50 greatest music films ever

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50 greatest music films ever
'Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story' tops our list of the 50 greatest music films ever


From Wagner to Elvis, Cliff to Cobain, and Walker to Ryder, a multitude of musicians have stepped out of the studio and on to the big screen – often, it must be said, to disastrous effect. But sometimes the union of sound and vision produces magical movies and, to prove it, our film and music teams join forces to find the 50 best ever.

First off, an apology. Nowhere in this list of fantastic films about musicians will you find ‘This is Spinal Tap’. As much as we love Christopher Guest’s mockumentary, the band never actually existed (sorry to break it to you, Tap fans). Instead we’re celebrating great films – dramas and documentaries – about real musicians. We’ve polled our film and music writers for their personal favourites and looked beyond the obvious to include films about jazz, films about opera, films about Finnish polka rock and films about Gilbert and Sullivan.

Why? Partly to coincide with the release of ‘Control’, Anton Corbijn’s new film about Joy Division, and partly because we recently saw ‘I’m Not There’, Todd Haynes’ movie about Bob Dylan, which reminded us just how superb films about musicians can be. Here we offer you 50 excellent cinematic creations and guarantee that the one we’ve picked for the Number One spot may not be to everyone’s taste. We, however, think it’s a work of genius. But if you disagree, we want to hear from you. Have your say.

1

Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1987)

2

Don't Look Back (DA Pennebaker, 1967)

3

Gimme Shelter (David Maysles/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)

4

24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)

5

Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh, 1999)

6

Monterey Pop (DA Pennebaker, 1968)

7

Be Here to Love Me (Margaret Brown, 2004)

8

Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould (Francois Girard, 1993)

9

Cocksucker Blues (Robert Frank, 1972)

10

Bird (Clint Eastwood, 1988)

11

The Last Waltz

(Martin Scorsese, 1978)

12

Rude Boy (Jack Hazan, David Mingay, 1980)

13

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Stephen Kijak, 2006)

14

Bound for Glory

(Hal Ashby, 1976)

15

The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I & II (Penelope Spheeris, 1981, 1988)

16

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)

17

Sweet Dreams (Karel Reisz, 1982)

18

Notes from a Jazz Survivor

(Don McGlynn, 1982)

19

Elgar (Ken Russell, 1962)

20

Rust Never Sleeps

(Neil Young, 1979)

21

The Future is Unwritten (Julien Temple, 2006)

22

'DiG!' (Ondi Timoner, 2004)

23

Some Kind Of Monster

(Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004)

24

A Hard Day's Night

(Richard Lester, 1964)

25

Jimi Hendrix (Joe Boyd, 1973)

26

Sid and Nancy

(Alex Cox, 1986)

27

Elvis

(John Carpenter, 1979)

28

The Last of the Blue Devils (Bruce Ricker, 1980)

29

Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed

(Hasan Shah & Dom Shaw, 1981)

30

Amadeus

(Milos Forman, 1984)

31

Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)

32

Charlie is My Darling

(Peter Whitehead, 1966)

33

Magic Fire (William Dieterle, 1955)

34

A Joyful Noise

(Robert Mugge, 1980)

35

Coal Miner’s Daughter

(Michael Apted, 1980)

36

Last Days

(Gus Van Sant, 2006)

37

Wonderful Life

(Sidney J Furie, 1964)

38

'Round Midnight

(Bertrand Tavernier, 1986)

39

Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid (Gimpo, 1995)

40

The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1968)

41

Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1999)

42

Soul to Soul (Dennis Sanders, 1971)

43

Hilary and Jackie (Anand Tucker, 1998)

44

Made in Sheffield (Eve Wood, 2001)

45

Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, 1959)

46

So You Wanna Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star?

