NOTE: This list does not include musicals. Rather, it focuses on movies which are about a particular musician or which features themes or discussions surrounding various types of music and their impacts on the protagonists.
1. "The Blues Brothers"
Aside from being a hilarious action/comedy from two of the greatest Saturday Night Live comedians, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, The Blues Brothers bring to the big screen various R&B personalities, such as James Brown and Aretha Franklin (among many others) and influential songs which define the genre. The black suits, black hats, and sunglasses worn by the protagonists in this film further outline the trademarks of a true blues musician. I would recommend this film to all SNL or blues fans, or anyone who enjoys a fun film which features great music, solid laughs, and iconic car-chase sequences which are at their most iconic at the final sequence of this film.
2. "Walk the Line"
This film made me fall in love with country music, and for that it deserves all the praise I can offer. Walk the Line is a beautifully made film about the life and career of country music legend Johnny Cash. The film chronicles his rise to fame, his relationship with his family, his eventual marriage to June Carter Cash, and his battle with drug addiction. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are perfectly cast in this film, and the latter deservedly received an Oscar for her performance. One does not have to be a fan of country music to enjoy this film, as it is a fascinating biopic of one of the greatest musicians of all time, and definitely should be considered as one of the greatest biopics of a contemporary musician.
Two words: Jamie Foxx. I don’t recall a performance that encapsulated the personality traits of a real-life character more fully, shedding all traces of the actor who portrayed him. Ray is an excellent depiction of the successes and hardship in the life and career of Ray Charles, and expertly brings to life the innovation and creativity of the late blues musician, and how iconic his music remains in pop culture to the present day. Ray should make the audience aware of the genius that was Ray Charles, and if an audience member came out of the theater without having a newfound appreciation of the late musician’s wonderful music, he or she will probably have not been paying attention.
My all-time favourite movie. I love everything about this movie: two excellent lead actors, the beautiful, historically accurate and lush costumes and sets, the brilliant juxtaposition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music to the character conflicts and emotions as they occur throughout the film. The dialogue used in this film features some of the most eloquent phraseology in the history of filmic screenwriting. The dialogue brilliantly conveys the innermost emotions of the main protagonist and narrator, played by F. Murray Abraham (who won an Oscar for this film), and also beautifully describes the emotions evoked by the music of Mozart which establishes the composer as one of the greatest of all time. Amadeus is a film about art, music, creativity and talent, jealousy and mediocrity, the unlikely vessels from whom such wonderful creations may arise, and above all, it is about history’s greatest composer, Mozart. This film deserved all of the eight Oscars that it won in 1984, and it has certainly earned its place among the greatest films of all time.
A heart-pumping, suspenseful film that will leave you on the edge of your seat. J.K. Simmons’ Oscar-winning performance will overwhelm you with his intensity as an unforgiving college music instructor who pushes drumming prodigy Miles Teller to his farthest limits – both creatively and mentally – in order to become the best jazz drummer that has ever lived. The drum beats that echo throughout the film will heighten the tension that gradually increases from beginning to end. Audiences members will feel their blood boiling as they watch as Miles Teller fights to become the best while also facing the relentless pressure of J.K. Simmons grueling teaching methods that are summed up in one line mentioned later in the film: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘Good Job.’” It is only at the end of the film that the audience will be given a jazz song that is played through in its entirety, without the tension that prevented the audience from fully enjoying the music that the characters struggled to perfect under the conduction of Simmons. Whiplash is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in a long time, and regardless of whether or not an audience member has an affinity for jazz music, audiences will be blown away by the raw intensity that is Damien Chazelle’s masterpiece.