I love music, I love movies, I love movies about music. But first some clarification before we jump right into my top. There are two main types of music genre film that are very different: films about music and musicals. The latter consisting of films where characters are doing musical numbers yet are not necessarily musicians in the film, examples would be Grease or High School Musical. What I consider films about music, however, are those in which the character’s are either directly or indirectly involved with making music (singers, bands, producers, etc.). Not to say that one is better than the other but in this specific list we will be discussing films about music; also keep in mind that I am not considering music documentary in this list.
The Seven Music Movies I love
7. Cadillac Records
While 2008’s Cadillac Records didn’t make major waves critically or commercially, on top of the fact that the script takes huge liberties with the events and people it’s portraying, it does have some redeeming qualities. The simple fact that this is the only film portraying some of the most under-appreciated yet influential figures in music history puts it on the list. The story of Chicago’s Chess Records and blues/early rock and roll legends such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry features great performances from Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright as Leonard Chess and Muddy Waters, respectively, as well as a fantastic soundtrack but, sadly, not much else.
6. Purple Rain
Purple Rain is hands down one of the best movie soundtracks of all time, period. The film itself is fine, a simple story that works as a device to move us from one performance to the next and not much more than that. This is in no way a slight to His Royal Purpleness but this film is all about the performance pieces. As if hit after hit from Price isn’t enough we also get a little bit of The Time to top everything off.
5. That Thing You Do!
Tom Hanks has not dipped into the realm of writing/directing often but when he does he does it well. That Thing You Do! is a fun film with an excellent original soundtrack (also partially written by Hanks). Beneath its cheeriness and nostalgia, however, is a heartbreaking tale of how the music industry can be manipulative and harsh especially to a group with nothing more than raw talent and naivety. We, the audience, get swept up in the quick rise to national fame, just as the lead characters do, ultimately to see that musicians cannot survive on talent alone and that often conformity takes precedence over originality.
4. The Blues Brothers
The only film on this list that could be argued as a music film and a musical, The Blues Brothers, could be on so many of my top lists. There are so many aspects about this film that make it a classic I could go one about it all day, but I won’t. The reason I put it on my list is because the film is based on a very simple but brilliant concept: putting the band back together. What makes it real for musicians is how difficult this is when everyone has gone “straight” and gotten jobs. I love every performance in the film and it’s still hilarious.
3. Almost Famous
Like The Blues Brothers, Almost Famous transcends this list as being one of my all-time favorite films. Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film is, in my opinion, his absolute best work and one of the best depictions of rock musicians on film. Everything about this film rings absolutely true and despite Stillwater being a fictional band it is obvious that they are an amalgamation of Crowe’s experiences with real 70’s rock and roll bands. The only reason this film doesn’t make my number 1 is simply because there is not enough music. We only hear snippets of songs like “Fever Dog” in the film yet it always leave me wanting to see at least one full performance.
2. Sing Street
A recommendation from Berk himself, Sing Street, is a fantastic film about music. It’s the only film I’ve seen that depicts inspiration and influence and the role they play in music and it does it beautifully. Something else that this film does perfectly is realize how important time period is; any successful film about music must be as much about the decade as the band. The 80’s is such an interesting time in music history and it often gets put down as being mostly novelty, it’s nice to see the music through the character’s eyes and how much it meant to them a the time. This film really has it all, great performances, great songs, great script.
1. The Buddy Holly Story
In my opinion, The Buddy Holly Story, marks the beginning of the modern music biopic and it is phenomenal. The 1978 film still holds up today as a great film even more so than films that followed such as Ray or Walk the Line. If you haven’t seen this film (and many haven’t) you’ll be totally surprised by Gary Busey playing Buddy Holly. From someone who believes that Busey is genuinely insane (even before his head injury) he is absolutely astonishing in this role and really does an excellent job of portraying Buddy’s genius. The main reason I love this film so much is not only does it have all the hits and even some deep cuts from Buddy Holly’s catalogue but it also highlights how important his backing band The Crickets were and shows how Holly made a name for himself in the music industry not only by being a hit machine but by composing, arranging, producing, recording and performing all his own music which was unheard of at the time. Any film about music made after 1978 has, without a doubt, been heavily influenced by The Buddy Holly Story.