Movie Night !
15 great music flick suggestions!
‘School of Rock’ (2003)
Richard Linklater spins Jack Black’s manic energy into pure gold in this lighthearted comedy, which tells the story of a cash-strapped heavy metal guitarist who poses as an elementary school substitute in order to pay the rent – and in the process forms a kiddie rock band made up of his pre-pubescent charges. What could have been instantly-forgettable fluff becomes, in the hands of its perfectly-matched director and star, a winning crowd-pleaser with real heart, effectively maintaining a tone that makes it one of the rare films that’s equally enjoyable for both adults and children. Black and Linklater are both well-known rock aficionados, and they imbue the film with a genuine enthusiasm for the music that can’t be faked.
Rock and Roll High School’ (1979)
Allan Arkush took the unlikely combination of a preposterously cute PJ Soles, the uber-low-budget world of Roger Corman, and the anarchy of The Ramones, and he somehow spun them all together into one of the most exuberant films about rock fandom ever made. It is a deeply silly film, but there is something almost moving at this point about seeing The Ramones together in their heyday and seeing the sheer joy and release of rock music somehow captured in the energy of this film. Arkush has had a long career, but he has rarely hit the same heights as he did here, and it’s just one of those cases where everything worked exactly right.
‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964)
There’s an argument to be made that “A Hard Day’s Night” is the most influential movie of the past 50 years. Richard Lester’s use of quick cutting around Beatles’ tunes helped pioneer the music video aesthetic, which reshaped popular moviemaking through the ’80s and ’90s and into the new millennium. In addition, the film’s crafting of fictional character iconography centered around the year John, Paul, George and Ringo popularized the conventions of the documentary and fed into celebrity obsessed reality TV for decades to come. Oh, and “A Hard Day’s Night” is also just a ridiculously fun movie, full of great songs, loopy comedy and unforced wackiness.
Without ever raising the decibels above “pleasant,” this 2006 Irish movie beautifully chronicled Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s characters as they learned to make beautiful music together, in every sense of the word. There are no big dance numbers, in fact “Once” is notable for being one of the few films where the music feels like a natural extension to the acting as no one ever spontaneously just bursts into song or happens to find themselves near a piano for no good reason. It’s a lovely, gentle film about the transformative powers of love and music and how intertwined they can be. It clearly translated well on Broadway too.
‘Saturday Night Fever’ (1977)
If a movie could ever be credited with capturing and expanding an entire movement, 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever” would be it. In his breakout role, John Travolta starred as Tony Manero, a Brooklynite stuck in a dead-end job and headed for a dead-end life, until he partners with Karen Lynn Gorney and her polyester dresses to hit the dance floor. Though best remembered for the Bee Gees’ musical contributions, including the title track and “Staying Alive,” it also included such disco evergreens as the Trammps [CQ] “Disco Inferno.” “SNF” brought disco to the mainstream and spawned an entire three-piece, white-suited lifestyle, for better or worse.
‘La Bamba’ (1987)
Before he directed “Ray,” Taylor Hackford produced this moving — it’s probably the biggest tear-jerker on this list — account of the rising fifties rocker Ritchie Valens, whose life was cut tragically short when he died in the same 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. Lou Diamond Phillips made an early-career impact as Valens, while Esai Morales shines as his tortured older brother. And, of course, the Los Lobos-driven music rocks.
‘This is Spinal Tap’ (1984)
It’s hard to believe now that Rob Reiner – the man responsible for recent big-studio dreck like “Rumor Has It” and “The Bucket List” – could’ve helmed this near-flawless rock mockumentary, as perfect an encapsulation of the all-consuming vanity and resultant excesses of rock stardom as I can imagine. Its satirical jabs at the increasingly-gaudy and self-important heavy metal bands of the ’70s and ’80s are effective because they skirt reality so closely and with such precision, and because the pitch-perfect performances by the principal trio (Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer) are realized with such deadpan conviction. One of the greatest comedies ever made? You can bet the sex farm on it.
