Defining a 'music related' film can be difficult. We have an endless, literally endless list of musicals spanning decades, but I'm not referring to musicals in this list. This list is about film that has a focus on music or is biographically based around the music world. With this comes great decision making on who makes the ultimate five, for that reason.. Several films may be left untouched, or unseen in my case. So this next space is for those films that are still of great musical quality, however unfortunately didn’t make my top five.
The Blues Brothers
The Devil & Daniel Johnston
5. Bugsy Malone - Alan Parker
This film is the only exception to the 'no musicals' rule. It is in fact part musical, part film, which in turn makes it the best music related film of the 70's. People may remember the film for the young Jodie Foster (post Taxi Driver). Her role was vital to the films acclaim, and he played her part perfectly, acting out the track 'My Name Is Tallulah' with genius innocence and surprise sexual motives which seems and looks weird directed at a room full of 11 year olds (Judie Foster was 13 and singing about subliminal prostitution). This track is one of the highlights because of the soulful verses and highbrow chorus which has an amazing trumpet hook.
Some would say the ultimate scenes revolve around the plot, the child-mob story. The plot is there, as is the surrealism and comedy, but the 'hit' scene enters during the boxing scene with the rather large black child. 'So You Wanna Be A Boxer' has one of the best melody's in OST film history. It's just outstanding to hear, and recording music has taken this riff and used it as a sample, such as Dizzee Rascal. The following track 'Ordinary Fool' is beautiful and has rightfully been covered by Elle Fitzgerald and Karen Carpenter. The tracks are all fantastic on the album, and their designated scenes only spruce up the tracks because of the imagery you actually get from listening to these tracks. 'Bad Guy's has the piano riff and 'Down And Out' has the instrumentation and dark theme. It's all just one great film full of musical brilliance, watch it. Director Alan Parker went on to direct some great films and controversial such as the racial Mississippi Burning. He also directed a film, which we'll be looking at later on this list.
4. Walk The Line - James Mangold
Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon star in the Johnny Cash biographical film. They performed their roles as expects, with Joaquin Phoenix delivering a stellar vocal very similar to Johnny Cash's. The soundtrack is what gives this movie its musical credibility, with 16 tracks of Cash's hits and the duets with June Carter. The movie is set out in chronological order from Cash's early career leading up through his famed years on the road and his eventual marriage breakdown, discovery of Bob Dylan and relationship with June Carter. It leads up to the climatic and famous Folsom Prison scene. The following scenes are Joaquin's best, with the final marriage proposal and SUCSESS!!! YEAH!!! The final scenes show Cash and Carter down at their family home raising their children. The plot is filled with happy moments, but shares it's sad moments too. Country music has never reached a worldwide audience, but with film it eventually took a hold of the British youth.
The emotional scenes are exactly that, emotional. You can never get bored of this film because the music carries it on. The biographical vibe is present with 'factual' or near-factual scenes which give the lightest to the most avid fan of Johnny Cash some justice. Joaquin Phoenix plays his role so well and received many awards for his role, also winning a Grammy. It's the only film that describes Cash's early life with passion and clear detail; you have to owe it to the director for making this happen. An Oscar was won for this film, truly deserved.
3. The Commitments - Alan Parker
The film Barry from Eastenders was designed to feature in, it's an honest shame that he wasn’t cast for the lead role because he would play the lead singers role perfectly. Only difference is, this film was released in 1991 and features an amateur cast of Irish descent. This is of course The Commitments, written by Roddy Doyle in 1987, with adaption to film in 1991. The plot revolves around Jimmy Rabbit's vision of a successful career as a band manager, deciding to play Soul music in the style of the great Wilson Pickett. It's a fictional, coming of age film which ends at square one. The band forms in a traditional working class style, with Jimmy recruiting musicians from the job centre, the local pub and his friends from across the street. They agree to play should, but some disputes later in the film force one of the saxophonists to begin playing Jazz to the trumpet players disgust. There's plenty of running gags, many of which are left untouched, but the most spoken is the trumpet player’s connection in the music scene (he also looks like a rough David Seaman).
