Top Ten Music-Related Movies


Originally I thought that I would put up that Rachael Yamagata single in lieu of a list. Then something was nagging in the back of my mind: “What’s next, no Christmas? Are we going to stop putting Fritos on our ham sandwiches?” The answer: Of course not. It’s Friday, and that means we’re putting up a list, dammit!

The criteria for this one is pretty easy: a profile of a musical artist (singer/instrumentalist/producer/what have you), a concert film, or anything that resembles either of those. I’d almost consider something like the Beastie Boys video anthology, but that’s a bit much. Maybe you’ve seen all of these (my guess is you have if you’re a big music buff), but if you haven’t and it’s rainy in your area you can knock a couple of these out this weekend.

10. Sid & Nancy (Alex Cox, 1986)

Being a rock star never looked so unglamorous. Gary Oldman is beyond good in this as Sid Vicious. There is also a great Simpson’s parody that substitutes Nelson and Lisa as the main characters, and chocolate for drugs.

9. Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1983)

Man, that Salieri sure was a dick. This movie won a ton of awards, and rightfully so. It shows Mozart as a brat and Salieri as a jealous, defeated jerk. If you dig on classical music, or are interested in it at all, this flick is right up your alley.

8. Once (John Carney, 2006)

The indie darling that won Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova a Oscar for Best Song. As low-budget and heartfelt as they come, this tale of an Irish busker and Slovakian immigrant is absolutely a must-see.

7. Bird (Eastwood, 1988)

If you think Ray is a good movie you ain’t seen nothin’. Also, you’re kind of an idiot. Forrest Whitaker’s performance in this film about Charlie Parker is head and shoulders above Jamie Foxx, who basically just did a Ray Charles impression for two hours.

6. Don’t Look Back (DA Pennebaker, 1967)

Following Bob Dylan during his 1965 tour of England, Pennebaker captures some amazing footage of the master at work. Also, he gets Dylan saying, “Who the hell is Donovan?” which pretty much guarantees a spot on any list.

5. 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)

I guess this one is a docudrama. It’s a dramatized retelling of the story of Tony Wilson and his label Factory Records. Brilliantly acted by Steve Coogan and everyone else, Winterbottom really captures the “Madchester” era.

4. This Is Spinal Tap (Reiner, 1984)

Technically, this is a mockumentary. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t capture the essence of the types of characters portrayed. As Spinal Tap Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest completely nailed the excess, absurdity, and vanity that rock stars are guilty of. The music isn’t terrible, either. (Not quite as good, but still worth a look is Eric Idle’s The Rutles, which is basically a Beatles spoof produced by George Harrison)

3. Monterey Pop (DA Pennebaker, 1968)

There are two lines of thought when it comes to the huge festival films of the 60’s, Monterey Pop and Woodstock. While Woodstock captured more of the culture and the feeling of the time, Monterey Pop captured the music. That isn’t to say there aren’t great performances in Woodstock, there’s a ton. But for me, Monterey Pop is one of the all-time greats (largely due to Janis Joplin’s “Ball and Chain” performance). When they finally put this out on DVD, they also released a disc of two shorts films put together by Pennebaker, Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis At Monterey. These two shorts are well worth the full price of the expensive set.

2.  I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (Sam Jones, 2002)

What would you do if you turned in your album to the studio, and they didn’t want it? Not only do they not want they album, they don’t want you. Well, here’s the fascinating story of how Wilco’s label hated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and how Wilco got them to pay for it anyway. There’s also some great footage of Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett’s tenuous relationship and sweet concert shots.

1. The Last Waltz (Scorsese, 1978)

Probably the most talented quintet of rock musician ever assembled, Robbie Robertson and The Band made some absolutely fantastic music, most notably their 1968 debut Music From Big Pink. This film documents their final show as a band on Thanksgiving of 1976. The show features The Band playing by themselves, and then has them joined by guests like Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Muddy Watters, and Eric Clapton. The concert footage is intercut with Scorsese interviewing the band (mostly Robertson) and there is some pretty interesting stuff in the interviews. A bluray of this show exists, but I only have the standard DVD version, which is serviceable. If you’re thinking about checking out the movie, definitely grab the bluray if you have the capabilities. 

Explanations for a couple of omissions: Purple Rain and The Wall were included in previous lists, so they were cut. Almost Famous and High Fidelity almost count, but neither of the main characters in those movies fit the criteria. Perhaps next friday the list will be something about music fans or a similar topic.