It’s time to wrap up December’s career appreciation to Fred Astaire with the monthly “Best of” films list. I do apologize that Fred Astaire month sort of turned in to Fred Astaire weekend, but the Awards season kept me very busy during the last month of the year. I had the opportunity to see many of Fred Astaire’s films that I had never seen before, but as is always the unfortunate case I did not see them all. It’s been a thrill wrapping myself in the pure escapism that Fred Astaire’s films provide whether he be dancing gracefully with Ginger Rogers or tapping alone in a room that he fills with his tapping.
Here are my 10 favorite films of all-time that star the delightful and infectious Fred Astaire (also don’t forget to check out my top 10 Fred Astaire dance scenes).
10) The Band Wagon (1953)
Some of Fred Astaire’s best work came late in his career across from the dynamic Cyd Charisse. The amount of Fred Astaire dance numbers is diminished slightly, but Vincente Minnelli is one of the premiere musical directors of the era and he had Fred in good hands. There also is some Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly influence noticeable in some of the hallucinatory dream scenes.
9) The Gay Divorcee (1934)
This was the first film that made Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers a star couple and it established the formula for the 10 films of the dynamic dancing duo that would follow. Some of the gags did not entirely fit in with the narrative and the film had some rough edges that were improved upon in subsequent efforts, but the instant chemistry that happens between Astaire and Rogers is amazing and you know from frame one that they are in for big things.
8) Easter Parade (1948)
The only actress who could out-flair Fred Astaire is the legendary Judy Garland. Not only is Easter Parade a fun story, but there is a fun power struggle going on between Astaire and Garland as each attempts to show up the other in a showdown of ultimate star power. Even the fact that this was one of Irving Berlin’s less inspired scores does not take away from Fred Astaire’s magnetism.
7) The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Ten years after their last collaboration Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers come together for one last film – and what a happy reunion it was. Both Fred and Ginger age fantastically and their cheery spirit is perfectly replicated in this movie. It’s different from other Astaire/Rogers films in that there are some honest dramatic moments that come in the third act that show that Fred is not only a great dancer and singer, but he can really act.
6) Holiday Inn (1942)
One of my favorite Christmas movies of all-time is only so because of Fred Astaire. Bing Crosby can do his thing all he wants, but without Fred Astaire there is not the same magic. Fred Astaire did not like his collaborations with Bing Crosby because he was always portrayed as the conniving partner who tries to steal Bing’s girl. Don’t worry, Fred, we all know who was the real star.
5) Silk Stockings (1957)
Fred Astaire was 58 when this film was produced, but his age was clearly not a factor as their is no loss of spring in his step. He dances a little less, but has some of the funniest moments of his career as the dynamic and bubbly Fred Astaire hilariously contrasts the robotic Cyd Charisse in this musical remake of Ninotchka. This is also one of the few films that gives Fred’s supporting actors proper development, even giving them their own song.
4) The Towering Inferno (1974)
The fact that Fred Astaire appeared in this movie makes me chuckle because of all of the plot lines in his earlier films where he or his co-star try to pursue a dramatic acting career, but are inevitably pulled back into musical theatre. This is the film that Fred appeared in that got the most attention at the Oscars and garnered Fred’s only Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.
3) Royal Wedding (1951)
Two of the most inventive and incredible solo dance scenes of Fred Astaire’s career come in this film (see them both here). With ace direction from the great Stanley Donen and the score, story, and lyrics by the legendary team of Lerner and Lowe, Royal Wedding is one of the best Fred Astaire movies ever made. The story may be nothing new to fans of Fred Astaire, but the execution is brilliant.
2) Swing Time (1936)
Many film critics and historians rank this as the best Astaire/Rogers films ever made. It is the most authentic of their collaborations in that it is the film that is looked at to define the genre. The pair shines in some of their best dance scenes and go through one of the best executed narrative arcs of meeting, falling in love, alienating each other through mistaken identity, and eventually coming back together. Each of their dances tells a story and its one of the best stories ever put on film.
1) Top Hat (1935)
Out of the 50+ films that Fred Astaire appeared in during his five decades spanning career, the one that does it for me every time his his fourth ever appearance on film. Top Hat has the best Fred Astaire dancing, some of the funniest scenes, the most dazzling set pieces, and one of the best soundtracks in cinematic history including the legendary Hollywood songs “Cheek to Cheek” and “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails”. It also has the best variety of Astaire dances with a good mix of solo, partner, and large group numbers. If you are looking to escape in the ultimate Fred Astaire experience, I recommend Top Hat.
Those are mine – what Fred Astaire films capture your heart?