Music films are the hardest film genre to categorize due to the sheer enormity of what they encompass. The popular opinion seems to pigeonhole a music film into either a musical or a musician biopic, but I find that the best ones are the ones in between. Movies that celebrate the beauty and timelessness of music as an art form and tell stories that don’t use music to propel a narrative but as the narrative itself.
5. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
Inside Llewyn Davis is my all-time favorite movie and undoubtedly one of the best music films of all time. Following a struggling folk musician navigating the tumultuous folk scene of the early 60’s, Inside Llewyn Davis is a chilly hug that feels like a feature length folk song. It is comforting but new, and it captures the creative struggle more accurately than any other movie ever made. A hard exterior with a vulnerable interior, Inside Llewyn Davis is a love letter to folk music and a comforting embrace to any artist who’s ever struggled.
Album of recommendation: Folksinger – Dave Van Ronk
4. Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982) dir. Alan Parker
Not really a musical, or a narrative whatsoever, Pink Floyd: The Wall is a visualization of Pink Floyd’s magnum opus as well as a dark dive into a fractured creative mind. The soundtrack is made up of songs from The Wall with trippy visuals and a loose story following a man, Pink, as his inner demons conflict with his successful rockstar life. A very personal film for Roger Waters, the film feels like an internal portrait in the same vein of 8 ½ accompanied by a thunderous rock opera. The ultimate translation of album to screen and one that encapsulates the madness and magic behind one of the greatest musical acts of all time.
Album of recommendation: The Wall – Pink Floyd
3. Sing Street (2016) dir. John Carney
The 80’s were a weird and exciting time for music, punctuated by the rise of glam rock kicked off by acts like T Rex and Bowie in the decade prior. Glam rock brought not only a new, heavier side of rock, but also a synth heavy, poppy ilk of rock. It was a new form of creative expression for the new age of creatives, and that’s what Sing Street is all about. The beautiful freedom of rock, not only creatively, but personally. The film follows a young teenager, Cosmo, as he starts a band to impress a girl he has a crush on. The movie is filled to the brim with incredible songs, both original and selected, and a vibrant youthful energy. It’s a rallying cry to everyone to embrace the rambunctious, excitable, creative rockstar within all of us.
Album of Recommendation: Rio – Duran Duran
2. Whiplash (2013) dir. Damien Chazelle
Whiplash is as intense as the music film can get. A portrait of a drummer and his abusive mentor, Whiplash demonstrates the blood, sweat, and tears behind music, but also the glory. Anyone who’s ever been in a band can relate (Hopefully not entirely) to the viciousness of the bandstand and the euphoria of finally nailing that one lick. Whiplash is one of the few films that understands the cogs behind the artistry, and it makes it one of the most complex music films of all time.
Album of Recommendation – A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
1. Almost Famous (2000) dir. Cameron Crowe
Almost Famous is the story of a young reporter who tags along with an up-and-coming rock band on tour in the 1970’s. This is the definitive music movie mostly because it loves music more than any other. It was made with such passion for music that anyone who is even a slight music fan can get easily swept up in its romanticism. It celebrates the expression of music, the glory of music, the pain of music, and most of all, the unmatched power of music. It’s a film that possesses the same burning soul that ignited the golden age of rock in the 70’s. A period of time that felt like an eternity is condensed into a nearly 3-hour masterpiece of life and music and there’s truly nothing else like it.
Album Recommendation: Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin