The 15 Best Movies About Real Life Musicians

8. Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (François Girard, 1993)

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould was a Canadian pianist who became one of the best-known and most celebrated classical pianists of the 20th century. He was well known for various eccentricities, from his unorthodox musical interpretations and mannerisms at the keyboard to aspects of his lifestyle and personal behavior.

Francois Girard offers thirty-two lively, short glimpses of Gould’s life. Some of these one to six minute segments are recreations, and others are interviews with people who knew him. They attempt to describe many faces of his eccentric and self-centered genius mostly by non-narrative means. The concept works. The individual films do an admirable job of telling a singular, cohesive story. The Audience doesn’t have to deal with the dull plot affairs, the blanks are filled by individual interpretation.

The story takes a back seat to picture and music, and the result is an insight in the persona of Glenn Gould, rather than the biography of his life. Anyone who is interested in the creative spirit in an individual or in experimental film-making will find this a wonderful film.


7. Immortal Beloved (Bernard Rose, 1994)

Immortal Beloved

Oddly enough, Immortal Beloved starts with Beethoven’s death and funeral. In the events that follow, the contents of his final testament are revealed.

We find out that he left all of his music and all the capital of his estate to his sole heir, his immortal beloved. His loved ones are left with an enterprise of solving a mystery similar to the one taking place in Citizen Kane, but with enigma being the identity of a mysterious woman instead of the real meaning of someone’s last words.

This becomes a device by which Beethoven’s life can be seen through flashbacks. Such an unusual task would soon be proven as a difficult one, as he has had many women in his life. The premise itself is interesting whether it is true or not.

Charming and with great finesse, Gary Oldman stars as the grand composer, always adamant, unyielding and in struggle with destiny. It’s a film enriched by the warmth of an era. It captures the atmosphere of early 19th century romanticism, and ultimately tries to tighten the emotional sensation of the music to the occurrences that Beethoven has gone through.


6. Shine (Scott Hicks, 1996)

Shine (1996)

Scott Hicks tells a touching story of musician David Helfgott, a child prodigy who fades into oblivion because of his mental illness and battle with inner demons. It’s sad, but uplifting at the same time. The storytelling is non-linear but it’s easy to follow and the director easily achieves to grab the viewer’s attention.

Hicks has used a minimal approach in his delivery. The sets and art direction are very much simplistic. The cinematography and score is subtle with plenty of exquisite piano playing, culminating in a delirious performance of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto in the movie’s signature and essential scene.

Shine has some first rate performances lead fabulously by an amazing Geoffrey Rush and a magnificent Noah Taylor. It can be a bit lagging at times, but what film with an elaborate character development can that not be said of? Moments like Rush’s collapse at the piano and his dejection in the bath tub leave a long-lasting picture in one’s mind. The whole film delicately illustrates the power of talent over the hardships of love.


5. Ray (Taylor Hackford, 2004)


The year 2004 was definitely the year of the biopic with no less than four pictures tackling real events and people making it to the Oscars in early 2005. The big winner was Ray, with much praise given to Jamie Foxx, who really shined breathing life to the memory of Ray Charles. He rose well above the movie and became the person he was depicting. You never question it or even think of him as Jamie Fox. It truly is uncanny.

In addition, the story itself is exceptional, showing a gripping true tale about a person’s ability to overcome his demons, blindness, racial prejudice, and drug addiction. The film occasionally flashes back to Charles’s childhood, recounting the traumas of his brother’s death and his own blindness, and follows him up until 1965, when he overcame his addiction to heroin, finding peace and an appropriate happy ending to this remarkable story.

The performances of the supporting cast were superb. The mood of the film was on point and the story smartly woven into a dramatic film experience that sticks with the viewer for a long time.


4. La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan, 2007)

La Vie en Rose

These stories usually don’t start glamorously. They’re really good at telling a progressive story, showing the contrast between protagonists’ humble beginnings and his/her rise to fame. This one outdoes itself, celebrating the life and work of Edith Piaf.

It starts at the low bottom in a slummy brothel in France in 1918, where she’s been brought up by kind hearted ladies of pleasure that are trying to get by in hard times. Slow but sure, she’ll find her way out upwards, all the way to the starlit fame.

La vie en Rose is a cute french film set in a pretty dark place, showing how little control the artist can have on her life and work. Like her song, she is always being ”carried away by the crowd”, taking orders from people who know the music business inside-out and want to make a profitable image of her.

