured in films ... and then no soundtrack is released! I am a big Feist fan and was hoping this would see the light of day.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Glad to see Anna Karenina on here, though I'd have placed it all the way at 1. For me it was the best five minutes on film all year. Joe Wright enlisted one of the shining stars of international modern choreography, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, to interpret one of the greatest scenes of classical literature. Inspired.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

I agree with SanFran. The burgeoning romance of Anna and Vronsky through dance while Kitty swirls throughout the action with numerous dance partners and yet, never takes her eyes off of them was quite excellent to watch unfold. I still marvel at the massive amounts of creativity used on that film.

Plus, i thought Anna and Vronsky (Keira and Aaron) brought the passion/chemistry too. I could totally see why she'd want to completely ruin her life for him. Get yours, Anna.

I really like the list though. Especially the Perks and SLP mentions.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

Not sure if this was eligible as a dance scene but Hushpuppy's dance with her "mother" would have been my number one, closely followed by Perks.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I loved Marion Cotillard dancing in her wheelchair too Loveshack!

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBroooooke

LOL at Cabin in the Woods. Nice list!

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

So much yes to "Come On Eileen" at number one! Love the rest of your superlatives too. Quality categories.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

The club scene was the best bit of "This is 40".

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron in The paperboy!

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

Mann was wonderful in This is 40. The script, errrgh, not so much.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Matt - If awards groups could separate Kidman out of the flaming dirigible that was The Paperboy they should've been able to recognize Mann comedic virtuosity despite 40's hit-and-miss screenplay

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

YESYESYES to about half of that list (the other half, I haven't seen)!

The ball sequence in Anna Karenina is gorgeous, easily one of my favorites of the year. the choreography is so striking, and the camerawork makes it look even better (PLEASE direct a musical next, Joe Wright!). The scene from Perks is an instant classic, as is the one from Moonrise Kingdom.

If it were me, though, Channing Tatum's strips from Magic Mike would be at #1. That man has got it going ON in ALL the right places. Had there been fewer people in the theater, I might have even thrown some dollar bills at the movie screen.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

My faves were Hushpuppy's dance with her "mother", as mentioned, and the birthday dance (and Francois Cluzet's reaction shots duiring it) in Les Intouchables

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOliver

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