Oscar Vault Monday – Moulin Rouge!, 2001 (dir. Baz Luhrmann)

When this movie first came out I was dying to see it, but sadly my hometown theater didn’t get it and I had to wait for it to be a rental. I rented a shitty full frame VHS from my local rental store and I fell in love with it. Luckily, a week or so later we went out-of-town and I bought the special edition DVD and I watched it right away in all its widescreen glory. Let me tell you, I already felt pretty strongly about aspect ratios, but that little experience cinched it for me. The full frame ruined soooo much of Luhrmann’s amazing framing and ruined some of the film’s reoccurring themes. I finally got to see the film on the big screen when I was in college and boy what an experience that was! I also got to see it at the Castro Theatre last summer and boy who giant screen really brings out the power of the imagery and emotions of the film. After I saw this film the first time, I went back to my local rental store and rented absolutely every film starring either Nicole Kidman or Ewan McGregor that they had (which was actually quite a lot of films). That was a lot of fun. Moulin Rouge! was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two: Academy Award Best Art Direction (won), Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Actress Nicole Kidman and Best Picture. Luhrmann didn’t receive a nomination for Best Director and Oscar host Whoppi Goldberg famously quipped when presenting the film that “apparently it didn’t have a director.” This was a year where two of the Best Picture films didn’t get Best Director nods (the other was Todd Field for In The Bedroom) and two directors whose films weren’t nom’d did: David Lynch for Mulholland Drive and Ridley Scott for Black Hawk Down. Always strange when that happens, though I am 100% behind Lynch’s nomination.


I wrote a lot about Baz Luhrmann a few years ago for my now defunct Auteur of the Week feature, which you can read here. Needless to say, I love most of Luhrmann’s films (Australia was a misfire of epic proportions, though). I am definitely looking forward to his take on The Great Gatsby this coming summer.


Nicole Kidman received her first Academy Award nomination for her performance in this film. She also won her second Golden Globe (her first was for Gus Van Sant’s To Die For). She went on to win an Oscar for Best Actress the very next year for her performance as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. She also received an Oscar nomination for her performance in 2010’s Rabbit Hole. I really love the character of Satine and I can’t imagine anyone but Kidman in this role. Kidman’s Golden Globe win was for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy and I find that interesting, because Moulin Rouge! is sort of a musical, a comedy, a drama and a romance all rolled into one and Satine more than anyone else demonstrates this. When we first meet her, she’s singing, she’s dancing, she’s doing physical comedy and then bam! she’s nearly dying. I don’t think I can pick a favorite moment of this film because it is filled with so many wonderful moments, but it might be the scene in the elephant when she think’s Christian is the Duke. She’s so nuts in that scene and Ewan McGregor as Christian is so confused. It’s a perfect pairing of players and parts.


Which brings me to Ewan McGregor. I first noticed him (and his bad wig!) in the 1996’s version of Emma and those ill-fated Star Wars prequels, but it wasn’t until I saw this film that I fell head of heels for this Scottish charmer. I’m not going to even tell you how many strange films I’ve watched (and own on DVD!) for this man. So many. But I think his performance as Christian will forever be my favorite. He gets to do everything in this film. He sings (and oh my word what a voice!), he’s equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, he’s a charmer and he’s a jerk. He received a Golden Globe nomination, but somehow missed out on Oscar gold and I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes the Academy made in the last decade (or maybe ever?). He is the heart and soul of this film. McGregor is such a fearless actor, it’s a shame he’s yet to receive an Oscar nomination. I think he’ll be like Gary Oldman and it’ll take another decade or so before the Academy finally anoints him with the recognition he deserves.


Like I said, Kidman and McGregor make such a perfect pairing; their chemistry is the stuff cinematic dreams are made of. They’ll forever be one of my favorite on-screen pairings. I just want them to sing duets together for all time.


