The 411 Movies Top 5 10.04.13: Top Musical Fiction Movies
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 10.04.2013
From This is Spinal Tap, Purple Rain and Pure Country to That Thing You Do, Almost Famous and more, the 411 staff count down their top five fictional music movie of all time!
Welcome to Week 394 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.
The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: Metallica's new movie is hitting theaters and is basically a concert movie with a fictional story tacked on. However, the music itself plays a major role in the movie. This week, let's count down our top 5 fictional movies where the major theme (or one of the major themes) is the music itself.
Honorable Mentions: This is Spinal Tap (1984), 8 Mile (2002)
5. Pure Country (1992)
Country music legend George Strait's acting debut is sort of a cross between Neil Diamond's The Jazz Singer and any movie where the whole point of it is to "get back to basics." At the heart of Pure Country is Strait's Dusty Chandler's need for simplicity. Dusty is a mega selling country artist that can't stand the hustle and bustle of the big concert business. He just wants to get back to singing. So Dusty abandons his concert tour and goes to live anonymously on a horse ranch in the middle of nowhere. Leaving people that depend on him with no real explanation is a bit of a prick move, but then he obviously needed it. By the end of the movie, Dusty finds true love (he met a woman on the ranch) and he finally gets the chance to do a concert the way he wants to: him on the stage with his guitar and a microphone. Strait's acting is a little stiff at times, but he has a natural screen charisma that he should have exploited when he had the chance. At least we have this movie.
4. That Thing You Do! (1996)
Written, directed by, and featuring Tom Hanks, That Thing You Do! is a movie about a little band from Pennsylvania that ends up creating a hit rock and roll song in the 1960's. They do the state fair concert circuit, appear in a movie, and then end up on a hit TV show to perform the song live. As you would expect with a rock and roll story, there's band infighting, management issues, band members leave, and a break up that destroys everything. While the story isn't anything we haven't seen a million times before, Hanks puts together a great cast (Steve Zahn is the stand out as far as I'm concerned), the movie is funny, and the song at the heart of the movie is catchy as hell. Even if you don't like the song you'll find yourself humming it several hours after you hear it. You'll know why everyone fell in love with the song in the movie. Ha. The Oneders rule!
3. The Jazz Singer (1980)
his sort of remake features Neil Diamond as Jess Robin, a Jewish cantor that wants to be a professional singer (I could say "rock star" but that may be pushing things). However, because of his strict religious family (including his wife) Robin really can't pursue his dream without causing major problems (Cantors just don't do that kind of thing). The need to pursue that dream is bigger than anything else in his life, so Jess decides to make a go of things. He goes out to California, gets the attention of a manager (Lucie Arnaz), and ends up becoming a minor music superstar. But then the shit hits the fan, Robin's family falls apart, minor fame destroys his spirit, and Jess ends up disappearing. He eventually comes back and makes things right, finds out that he has a son ("sixth generation, Pop"), and sort of goes on to become an even bigger star. This movie doesn't have a great reputation, mostly because Diamond's acting isn't as polished as everyone else in the movie, but he does a decent job for himself (he never looks like an idiot), and he uses some of his best songs on the soundtrack.
2. Purple Rain (1984)
is a movie about an aspiring musician, played by Prince, who seems to be on the cusp of certain greatness, but ends up screwing everything up because he's, well, a human being with a troubled life (Prince's father, played by Clarence Williams III, was a failed musician who also beat the crap out of his wife and was generally a terrible person). Prince also has a serious problem understanding that although he's an artist and artists express themselves, he can't make the music all about him and his deep emotional problems. He has a band backing him up (think about the part of the movie where Prince refuses to listen to the music that two members of his band put together by themselves. He does end up listening to it, but he doesn't let on to anyone else that he does it until the end). He also has an audience that wants to listen to him. So Prince has to figure out how not to be an asshole, not to be just like his father, and how to play to his audience. It's a balancing act, really. That, obviously, isn't as cool a name as Purple Rain.
1. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
I would imagine that most people consider Saturday Night Fever a dance movie, or a movie about dancing, and they wouldn't be wrong. SNF is a movie about John Travolta's character, Tony Manero, trying to be the best dancer on the disco floor. But the music that permeates the movie, mostly performed by the Bee Gees, is so incredibly important to the overall feel of the movie that it couldn't work without it. No disco movie, no Bee Gees, no movie. Think about the opening scene where Manero walks around with "Staying Alive" playing on the soundtrack. How can that sequence work with any other song? It can't. The Bee Gees isSaturday Night Fever.
Shawn S. Lealos
5. Pink Floyd's The Wall
I don't know how many times I watched this when I was in my 20s. It was on at a lot of parties I went to and threw (and there were a lot of them back in the day). Basically, this is a giant feature length video of the entire Wall album. The movie tells the story of Pink, from his rough and neglected childhood to his days as one of the greatest rock musicians in the world. All the while, everything that happened to him through his life causes him to build up a metaphorical wall around his emotions, pushing everyone and everything out, causing him to be an introverted recluse with no way out but death. Almost all of the metaphors are shown through animation and this remains a head trip to watch to this day.
4. 8 Mile
Eminem proved to be more than just a great rapper in 8 Mile, where he played a version of himself. Eminem is B-Rabbit, a rapper on the streets of Detroit who wants to find his way to his dreams. The movie was actually really good, which took me completely by surprise when it came out. Kim Basinger is great as his trailer park mom and both Mekhi Phifer and Brittany Murphy were solid in supporting roles. Plus, the soundtrack was pretty dang good and the rap battles in the movie were solid as well.
3. Almost Famous
When you think of a movie by Cameron Crowe, you know that music will play a major role. Almost Famous was based on Crowe's time as a youngster when he wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine. In the movie, Patrick Fugit was a kid who lied about his age so he could follow his favorite band on the road and tell their story. Billy Crudup was fantastic as the heart and soul of the band and Jason Lee was awesome as always as the lead singer. Add in Kate Hudson in one of her best roles and a great Philip Seymour Hoffman as the editor, Lester Bangs. This was a great movie about music and being on the road.
All the thanks in the world to Criterion Collection for introducing this movie to me. I bought a box set of 70s renegade movies, with titles like Easy Rider in it, and one of the films was Head with the Monkees. This movie just blew me away. Basically, The Monkees were a band that was formed and created just to exist for a TV show and were an American low-rent version of the Beatles. Somehow, they developed a huge fanbase on their own and continued to put out music that was actually pretty great for their era. Head is basically an art-house movie about The Monkees wanting to break out of the box that television trapped them in. The entire movie is filled with subtext and was basically a middle finger at the industry that made them stars, while never allowing them to be taken seriously. This movie was just about brilliant.
1. This is Spinal Tap
I don't know what other movie can be here. This is a mockumentary directed by Rob Reiner about a fictional rock band. There is so much about this movie that is brilliant, showing how stupid the entire idea of an epic rock band can be. What is even better is that the band became an institution unto themselves and you can still hear their songs played on metal radio stations today. This movie is easily the best mockumentary ever made and the best movie about music.