Beneath her insecurity and subtle beauty, lies a neurotic personality that represents her greatest villain. Irritated by animosity towards her by the underprivileged caused by her acceptance in the Parisian bourgeoisie, and frustrated by the fact that because of her poverty-stricken background, she can’t be taken seriously by it, she relinquishes her wild temper which alienates her from both the social bottom that she sees as a home, and high class which she wanted so hard to be a part of.


3. Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005)


Released two years after the singer’s death, Walk the Line deals with the life and work of Johnny Cash, one of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century, and his relationship with June Carter.

The story starts with his grim boyhood in Arkansas, that weighted him with guilt imposed by his father that blamed John for the death of his older brother. It continues with his early marriage, when financial worries and personal dissatisfaction lead to introspective revision, which motivated him in pursuing a career in music, where he finally found happiness that inspired him to start a fantastic musical journey that will lead to his finest hour and the film’s climax; Iconic live gig at Folsom Prison, maximum security jail, in 1968.

Performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are spot on, and they do an outstanding job of singing all the songs. Walk the Line shows us the taste of the glamour of the American folk scene in the 60’s, but it really hits home with Cash’s inept dealing with hard times, addiction and guilt.

The movie was a great success both with the general audience and the critical discourse, earning five Academy Award nominations and winning every Golden Globe in the Musical & Comedy division.


2. Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)


Corbijn’s directorial debut is a Biopic about the life and times of Ian Curtis, charismatic leader of one of the most celebrated post-punk outfits, Joy Division.

This stunning b/w film is based on a memoir by his wife Deborah, and intimate directorial interpretation by Corbijn, who was at one point involved in the whole story, being the band’s photographer who took some of the most iconic images of Ian and the band.

Curtis, constantly being consumed by his emotions, is torn by his lack of marital fidelity, as well as his struggle with epilepsy and sudden fame that will lead to his premature death, at the age of 23. Sam Riley did a fantastic job playing a humble tortured soul, that transforms into a larger-than-life character onstage that dances spasmodically to the rhythm of the sensation that will change the face of music forever.

The film succeeds to convey very accurately all the events from his life without passing judgement or making rash statements about his nature. It also makes a beautifully depressing and claustrophobic experience, matching the melancholic, cathartically heavy atmosphere of music made by Joy Division.


1. Amadeus (Miloš Forman, 1984)


Absolutely incredible story of Mozart’s musical genius, told by his rival Antonio Salieri. It’s an epic tale told in a fresh and unconventional way and is a sublime portrayal of late 18th-century Vienna and its finest, complete with their ridiculously oversized wigs and heavy makeup.

Its storytelling is magnificent, operating from an unusual perspective, with Salieri’s jealousy as a motor that drives the whole thing forward. By his envious curiosity, he becomes involved in complex relationships that Mozart has with his wife, and disapproving father.

What makes Amadeus extremely peculiar is that Mozart is not depicted as an estranged virtuoso, but as a simple immature young man that acts childish because he never had the chance to, due to his childhood being consumed by nurturing the phenomenon of his musical talent.

On the whole, it’s a cinematic masterpiece that is as brilliant as much it is fun. It is a fine example of excellent filmmaking. The sets are beautiful, the scenes are well written and performed, and the music is some of the best ever written.


Honorable mentions:

The Doors (1991, Oliver Stone) – The story of the famous rock band and its frontman, Jim Morrison.
24 Hour Party People (2002, Michael Winterbottom) – A chronicle of Tony Wilson’s Factory Records and bands that made the Manchester scene popular around the globe.
Tim Maia (2014, Mauro Lima) – Biographical story of popular Brazilian singer, from his troublesome childhood in Rio de Janeiro until his death at age 55.
The Buddy Holly Story (1978, Steve Rash) – Portrayal of the life and career of the early rock and roll singer.
La Bamba (1987, Luis Valdez) – Biography of early rock and roll singer Ritchie Valens and his early death at age 17 in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.
Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980, Michael Apted) – Life story of Loretta Lynn, a country singer that rose to fame from extreme poverty.

Author Bio: Ivan Saric is a 23-year-old philosophy and history student living in Split, Croatia. He’s an aspiring film critic who writes cinematic reviews for several sites, and is actively involved in great amount of various film-related activities.