Jim Broadbent co-starred with three of the Best Actress nominees for 2001: this film, he played Renee Zellweger’s dad in Bridget Jones’s Diary and he played John Bayley, Iris Murdoch  (Judi Dench)’s husband in Iris; he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the later. Broadbent is one of those British character actors that you see in everything and he’s been in almost 70 films since his debut in 1980. Much like his co-stars, Broadbent shows a range of emotions as master of ceremonies at the Moulin Rouge, Harold Zidler. As a mentor to Kidman’s Satine, he is equally as compassionate as he is menacing. Zidler’s a hard character to like because he’s fun and comical, but he’s also a shrewd businessman and essentially a seller of flesh. Broadbent, however, brings a humanity and an empathy to the character that helps make him relatable.


Richard Roxburgh is a delight as the Duke. He’s the villain of the film for sure, but he’s the kind of character that you love to hate. He’s snide and he’s repugnant, but you just love to hiss at him as the film goes along. Roxburgh really makes my skin crawl every time he talks and I imagine that creepster energy that comes across on film was even more present during the filming. You can feel the tension between him and his fellow cast members; he never quite fits into the snug ensemble and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Just like in Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet a few years earlier, John Leguizamo shines in a small, but pivotal supporting role. As real-life artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Leguizamo jets in and out of the film with perfect little bursts of energy and vigor. It’s Toulouse-Lautrec who introduces Christian to the Bohemia Revolution and its ideals of “truth, beauty, freedom and love,” and it’s Toulouse-Lautrec who first brings Christian to the Moulin Rouge. So you could argue, it’s all his fault, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. But it’s also Toulouse-Lautrec who reminds Christian of the film’s theme, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return,” (which, by the way, comes from the song Nature Boy and you ought to hear the Nat King Cole version if you never have; it’s essential listening), thus reminding him that his love for Satine is more important than anything else in the world. Leguizamo is one of my favorite character actors, with his roles in this and R+J and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar forever endearing him in my heart.


I can’t really talk about this film without discussing the music and I can’t talk about the music without mentioning Kylie Minogue’s cameo as The Green Fairy. She’s the mascot of the Bohemians and by casting Minogue, Luhrmann reinforces his mixture of modern pop and turn-of-the-century melodrama. I know some people really hate the musical numbers in this film, but I think those people might actually just hate fun. Or they hate pop music. Or they’re just morons. But who am I to judge?


My favorite scene in the film is the tango set to The Police’s Roxanne. How on Earth this film didn’t win the Best Editing and wasn’t nominated for Best Director just for this scene alone is beyond me.

Even if you hate this film (get out!), you cannot deny the filmmaking prowess of this scene.


The basis for this relationship most definitely comes from Camille (written by Alexandre Dumas, fils,). While I love the Garbo/Robert Taylor adaptation from 1936, I suggest you watch the 1921 version with Rudolph Valentino and Alla Nazimova. There is no way Luhrmann will ever convince me that the finale in that version was not an inspiration for the finale of Moulin Rouge!


I’m sure I could write a whole lot more about this film because it is one of those endlessly entertaining films that can be picked apart six million different ways. I’ll just end this by saying I will always love this film.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on December 31, 2012, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Brilliant post! Moulin Rouge is pure magic. The acting, cinematography and MUSIC?? This may be one of the few musicals I actually appreciate and never get tired of watching. I can’t appreciate any criticism for this film, because it was so highly original. And singing from non-actors?? Who sang well?? My co-blogger just wrote about how Les Miz suffered with using actors who had no singing experience, but Moulin Rouge IS the exception. Bravo.

  2. You said everything I would say about it including Roxanne which gives me chills. I loved the music used and there is nothing wrong with using pop music or any music and adapting it for this or any other story. Casting new light on old songs is an art and in this film the art was fabulous. And the Nature Boy snippet is perfect and one of my core beliefs. Someday I hope I get a chance to see it on the big screen.

  1. Pingback: Oscar Vault Monday – Cabaret, 1972 (dir. Bob Fosse) « the diary of a film history fanatic

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