Music and film have always been intricately linked together. From the pounding soundtrack that accompanies an intense action sequence, to the song that begins at a dramatic, pivotal moment towards the end of a film, and subsequently becomes iconic because of it.
Allow us to look back at some of the best moments in which the world of music was brought to the big screen, with stories of some of the best artists ever known, and intimate portrayals of a much-loved craft.
WALK THE LINE
James Mangold, 2005
The incredibly romanticised story of how John R “Johnny” Cash and June Carter began a love affair that would inspire Cash to become one of the greatest country singers of all time. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon won rave reviews and awards glory for their turns as Cash and Carter respectively with Witherspoon winning Best Actress.
Some moments are pretty on the nose – Carter accuses Cash of not being able to “walk no line”, he says loving her “burns, burns, burns” and sitting in Folsom Prison Cell he says he hears the train coming. It’s also adapted from two books by Cash himself so it is absolutely a fairytale written by a man known for a short fuse but Mangold has a love for the music that shines through and it shows the depths that music plunges when you write from your soul.
Damien Chazelle, 2014
Were you rushing or were you dragging? The story of a drummer told as if it was a sports film is easily the best of Chazelle’s three films and features a great turn from Miles Teller and an even better from from J.K. Simmons as the hard-ass instructor Fletcher. The movie shows the intensity of playing an instrument and draws inspiration from Chazelle’s own experience, but, moreover the film makes you find certain jazz songs as thrilling as any action sequence. That’s my tempo.
Dexter Fletcher, 2019
The big out-n-proud musical that charts the success and fall of Reginald Dwight into Elton Hercules John. The film plays around with when the songs came out or were released, but the mad amount of affection the film has for the songs is brilliant and there’s nothing wrong with a film that cannot hide it’s love of subject.
It doesn’t do much to explain how he and Bernie Taupin wrote the classic songs, but it does give the idea that things come from experience, and that ultimately what John was singing and writing about was his ongoing need to be loved. Rocketman is ultimately a love story, about two men who fell head over heels for one another and remained musical partners for life.
THIS IS SPINAL TAP!
Rob Reiner, 1984
The best film about the best band that doesn’t exist. Reiner’s mockumentary that spawned the phrase “up to eleven”, the dum dum rock group that has David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) talking utter nonsence.
There’s never been a sequel though there’s always the chance that fan appeal could lead to a revisit though it’s unlikely. The film gives an insight into how stupid rock stars can be and the behind the scenes look came before the long running trend of “on-the-road” tour films.
John Carney, 2007
How one tiny little Irish movie took gold at the Oscars, the romantic story of music and real people is a triumph of emotion. Falling Slowly is a song for the ages that isn’t just a great narrative tool but a great song unto itself that helps the viewer understand these characters. Moving, heartfelt, and about the power of music, Once is the kind of film that you fall for very quickly. It’s award win also beat three nominations by legend Alan Menken, as well the theme from August Rush, and deservedly so.
A MIGHTY WIND
Christopher Guest, 2003
Clearly a loving tribute to the folk revival movement that was big around the 70s, and to comeback tours in general, Guest manages to bring back his usual troupe of actors from This is Spinal Tap!, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. A Mighty Wind is a hilarious and touching story that is every bit in love with the folk scene as it is at poking fun.
As usual Guest manages to get the most from his improv lead style – he famously writes a screenplay that is the premise and the history of the characters and let’s the actors take over. The film was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song with Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole writing “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow”. It’s funny, oddly moving, and very on brand for the troupe.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
The Coen Brothers, 2013
The Coens have always missed drama into their comedy and comedy into their drama and in the form of washed up (and the film has a washed out colour) musician Llewyn Davis, perhaps they’ve made one of the best films. Oscar Isaac nails his 1961 folk singer as he goes from failure to problem. The novelty song “Please Mr Kennedy” works very well, and the musical performances by Oscar Isaac are moving and brilliant.
Curtis Hanson, 2002
A star vehicle that actually works mainly because it stays fairly close to who Eminem was before he made it big. Eminem works hard to convince in his role, and excels, though the stand outs are Kim Basinger and Brittany Murphy. The rapping has the feel of real improved stuff, and of course the main song “Lose Yourself” went on to win an Academy Award. The film has the smack of realism and stays true enough to the legend of Slim Shady to please both fans and naysayers alike.
A STAR IS BORN
Frank Pierson, 1976 / Bradley Cooper, 2018
Either the third or fourth remake of the film are both classics. In the form of Pierson’s version of A Star is Born, it’s a passionate tale that has Barbra Streisand ascend to mega-stardom and Kris Kristofferson play a believable drunk. “Evergreen” became the title song that has been on people’s playlists for years since and won the academy award. Cooper’s tempted fate version is equally passionate and moving. This version featured the fantastic “Shallow” which has also ascended onto every playlist going and it’s not hard to see why.
Milos Forman, 1984
Yeah, music movies means classical. We had a choice between this and Immortal Beloved, but this one wins because F. Murray Abraham’s turn as Antonio Salieri is one for the ages, the whole film is superb and that quote “that was not Mozart laughing at it, that was God!” Tom Hucle is also very good in the role of Mozart making him a flawed individual with incredible talent.
I’M NOT THERE
Todd Haynes, 2007
There’s no way to tell the story of Bob Dylan in a conventional fashion and to try would be foolish, so Haynes does the only thing they can, he opts to take each different persona and style and make them their own person. The all star cast has the likes of Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledge and Ben Whishaw. It’s a strange movie but only something strange could be able to portray a figure like Bob Dylan and the film works really well especially when focussing on Blanchett’s turn.
TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY
Liam Lynch, 2006
A rock-musical that apparently charts the totally true story of how Tenacious D came to be. It’s not at all true, but it is filled with great music and cameos aplenty. Jack Black and Kyle Gass play fictional versions of themselves on a stoner quest to find a mythical guitar pick made from the Devil’s tooth.
It features great songs like Master Exploder, The Government Totally Sucks and The Metal, while cameos vary from Meat Loaf, Ronnie James Dio, Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, Dave Grohl, Amy Poehler, Amy Adams and John C. Reilly as the a Sasquatch. It’s profane and highly funny and shows that the bonds of friendship are powerful weapons of music.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.