This is not only a film to watch if you're a soul fan, it's THE film. Endless references to the great soul singers, with several quotes by manager Jimmy, "Soul is the music people understand. Sure it's basic and it's simple. But it's something else 'cause, 'cause, 'cause it's honest, that's it. It’s honest. There's no fuckin' bullshit. It sticks its neck out and says it straight from the heart. Sure there's a lot of different music you can get off on but soul is more than that. It takes you somewhere else. It grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite." Tracks like 'Nowhere To Run' and 'Chain of Fools' get the female singers some air time, with the unprofessional and hated member Deco singing on the majority of tracks. The soul aspects are all setup in bog standard racial fashion, with many referenced to whites singing soul. It's an essential film about a bands formation and (SPOILER) eventual failure. The two disk album has great performances including Glen Hansard of The Swell Season playing a major role in the film.
2. 24 Hour Party People - Michael Winterbottom
The music of Manchester and the surrounding area saw a comical dramatic style of different eras in Tony Wilson's career. It starred Steve Coogan as the witty and highly intelligent record owner, club owner and alternative broadcaster Tony Wilson. He was Manchester's answer to John Peel basically, but with more of a personal drive to make things happen. The film begins in the 70's with Wilson starting up his label with Martin Hannett recording early Joy Division songs. The famous Sex Pistols gig takes place in the film, as does many iconic moments of the 70's - mid 90's. The film is set out in a half and half style, with Tony Curtis playing the 'rise to the top' like figure. The plot is loosely based on fact, as is the speech. It is a unique film which shows the great raw new wave / post-punk era in it the Manchester fashion, with an easily music club with many of Wilsons artists playing regularly.
The first era shows Joy Divisions rise to the top, and Ian Curtis's death and funeral. The birth of New Order corresponded with the second part of the film with 'Madchester' and Happy Mondays being the focus. Sean Ryder is exposed by his actor as being lowbrow and having very laidback attitudes to everything, much like Martin Hannett. The music in this film differs from punk to acid house, with the second half of the film featuring very dance-like tracks performed by Happy Mondays and others in The Haçienda nightclub. The main thing to me that makes this movie great musically is the amount of cameo appearances. Howard Devoto of The Buzzcocks, Mark E. Smith of The Fall, several DJ's and Clint Boon of The Inspiral Carpets all make an appearance. This film has all the essential Madchester artists in their entire glory celebrating one thing, the music.
1. High Fidelity - Stephen Frears
This film of elitism saw John Cusack play the role of Rob Gordon, Chicago record store owner in a troubled relationship. It differs from the book with location and misses out some key scenes, but the film almost follows the book chapter to chapter, with John Cusack reading out many passages in a believable style. The music is outstanding, with consistent mentions to a Music Review Database favourite.. Lists, and name dropping alternative artists in a LAD banter style. High Fidelity was released in book form in 1995 by Nick Hornby. This was the start of the modern youth elitism that still to this day, plagues the scene. Many of the artists featured in this film are commercially unsuccessful but have general musical skill and critical acclaim. It's a common theme and it's one of the main joys of this film. Seeing three musical elitists discuss music avidly on a day-to-day basis as their job, seeing themselves as above the average music listener.
Better yet, people can relate to Rob Gordon in this movie. Many 'special' music fans have the obsessive need to own music and talk about music, but above all find true love. And that's Rob's game plan in this movie. He knows about his elitism, and he knows his taste is special. That's the message I get from this movie. The music side to this film is absolutely outstanding and above anything ever conceived musically on film. The love side corresponds with the music side, with Rob mentioning his entire relationship is based around one song. He also mentions how personalities are built around favourite films, books and albums.. Exactly how I perceive things. This is a music classic, which needs to be watched by all music lovers everywhere. The Captain Beefheart monologues and Frank Zappa bits are unbelievable.
~Music Review Database