‘Almost Famous’ (2000)
As a man who spent decades around musicians — interviewing them, studying them, worshipping them — it isn’t surprising that Cameron Crowe gets the sheer magnetism of rock-n-roll stardom as well as any man alive. “Almost famous” is a lengthy love letter to both popular music and the people who obsess about the music, a celebration of both the illusions of fame and the less-than-glamorous realities. The music — both classic rock and a few savvy originals — is terrific and Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee and a dozen other stars will probably never be better. You’ll laugh and if you don’t tear up at least a half-dozen times, you have no soul. HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY DANCER…
‘High Fidelity’ (2000)
Nick Hornby’s original novel and the film adaptation felt, sounded and seared with the truth: you don’t need to play an instrument to be rock ‘n’ roll. John Cusack’s portrayal of Rob — sad-sack savant and enthusiast — benefited from a rich and historically definitive soundtrack, even as the film’s characters pick apart the art of the soundtrack itself. Manhood and romance drove the plot, but it was a crop of top 5 of all times (and Sonic Death Monkey) that keep this motion picture on repeat.
‘Purple Rain’ (1984)
Just like another 1984 film “This Is Spinal Tap,” it’s kind of unbelievable that “Purple Rain” even got made. It’s the perfect Prince vehicle, which is precisely what made this musical drama so sensational and loveably incoherent, with all its fashion, stage sequences and daddy issues. It was Prince’s film debut, which also allows in some of his electric rawness and hyper-controlling genius, which doesn’t leave anyone hard-pressed to hard-press their bodies against the screen for “Let’s Go Crazy.”
‘Sid and Nancy’ (1986)
Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon famously told Alex Cox he should be shot after screening the director’s Sid Vicious-Nancy Spungen biopic for the first time, and yet the biographical authenticity demanded by the singer frankly would’ve made for a pretty dull movie. Questions of historical accuracy aside, “Sid & Nancy” is at its core a mythically-tragic romance between two damaged souls who hastened rather than outright triggered one another’s inevitable destruction. Leads Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb (who in an ironic twist won the role of Nancy over a young Courtney Love, though the future grunge-rock queen does appear as a minor character) throw themselves into their respective parts with admirable abandon, in a viscerally-effective performance tango that gets all the surface details right while also hinting at the mutual inner torment that drove the couple to their nihilistic end.
‘The Doors’ (1991)
Oliver Stone’s bloated, excessive biopic of Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) and the Doors divided critics and audiences upon its release, and continues to do so twenty years later. In exploring Morrison’s brief but influential career as a pre-punk singer-poet, Stone and his cast often go so far over the top that, if the film were about any other band, the results would be unwatchable. Instead, it’s a fascinating mess about one of rock’s most fascinating eras.
‘Velvet Goldmine’ (1998)
The fictional story of “Velvet Goldmine” had very real characters on which it was based: Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ glam-rocker Brian Slade revolved around the “Ziggy Stardust” era of David Bowie, while Ewan McGregor’s appropriately named Curt Wild represented a mash of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. What unfolds is not what, in real life, totally transpired, but is a gorgeously horny exploration of death, commercial death, artistic sex and passion, trotting with the pulse of Christian Bale’s mysterious fan and journalist Arthur Stuart. It’s homage and ultimate fan-fic of the period.
‘Pink Floyd – The Wall’ (1982)
Roger Waters wrote the screenplay for Alan Parker’s 1982 film, which helps explain why it so flawlessly captures the hallucinatory, politically bracing underpinnings of Pink Floyd’s landmark “The Wall.” The melding is so perfect that after one viewing of the film, it becomes nearly impossible to listen to the album without playing the cinematic imagery along in your head. You probably can’t give illustrator Gerald Scarfe enough credit as well for his contributions to a film that’s one memorable moment after another. This is the meat-grinding, hammer-marching, nipple-slicing embodiment of a certain type of rock-n-roll ethos, imitated by many but successfully replicated by few.
‘Phantom of the Paradise’ (1974)
Brian De Palma might not be the first name you’d think of when you think of rock’n’roll, but this glam rock era interpretation of ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’ manages to perfectly capture an age in which everything seemed to be changing. Whether it’s The Juicy Fruits or Gerritt Graham’s outrageous character Beef or even Winslow Leach himself, ‘Paradise’ is a celebration of several different iterations of pop music, all jammed together. A big part of that is because Paul Williams, who appears as the uber-creepy Swan, wrote some of his very best music for the film. This one is a true cult classic, and the film’s fans tend to be passionate and vocal, and with Paul Williams experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now, it’s a great time to catch up if you aren’t already a fan.