The 10 Best Music Films

film and music


Editor’s Note: This was originally published in 2013. With the release of Straight Outta Compton this week, we thought we would revisit our favorite music films (non-doc, non-musical) of all time.

Inside Llewyn Davis, the soundtrack of which I reviewed yesterday, is a film about a struggling musician in Greenwich Village during the 1960’s.  It is a very musical film, but not a musical.  We decided it would be fun to create a top ten list of films of that same ilk.  Not musicals.  Not documentaries about musicians.  Not concert films.  But instead, films with an overall musical thread guiding the feature.  Biopics were considered, because we all know there is plenty of fictionalized drama inserted into the majority of those type of films.  This is a shockingly strong list covering music in many different forms.  We have an all-time great mockumentary, a film about independent radio, and a couple movies about those who work in record stores.  All in all, a very fun and diverse group of films.  Enjoy, and as always let us know what we missed.

10. School of Rock

School of Rock

If you don’t love School of Rock, your heart has turned to stone.  There are not many films that appeal equally to kids and adults, but School of Rock toes that line effortlessly in the ultimate crowd-pleaser.  Kudos to Richard Linklater for stepping outside his indie comfort zone, as well as to Jack Black for providing the perfect central character for this romp.

9.  Hustle & Flow

hustle and flow

Todd loves hating on Hustle & Flow, even though he has admittedly only seen about half of it.  This is a film meant to be savored from the opening title sequence until the closing credits.  Sure, it has its fair share of warts, but Terrence Howard’s performance combined with the strong work of Three 6 Mafia on the music make Hustle & Flow an under-seen treasure.

8.  Black Snake Moan

black snake moan

Black Snake Moan is the second of two Craig Brewer films on this list (the other being Hustle & Flow), and may be one the most tenuous music-centric movie on this list.  The burning blues soundtrack and Sammy Jackson’s character being a blues musician were just enough to qualify BSM for this list.  Watch it, and you might just be horrified, alarmed, and turned on all at the same time.

7.  Pirate Radio

pirate radio

Richard Curtis, the king of ensemble casts, returned with this period piece on Great Britain attempting to stifle the radio industry in the 1960’s, forcing pirate radio stations to operate on ships off the coast.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, and Rhys Darby deliver some of their best comedic work to date and Curtis nails the period language, dress, and attitude.

6.  Walk the Line

walk the line

Let’s get serious for a moment.  Walk the Line is the best rock biopic ever made.  Ray was great.  The Doors was weird.  Selena was Selena.  And Walk the Line was a glorious journey through some of rock music’s biggest melodrama.  Joaquin Phoenix was of course great and won the Oscar as the legendary Johnny Cash.

5.  O Brother, Where Art Thou?

o brother

Inside Llewyn Davis was the inspiration for this list, so it’s fitting the Coen Brothers would have another musical offering in their past.  The soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the 11th highest selling soundtrack of all-time, and features a wonderful collection of bluegrass, folk and country music helmed by T-Bone Burnett.

4.  Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

scott pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is one of the most creative films shot in the past several years.  Beck, Nigel Godrich, and Broken Social Scene all contributed music for this battle of the bands fantasy fest.  All the actors involved bought into the ridiculous personas called for by director Edgar Wright, making Scott Pilgrim a visual and aural pleasure.

3.  This is Spinal Tap

spinal tap

Often, films are over-advertised with hyperbolic statements.  This is Spinal Tap is not one of those movies and probably is “The funniest rock movie ever made”.  From a time when Rob Reiner was still a creative force, and not just an obese blowhard, Spinal Tap is a great introduction to the work of Christopher Guest.

2.  Almost Famous

almost famous

Almost Famous is the pinnacle of Cameron Crowe being cool.  Subsequent film Elizabethtown shattered that notion, but Crowe’s semi-autobiographical piece on the fictional band Sweetwater, and the teenage writer who covered them, stays away from the forced pulling of heartstrings Crowe has become accustomed to.  The acting is great, the music is even better, and Kate Hudson will always at least have one career highlight.

1.  High Fidelity

high fidelity

One of my favorite directors, Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things, Philomena), ventured stateside to direct one of the most fun, introspective movies of the 2000’s.  Based around a record store owner recounting his five most dramatic break-ups, High Fidelity brings a lot to the table.  There is introspective relationship commentary, hilarious situational humor, and of course the constant discussion of music.

Just Missed

Todd – Blues Brothers

blues brothers

I might get crucified for this, but I regret to inform everyone I have never seen Blues Brothers.  This is unfortunate because I usually take the “just missed” section as an opportunity to rip on Todd for some reason or another.  Sadly, not this time.

Wes – That Thing You Do

that thing you do

I have seen this movie way too many times.  I used to love it, but through no fault of its own, That Thing You Do has worn a bit thin.  Wes, when describing its greatness, stated that it had an “all-star cast” and then went on to list Tom Everett Scott first in his list of ringers.  Confusing at best.

Austin – Empire Records

empire records

Weirdly, Ethan Embry is in two of our “just missed” this week (see Wes’ selection).  Is he a fan of being in almost-great music films?  Why yes, yes he is.  If only Can’t Hardly Wait was centered around music instead of high school angst, Todd would have surely made it his miss, if just to fetishize a high-school-aged Jennifer Love Hewitt.


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