Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Movies About Music

I love music. I love movies. There's nothing I love more when two of my favorite things come together. So here is a list of my favorite movies about music. I'm excluding concert films (such as U2: Rattle and Hum) and musicals (such as Annie, the Sound of Music, etc.). These are all great films, about how music effects people and their lives, how music connects, communicates and inspires. If there's a movie on this list you haven't seen yet, then I strongly recommend adding it to your Netflix queue.

1. Amadeus
The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told in flashback mode by one of his contemporaries, Antonio Salieri. This movie has it all: it shows the blessings and curses of being a musical genius, it has envy, love, laughter, amazing costumes and sets, and of course...Mozart's music, used to brilliant effect as the soundtrack for the film. It won a ton of Oscar awards and deserved every single one. (If I remember right, it held the record for number of Oscars won, until Titanic came along.) I've watched this movie too many times to count and have yet to tire of it.

2. Once
An Irish street musician meets an immigrant girl who can play piano. The film follows them over a week as they collaborate on writing songs and lyrics which illustrate their lives and their budding friendship. Beautiful, simple and honest, this film does an amazing job at showing the process of creating music - where it comes from, how musicians use it to communicate, etc. The song "Falling Slowly" won an Oscar.

3. The Red Violin
This foreign language film follows a perfect and mysterious red violin as it makes its way down through the centuries, across several countries and in the hands of several owners. The violin ends up at an auction house in our modern day, and as an expert examines and researches the violin, its mysteries are revealed. A sad but incredibly beautiful film. (Be ready to watch subtitles.) Famous violinist, Joshua Bell, is on the soundtrack.

4. Almost Famous
This film is loosely based on director Cameron Crowe's experiences as a teen when he was on assignment with Rolling Stone magazine to write about an up and coming band. In addition to having a lot to say about music, the music industry and the touring scene, it is also a sweet coming of age story.

5. La Bamba
Based on the true-life story of Ritchie Valens, this movie wins out over the Buddy Holly Story for me, because I think this particular film is more interesting and shows this rock and roll tragedy in a more moving and personal way.

6. The Commitments
This movie starts with a kid in the poorest part of North Dublin Ireland, who is in love with American soul music. As he puts together his own soul band, we meet the full cast of unique and quirky characters. However, like almost every story about a band, as they rise to success, troubles crop up along the way. The movie is loud, funny, touching and above has a lot of soul.

7. The Piano
Set in 1850's New Zeland, a mute woman arrives for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, with nothing but her young daughter and her piano. Her new husband not only doesn't appreciate music, but fails to realize how the piano is her voice. Frankly, I could do without the sex and nudity in this movie. It ruins an otherwise captivating story. I fast-forward past those parts. Anna Paquin (who plays the young daughter) won an Oscar for her performance.

8. Backbeat
This movie tells the story of the early life of the Beatles when they played in dive bars in Hamburg, Germany. It focuses more on Stuart Sutcliffe (the 5th Beatle), his friendship with John Lennon (they were fellow students in art school) and the influence Astrid had on their style (she gave them the mop top haircuts).

9. The Pianist
Imagine the movie Schindler's List, only starring a pianist. This movie is based on the real life story of Polish Jewish pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, as he struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto of World War II. The way his music communicates to his enemies, and keeps his soul alive, will bring you to tears. Lead actor Adrien Brody and director Roman Polanski (one of my favorite directors) won Oscars for this film.

10. This is Spinal Tap
A mockumentary about an imaginary British heavy metal band, Spinal Tap, this movie is hands-down laugh out loud funny. The behind-the-scenes footage while the band is on tour, the interviews, and disastrous tour shows all lead to much hilariousness. It deftly makes fun of everything that is wrong about the music industry. Watch this movie with the volume turned up to eleven! (And then watch the movie with the commentary, which adds another layer of funny.)

Honorable Mentions: A Hard Days Night, Pink Floyd: The Wall and Disney's Fantasia
Essentially feature-film length music videos, A Hard Days Night and Pink Floyd's The Wall paved the way for MTV and music videos. While Fantasia helped a whole new generation rediscover the magic and beauty of classical music.

Biggest Disappointment: Immortal Beloved
It was a movie about Beethoven. I guess I was expecting something on par with the quality and brilliance of the movie Amadeus. Not only did this movie disappoint, but I felt like it did a tragic disservice to Beethoven and his genius. The movie concerns itself almost entirely with his sex life and trying to uncover who his true love was. It's worth a watch, though, for Gary Oldman's amazing performance as Beethoven.

It seems like my posts with lists tend to generate the most active discussion in the Comments section and I expect no less of this one. So, get to it! Leave me a comment and let me know which movies I overlooked.


furious said...

Don't know whether you're a fan of Joy Division and New Order, but I must add two excellent films to your list:

24 Hour Party People (2002)


Control (2007)

Btw, excellent blog, and fascinating taste in movies and literature... Sorry you won't understand a word on my blog. :(

Greetings from Serbia

D.L. White said...

I haven't seen either of those movies! I'm putting them in my Netflix rental queue as we speak! Thanks for stopping by! Your blog looks really interesting...even though you're right - I can't read it! :)

astraughnomer said...

fun list, a lot of which i haven't seen and will add to our queue! i absolutely loved The Pianist. and Amadeus is great too. :) i liked all your honorable mentions too....

I have to add The Doors, because i love Jim Morrison...even though i've only seen it once, in high school, and remember (maybe?) it being a little rough. oh *was* Jim Morrison.

and i loved Ray. jamie foxx did such a great job in his role.

D.L. White said...

Even thought "The Doors" maybe wasn't the best movie, I think you're right, it definitely did capture Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer's performance was dead on - he seemed to be channeling Jim or something).

We haven't seen "Ray" yet. So many little time!

The Trousered Ape said...

Excellent list.

raven said...

What a fun list! I haven't seen all the movies listed, but some of them I have, like Amadeus, The Commitments, The Red Violin, and La Babma and The Piano. I'll have to be updating my Netflix Que now for the films I haven't seen yet. I agree with you becuase I usually like movies that are about music as well. There is some movie wtih Merral Streep where she plays and Orchestra treacher that I have to see also. I forget the title of it right now. Have you heard of it?

D.L. White said...

Yes - I've seen that movie with Meryl Streep. It's called "Music of the Heart" and she's a music teacher in an inner city school. She fights the system to keep the administration from cutting the music program budget. Good movie, if I remember right. It's been a long time since I've seen it.

Laura said...

I loved the Red Violin. It was incredible and I remember being so emotional about the ending. It was a wonderful experience.

So hopefully I don't sound like too much of a dork, but I have a special place in my heart for The Sound of Music. It was the first musical movie I saw (I was about 8 and I saw it with my cousins at a theatre in Phoenix!) Such sweet memories of singing "I am 17 going on 18" and skipping through the parking lot at Christown mall.

D.L. White said...

Laura, you're one of the first people I've ever met who has seen the Red Violin! I was extremely emotional at the end too!

I don't think you're a dork for liking the "Sound of Music." For the most part, I don't particularly care for musicals, but that is one that I actually kinda like a little.

Aren't those fun cinematic memories great? I can almost map out my entire childhood, based on cinematic memories. They are some of my favorite memories. :)

Laura said...

The Red Violin is a hard movie to talk about with people who haven't seen the movie because the "red" color sounds so morbid if you don't have the whole story to understand the fullness of the tragedy and the overwhelming love in that violin.

Wow, I really need to see it again.