(Mark Kidel, 1976)

47

Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Aki Kaurismäki, 1989)

48

MC5: A True Testimonial (David C Thomas, 2002)

49

Sign O’ The Times (Prince, 1988)

50

Catch Us If You Can (John Boorman, 1965)

Author: Dave Calhoun. Written by Derek Adams, Geoff Andrew, Dave Calhoun, Wally Hammond, Michael Hodges, Martin Horsfield, Martin Hoyle, David Jenkins, Trevor Johnston, Eddy Lawrence, Sharon O'Connell, Chris Parkin, Graeme Thomson, Peter Watts

Users say

50 comments
George Sharpe
George Sharpe

So fabulous, I like the men especially! #NoRestForTheHomo

George Sharpe
George Sharpe

So fabulous, I like the men especially! #NoRestForTheHomo

George Sharpe
George Sharpe

So fabulous, I like the men especially! #NoRestForTheHomo

George Sharpe
George Sharpe

So fabulous, I like the men especially! #NoRestForTheHomo

George Sharpe
George Sharpe

So fabulous, I like the men especially! #NoRestForTheHomo

connor
connor

best website ive seen yet. did u see i spelt iv'e rong lolololol.#YoLoSwEg

George Sharpe
George Sharpe

So fabulous, I like the men especially! #NoRestForTheHomo

connor
connor

best website ive seen yet. did u see i spelt iv'e rong lolololol.#YoLoSwEg

Lucy Lane
Lucy Lane

WHAT?! where is Across the Universe, Almost Famous, High Fidelity. Joyful noise? Dolly just got tired of keepin her boobs at home and not on the big screen and Queen wanted some of that action! GOD! We need movies about MUSIC. Sorrry..

Tobbe
Tobbe

What.. why arent The Blues Brothers on this list.. Shuld be at the top five...

Matty
Matty

Might have been pit already but lets have nowhere boy on the list somewhere, and somewhere high up because its a keeper

nick
nick

Let's Get Lost,about Chet Baker,should be on the list. Bird,about Charlie Parker,should not.

Declan
Declan

Titanic?? "She moved through the fair" in Micheal Collins?? Gladiator song?? Jurasic Park?? these should all be included

Bop City
Bop City

MC5 - A True Testimonial poll: http://tinyurl.com/MC5-ATT-poll “It’s a great document of the band, it’s a great document of life, and it’s a great document of things ... far and beyond the band.� - Jackson Smith, Detroit-based musician son of Fred & Patti Smith "Music so extraordinary that it transformed the lives of all who experienced it demands the release of a documentary that does the MC5 justice. Few bands have ever seen so much go so wrong so quickly and have been so misunderstood in the process. A True Testimonial represents a belated opportunity to set things straight, put things right. The fans deserve it. So does the band. And so does the music." - Don McLeese, author of Kick Out The Jams (Continuum 33 1/3 series)

andy
andy

what about Human Traffic or High Fidelity?

shar
shar

Loved the Last Waltz Too Jim... But more as a sound track than a Movie. Ray, Cadillic Records, The Contenders and even Walk the Line had a great story line . Some are good for CD/Sondtract, but lose it as a film.

Bill
Bill

Wayne's World is number 1!

GONIC
GONIC

i think 'August Rush' is the one of best music films. the way you feel the muzic. and how we can belive in it. the power of music. and every thing

shar
shar

Cadillic Records and The Contenders Best ever Films and Great Sound Track

shar
shar

Cadillic Records and The Contenders Best ever Films and Great Sound Track

shar
shar

Cadillic Records and The Contenders Best ever Films and Great Sound Track

Jim
Jim

Um, I'm not gonna try to reason with you, but let's just say you left out Woodstock and The Last Waltz. End of story. Also, Scott Walker is a godly artist (actually my favorite) but 30th Century Man is a terrible doc. Just a bunch of pretentious idiots and mediocre directing and editing. And if you're going to include movies about music, I would add Satyajit Ray's The Music Room.

Bill
Bill

Wayne's World is number one

Mark
Mark

Karen Carpenter the world's worst singer? Congratulations to Vince for the stupidest and most-innacurate post ever committed to the internet

Eddie Carnihan
Eddie Carnihan

"STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN" about the legendary Motown house band THE FUNK BROTHERS. Not in the top 50. you're having a laugh.

