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Top 5 favorite song numbers from the Les Mis film

29 Jan

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5 – Look Down

No, not the opening number that’s also known as “Work Song”. I’m talking about the film’s second usage of the tune. Though the stage musical has other ideas, to me, Act 2 of the film starts with the 9 year time skip after Valjean adopts Cosette. “Look Down” begins this part, and it accomplishes two major things: it shows the revolution element that governs the plot of most of the film’s second half, and it introduces new important characters Marius, Enjolras, and Gavroche, the last who handles most of the singing in this song. It’s a dynamically staged number with the young orphan and his friends running around and stealing food from the rich, and with the kid hitching a ride on a stage coach for the second verse. Daniel Huttlestone in his film debut does nice work, showing the anger that resides among all the poor. I’m also fond of how the chorus chanting is used here compared to the film’s opening number. At the start of the movie, it’s the lowly prisoners reminding themselves to not dare meet the eyes of their guards who rule them. Now, it’s a call by the people at the bottom of society towards the rich, urging them to notice the inequalities in Paris. The difference encapsulates the new themes of the film: the weak is rising up.

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4 – Master of the House

I’m not a big fan of the singing of either Sacha Baron Cohen or Helena Bonham Carter in this film – both did much better vocally in Sweeney Todd – but their big signature number “Master of the House” is still a highlight of the movie. You might think it’s just a case of standing out in a crowd, as it’s a comic relief number surrounded by serious drama acts, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a very funny number, for one, and with so much going on, I keep discovering new things every time I see it. There is an impressive array of swindling and stealing going on by the Thénardiers, much of which you’re likely to miss on the first go. It’s also a great way to introduce us to the two characters and the dynamic between them, with Cohen bragging and playing the big boss, and Carter dryly berating him from the sidelines. Cool stuff, and after the emotional Fantine arc of the story, a bit of up-tempo fun is just what the doctor ordered. Every time I see the film, I find myself looking forward to this one more and more.

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3 – On My Own

I don’t know much about the technical aspects of singing, so maybe I’m way off-base here, but in my ears, Samantha Barks is the best pure singer in the whole cast. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her character Eponine’s one big solo number, an ode about her unrequited love for Marius. The staging of it is simple, with Barks just walking down a street in the rain and singing her heart out, but that’s arguably all the song calls for. A proper tearjerker.

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2 – Valjean’s Soliloquy (What Have I Done?)

The first instance of Tom Hooper keeping the camera close to the actor during the intimate song numbers. “Valjean’s Soliloquy” is the climax of the film’s prologue, and it lays the foundation for everything that is to come. Valjean has been shown kindness by the bishop, betrayed his trust, and seen the other cheek turned. Now he wrestles with himself over his very nature, and it signals a turning point for him. He paces back and forth in the church, marvels at the bishop’s selflessness, and decides that he needs to become an honest man. Hugh Jackman is great here in the film’s first big acting scene, going through confusion, doubt, anger, and determination, before storming out into the world and declaring that “another story must begin”. Cue swelling orchestral score, panning up to the sky, and the start of the film proper. Epic.

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1 – I Dreamed a Dream

Yeah, you knew this was coming. “On My Own” is powerful and all, but for the film’s true emotional highpoint, nothing tops Anne Hathaway crying her eyes out while letting us know just how miserable her life has become. A key difference between the two performances is that while Barks is a great singer, Hathaway is a great actor, and she acts the hell out of this song in one long unbroken close-up take. Even after seeing the film four times, this part still gives me goosebumps.

What were your favorites?

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5 Comments

Posted by on 29 January, 2013 in Lists

 

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5 responses to “Top 5 favorite song numbers from the Les Mis film

  1. Hannah M

    30 January, 2013 at 06:21

    In the movie:
    5. Look Down
    4. On My Own
    3. Come To Me (Fantine’s Death)
    2. Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
    1. I Dreamed a Dream

    In the show as a whole:
    5. Do You Hear the People Sing?
    4. One Day More
    3. On My Own
    2. Work Song
    1. Stars

     
    • Hannah M

      30 January, 2013 at 06:22

      (Although I got to perform Master of the House once and that was probably my favorite musical theater performance I ever ever did.)

       
      • Emil

        30 January, 2013 at 08:25

        Those are some nice choices. “Come To Me” in particular was staged really well. Plus, Hathaway is great there too. She’s more than just That One Song in the film.

        I am actually starting to grow a bit fond of “Stars” lately. Non-Crowe versions, of course.

        I can imagine “Master of the House” being a lot of fun to do live!

         
  2. Jandy

    30 January, 2013 at 18:20

    I don’t want to rank them, but I Dreamed a Dream is much more impressive in the movie than it ever has been to me in the show. I usually just kind of get through all the Fantine/Marius/Cosette parts when listening to the show soundtrack, and it’s interesting to me that a lot of the Fantine/Marius parts at least ended up being my favorites in the movie.

    I’d probably go with I Dreamed a Dream and Empty Chairs as the most surprisingly best in the movie, and throw in Valjean’s soliloquy and On My Own as well. The last two would also be in my favorites from the show, with One Day More, A Little Fall of Rain, and Javert’s last song, I forget what it’s called. I guess Stars is his big one, but the contrast between his final song and Valjean’s soliloquy in how they react to being shown mercy is probably my favorite thing in the entire show.

     
    • Emil

      30 January, 2013 at 19:45

      Funny you should say that. I actually read an interesting article the other day where Valjean’s Solilquy and Javert’s last song were compared with one another.

      http://bit.ly/Vs6fKm

      Empty Chairs at Empty Tables would have gotten an honorable mention had I done those for this post. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t fit in any of Marius’ songs on the list. Eddie Redmayne was impressive in the whole film.

       

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