Today, I offer a run-down of some of my favorite music-centered movies. My humble list doesn’t include popular films and documentaries like the Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night” or the Martin Scorsese flick about Bob Dylan, “No Direction Home.” However, I think these movies show the interesting blend of music in films, whether through fictional bands or semi-biographical retellings.
“Almost Famous” (2000)
Cameron Crowe’s flick about a teenage journalist who follows a rock band called Stillwater on the road during the ‘70s has resonated in the hearts and minds of many. With the unforgettable scene in which the bus full of musicians, managers and friends burst into Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” the movie has cemented itself into pop culture history (did anyone catch that Super Bowl ad?). Apparently based on Crowe’s own adventures hanging with the Allman Brothers Band, the film has the perfect mix of an amazing soundtrack, lovable characters and skilled acting. Patrick Fugit’s portrayal of William, the teen who is eager to become pals with his rocker friends, and Kate Hudson’s role as Penny Lane, who leads a group of self-professed “band-aids” (not groupies, she claims), are both memorable.
“That Thing You Do” (1996)
I remember at a young age seeing the film that tells the story of the quick rise and fall of a rock band in the ‘60s. The poppy tracks that the fictional group – “The Wonders” – played caught my ear, and I remember loving the vintage nostalgia of the costumes and sets. As the small-town musicians rocket from obscurity to billboard-hit fame, tensions among members inevitably rise and success is short lived. Catch winning performances from Tom Hanks as the savvy manager, Tom Everett Scott as the sunglasses-sporting drummer and Liv Tyler as the spurned girlfriend of the egocentric lead singer.
“Blues Brothers” (1980)
Building on the success of a SNL skit by cast members Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, the comedians took their act to the big screen to make the hilarious “Blues Brothers” film. After Jake (Belushi) springs from a stint in jail, the brothers go on a mission to reassemble their old band, win a competition and save the Catholic home where the siblings were raised. My favorite scene has to be when the band, which dabbles in – you guessed it – blues and rock ‘n’ roll, book a gig at a country-western bar. After initially playing their usual material and being booed, the band switches to a rendition of the “Rawhide” theme and a Tammy Wynette hit called “Stand by Your Man”.
“I’m Not There” (2007)
Surprisingly, this is the only film on my list that profiles a real-life musician. This ambitious semi-biographical film takes a look at various stages of Bob Dylan’s life, along with different facets of his personality and music. A share of actors portrays Dylan during various scenes, settings and interpretations; the list includes Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, and Cate Blanchett among others. The soundtrack is almost a character of its own, with a range of musicians covering some of Dylan’s best tracks. Some of my favorites are Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds) and Calexico’s “One More Cup of Coffee,” Cat Power’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” and Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement) and The Million Dollar Bashers’ “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
“Flight of the Conchords” (2007-2009)
Ok, so I know this isn’t a movie, but I can’t leave out the unforgettable HBO show about a duo hailing from New Zealand. The show follows Bret and Jemaine as they go about their daily lives, trying to book gigs and penning hilarious songs along the way. The comedians/band members blurred the lines between fiction and reality, releasing two albums and going on tour. It’s often hard to listen to their songs with a straight face, and they often parody different musical styles. Some of the best include the rap battle of “Hiphopopatamus vs. Rhymenoceros,” the song praising a girl for her mediocre looks in “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room,” and the tribute to fashion and hipsters, “Fashion is Danger.”