So Sean and I have an ongoing discussion about what constitutes a "Musical" and what is just a "Movie with Music." It is my firm contention that not only are movies like "Footloose" and "Flashdance" which heavily feature original musical sequences not musicals (as they were often categorized in the 80s when traditional musicals died), but I go so far as to say that many films about a non-fictional group or performer (Walk the Line, A Hard Day's Night) which feature their music in full musical sequences don't count either.
Here are my basic rules:
A "Musical" must feature music written specifically for that project.
Musical sequences must be performed by the characters, preferably in character.
There should be at least one big dance sequence.
Songs should serve to further the plot and/or character development.
Sean loves to try to trip me up citing certain movies and asking whether or not they would count. Ray? Nope. Help? Close, but no cigar. What about Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Dreamgirls? They're about performers! Yes, but some songs are sung in character and all songs are about the plot/characters.
Every now and again he stymies me. Truthfully, some movies are tougher to argue for or against. Some are very much on the line. I don't consider Ray a musical, but do I consider Yankee Doodle Dandy one? Probably. It's tough. Is it just because George M. Cohan's music is more traditional and therefore more befitting a musical? Or is it because many of the recreations of his performances are theatrical presentations instead of a singer singing into a microphone in a nightclub? My carefully chosen rules don't always work. Sometimes for me it comes down to what feels like a musical and what doesn't.
Some of my favorite musicals:
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - dated, but adorable
Singing in the Rain - Pure, unadulterated joy
My Fair Lady - A movie I never cared for a t first, but continues to grow on me more & more (but it's not a romance!)
Dreamgirls/ Chicago - all hail to re-birth of the movie musical!
Some of my favorite "movies with music:"
Once - simple & sweet, with a tremendous soundtrack
Almost Famous - Cameron Crowe & Martin Scorsese are probably two of the best directors for knowing how to use music.
A Hard Day's Night - Come on, it's the Beatles! How can you top that?
The Commitments - Perhaps one of the best soundtracks ever created for a film.