We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
With Country Strong, Gwyneth Paltrow’s first true singing test, expanding to theaters nationwide this Friday, we at The Scorecard Review thought it appropriate to have this week’s TOP 7 center around those brave and talented thespians whom have actually sung, have actually used their own voices, in a major motion picture. In a time ruled by technology, where professional singers could have easily been hired, rendering these thespians Ashlee Simpsonian, those on this list instead opted to “do it for real,” and in the end, successfully proved to the world that they were genuinely talented singers themselves.
For this TOP 7, I’m only picking my one favorite from a film, no double dipping. So John C. Reilly, Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones — you’re out!
I’ve also limited this list to 21st century performances, and only to actors-turned-singers, not singers-turned actors. So if you can’t believe I’ve left someone off this list, please reread the previous sentence to make sure it’s you, not me.
7. AMY ADAMS in Enchanted (2007)
Recap: In Disney’s Enchanted, Amy Adams plays Giselle, a princess sent to our world by an evil queen. Her Disney-princess optimism is surely tested through the many trials of this transition, but Giselle keeps her chin up, and belts out some really happy songs in the process.
Reason: If I’m entirely honest, I’ve not seen all of this film, but I’ve seen enough, and heard enough to know that Amy Adams deserves a spot on this list. “Happy Working Song” and “That’s How You Know,” two of the film’s songs in which Adams performed lead vocals, were nominated for the Oscar for “best original song.” Adams’ vocal performance in Enchanted sounds exactly like a singing Disney princess’ should.
6. JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS in August Rush (2007)
Recap: Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays rocker Louis Connelly, and hams it up, crooning some pretty good songs, but ultimately, his entire performance is overshadowed by the film’s beautiful crescendo: the Oscar-nominated “Raise It Up.”
Reason: JRM’s singing performance in August Rush was good, his voice is pure, and I enjoyed the sound of it. I thought his “rockstar” acting was a little bit overblown (JRM’s standard smolder reminds me of Flynn Rider’s in Tangled, and that’s not meant as a compliment) but when I close my eyes and just listen to him singing, yeah, it’s good stuff. I thought his vocal performance in Velvet Goldmine was even better, but alas that film is from the 20th century, so no dice.
5. RENEE ZELLWEGER in Chicago (2002)
Recap: In Chicago’s roaring 20’s, Renee Zellweger’s Roxie Hart is put on death row for murdering her boyfriend. She sings to keep the gallows at bay.
Reason: Up to this point, Renee Zellweger’s career had been centered on light dramas and silly comedies, and I doubt I’m speaking out of turn much when I assume that her performance in Chicago pleasantly surprised a great number of people. Her role was a vocally demanding one, and she performed it well enough to be nominated for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” that year at the Oscars.
4. JOHNNY DEPP in Sweeney Todd (2007)
Recap: Johnny Depp lends his vocal talents to demon-barber Sweeney Todd, in Tim Burton’s take on the 19th century character.
Reason: Depp’s always been great with his voice, and it’s common knowledge that when he was a youngster he wanted to be a rocker rather than an actor, so this role ended up fitting him perfectly. His vocal delivery is cryptic and sinister, with snarling, guttural raspy tones — perfect for the character — and through it all he still manages to hit all the right notes. I didn’t care too much for the violence in this film, or the story, or much about it at all really — but I did enjoy Depp’s singing performance a great deal. It was enjoyable to listen to. When Depp was originally asked by Tim Burton if he thought he could sing for Sweeney Todd, Depp answered sincerely, “I don’t know. I’ll try.” In the end, It’s a good thing he did, because he performed excellently.
3. JOAQUIN PHOENIX in Walk the Line (2005)
Recap: Joaquin Phoenix portrays Johnny Cash in this excellent biopic.
Reason: Phoenix absolutely killed it here, successfully tackling the daunting task of imitating the Man In Black’s wonderful voice and persona. Prior to filming, Phoenix had vocal training for about six months with the legendary music producer T-Bone Burnett. When Phoenix was learning how to sing and play guitar like Johnny Cash in the months preceding filming, his voice was too high and the band had to learn how to play Cash’s songs in a higher key. But then just before filming commenced, Joaquin’s voice dropped closer to Johnny’s level and the band had to re-learn the songs in their original key. Phoenix’s performance in Walk the Line was truly an amazing feat — imitating the uniquely beautiful singing voice of Mr. Johnny Cash is no small order.
2. JEFF BRIDGES in Crazy Heart (2009)
Recap: Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a faded country musician reevaluating his dysfunctional life.
Reason: Bridges did all of his own singing in Crazy Heart, and he sang beautifully. Delivering well-crafted songs written by the aforementioned T-Bone Burnett in an entirely heartfelt manner, Bridges portrayal of the beat-down Bad Blake is very inspiring, and sad, based on the subject matter, but somehow it’s all uplifting at the same time. T-Bone Burnett was the musical archivist for The Big Lebowski (1998), and Bridges and Burnett are known to play music together, as they’re buddies. Check ‘em out here.
1. EWAN McGREGOR in Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Recap: In Baz Luhrmann’s brilliant bohemian extravaganza, Ewan McGregor provides the voice of the film’s protagonist Christian.
Reason: Moulin Rouge might be my favorite film of all time — it’s definitely my favorite musical — so please pardon the heavy bias applied here. I do sincerely believe that the singing performance of Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge is the single best singing performance that 21st century Hollywood has produced to date. When he sings, he sings with unbridled passion, and his notes are hit purely and are accompanied with such immense force and pure loving energy. This is all entirely in cohesion with the general tone of the film; Ewan delivered a pitch perfect performance. It didn’t hurt that the songs were brilliant mash-ups of many 20th century classics, but had McGregor not sung so beautifully, the film’s songs could have easily fallen flat.