There’s something amazingly cinematic about a musician’s life. They are usually torn between vastness of their creative mind and hardships of the real world, yet they are strangely competent at making themselves likeable.
Musicians are pretty much perceived as coolest human beings possible, and we like the myths and stories that make them larger than life. Some are more glamorous than others, but all of them have something in common – an exceptional protagonist, charismatic character with a disturbing lack of lucidity.
There are lots of movies about musicians that are emotionally satisfying and a whole lot of fun. Here are fifteen great ones about the musical life and its rises and falls. This list is made of films where the musicianship of the main character(s) is entirely relevant to the story. Also, this being a list of stories about strictly fictional musicians, films based on a true story and people are excluded.
15. Sound of Noise (Ola Simonsson, Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, 2010)
Here is a film so bizarre, with a plot so silly that it is just so laughingly absurd. It’s a pure joy, musically and cinematically. Just the concept of having six drummers as guerrilla-like wrongdoers, using common objects as instruments is so vivid it doesn’t even matter how good or bad the movie is.
Luckily this movie can boast itself with both having a fresh idea, interesting characters and gorgeous cinematography. The main story with its musical numbers is frantically awesome, but also the plot line involving the policeman in charge of catching the deviants is excellent. It’s hard to figure out who to root for, as both him and the musicians are relatable in their own right. It’s one of the most unusual recent Swedish films, and It’s as entertaining as it is weird.
14. Kasi az gorbehaye irani khabar nadareh (Bahman Ghobadi, 2009)
If you by any chance saw ”Heavy Metal In Baghdad”, you’ll know that it is near impossible to be a rock musician in a country that is controlled by Islamic law. Bahman Ghobadi’s bleak faux-documentary, released in English speaking countries as ”No One Knows About Persian Cats” absolutely confirms that fact.
The story involves a group of Iranians who want to form a band and perform in front of fellow young Iranians. Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad, playing themselves, are two nonconformist individuals who start a band with ambition to play a big open air festival in England.
Extraordinary elegant simplicity with which the director handles a serious, complex issue is what really makes this film special. This is truly good cinema in service of tackling a major cultural problem and is certainly worth every minute of your time.
13. The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980)
Here’s a cult-classic, showing an absurd story about Jake and Elwood, a dynamic duo that wants to save the catholic home in which they were raised by getting their old band back together and playing a couple of shows. Sense of hilarity is overwhelming in their every action as their ”mission from God” involves constant breaking of the divine and earthly laws.
One of the coolest movies of the eighties is overflowing with scenes containing memorable quotes and over the top slapstick comedy. The story abandons all sense of logic and delivers a comical adventure in which the brothers stick it to the police and other authority figures and evade the consequences. It is hard not to like this movie from the days before political correctness and self-conscious movie making. It is innocent and pure reckless comedy.
12. Bikur Ha-Tizmoret (Eran Kolirin, 2007)
In this unexpected comedy, lively Egyptian Police orchestra gets lost in Israel on its way to play at the opening of an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikvah. They come by a little desert town, where an Israeli cafe owner keeps the eight musicians overnight among her bored regulars until tomorrow’s bus comes.
Not much of a plot really, but the brightness and structure of the film makes it exceptional. As stereotypes and the animosity of decades come to surface, Egyptians and Israelis alike endure difficulties of communication, independence, authority and seclusion.
The film is so well crafted that one’s enjoyment in watching it seem effortless. It’s sure that an enormous amount of thought, care, and love went into “The Band’s Visit”. Its warm and precise message is told with enough humor to keep it fresh.
11. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
John Cameron Mitchell’s film adaptation of the gender-bending rock play actually makes drag interesting, with Mitchell himself as Hedwig Robinson, an East German rock star with a vision to conquer America and find her other half. Basically, “Angry Inch” is a collection of phenomenal rock songs fastened together with genuine passion that feels more natural than in most movies. All things considered, it’s an honest insight in one’s candid universe. And boy is it a colorful one!
The costumes are flamboyant; the hair and make-up is tacky and over the top. It’s not a trashy in its essence though, or a cult film, or a gay film. It’s a memorable musical and a fun film overall. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is extraordinary in being a terrific dark comedy about love as well as being an entertaining musical journey.
10. Piano (Jane Campion, 1996)
This Oscar-winning film follows Ada, an immigrant to the New Zealand and an arranged marriage, who has not spoken for years and lives her life through the sound of her piano. Her husband is a man with a lack of compassion. He tries to break the attachment between his new wife and her piano. In contrast to him is the disorderly Baines who reaches into Ada’s soul and helps her to get in touch with her emotions again and eventually, her voice too.
The film is visually stunning, with its softed colors and vast exterior, and uses the stellar soundtrack by Michael Nyman to tie the story together. Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunter give excellent performance, while Anna Paquin is superb as Ada’s bright daughter. Campion managed to make the story emotionally charged and sensual, and it well deserved the praise it got after release.
9. Kolya (Jan Sverák, 1996)
Louka is a a former philharmonic cellist who has lost his orchestra job because the Soviet era Czech communist political establishment deem him unreliable. As a consequence Louka has degraded his musical endeavor to playing at weddings and funerals. He has no car and is deeply in debt.
In order to make some money to buy a car and reduce his debt Louka lets a coworker from the cemetery convince him to marry a Russian woman so that she can emigrate to the West. Louka hesitantly agrees and marries the woman but the Russian suddenly departs. This ultimately results in Louka becoming solely responsible for the woman’s five year old son who only speaks Russian.
It is a beautifully touching story with some outstanding performances and a wonderful musical score that contains works by the Czech composers Dvořák, Suk, Fibich, and Smetana that add a special magic to the overall experience.