Harry
Harry

The Chuck Berry film Hail Hail Rock'n'Roll is a great documentary about the contrary genius. And your admiration for Keith Richards can only increase - he displays inifinite patience when Chuck corrects his playing.

A Sad Man
A Sad Man

What about the Monkees film "Head" its a surrealist, psychadelic classic. And Velvet Goldmine too.

Holly
Holly

Nice...personally, i like "Raise your voice!", "Confessions of a teenage drama queen"...something more modern :D:D

KevinT
KevinT

I would have to include the documentary 'A Great Day In Harlem' - one of the best films about jazz musicians.

Brendan Thorpe
Brendan Thorpe

How about "Born to Boogie"? Marc Bolan at the height of TRextasy - the arty bit may not be great, but the concert stuff is excellent!

J
J

Taste is subjective, so we'll cut you some slack... But how could you snub "Ray" or the Cash film "Walk the Line?" "Rockers" was pretty amazing. "The Wall..." and the new release of "The Grateful Dead Movie" is hot. The bonus features (esp. the performances uncut) kick ass. AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock" & come on... "Yellow Submarine." Personally I think "Spinal Tap" & "Hedwig & The Angry Inch" should be included. The bands may have been born out of the movies (the original play in Hedwig's case), but they are rocking bands nonetheless.

Alex Murillo
Alex Murillo

Just to correct a common mistake..."This Is Spinal Tap" is not "Christopher Guest's mockumentary", as you said...it was directed by Rob Reiner. Guest was indeed a co-writer, and of course the film bares a resemblance to Guest's later films, but I think it's unfair to both Reiner and the other members of Spinal Tap (McKean, Shearer) to label the film as Guest's alone.

alex
alex

Actually I'm positive Spinal Tap did a few novelty shows back in the L80's/E90's (8 in all I believe) one at the lamented CBGB/OMFUG in NYC. Even one novelty show brings a band into the plane of existence as anyone knows who has ever been in bands. I've been in a lot, some did only one show, and they ALL existed even if no one but the three of us knew it. So Spinal Tap existed. QED.

Graz
Graz

I also forgot to metion the Rock n' Roll, Australian Japanese Surfing Road Movie " Bondi Tsunami". 2004. Check it out.

Graz
Graz

What about B.Middler in t"The Rose". Garland and Striesand in thier versions of " A Star is Born" . The briilant "Hair" and now also "Hairspray". But absoutley " Once" is brillant. Who compiled this list?

kay
kay

where the hell is PURPLE RAIN?!?!?! this surely has to be in the list?!

Don
Don

You've missed some of the truly great performances by real bands while playing up other performers imitating the stars. And some are as much fantasy as reality based on someone's interpretation of what happened. That is not a true documentary, just fiction passed off as one.

Vince
Vince

this list is horse shit, wot's the deal, because the brits hate the irish you can't out "the commitments" or "once" up in the top 50? and did you forget about a movie one of your own made called "the wall"? and the number one film listed is a bloody movie about the world's worst singer karen carpenter? wot the hell????

Massimo
Massimo

The worst movie ever, with the best soundtrack ever: Streets of Fire!

vagabondjohn
vagabondjohn

What? No "Sunshine Daydream" or "Renaldo and Clara"? But at least "Be Here To Love Me" broke the top ten...

Marc
Marc

...and that Carpenters film told with dolls is better than "The Kids Are Alright"? Man, April Fools Day comes earlier every year.

kanchi
kanchi

RISE ABOVE - THE TRIBE 8 STORY directed by TRACY FLANNIGAN this is such a cool film about the lesbian punk band from california who are on the dead kennedys label - alternative tenticles. even if u don't like their music it is a well-made, interesting and inspiring film. i was sad (but not suprised) to see this (and other riot grrl/ women in music etc) films missing from the list. is it still uncool to be a feminist?

Matthew W
Matthew W

Some amazing films here but c'mon, you're just trying to get a rise out of us with Superstar at No 1. What about Rockers, Stardust & That'll be the Day, Quadropeinia, Woodstock, (Slade in) Flame?

steven menkin
steven menkin

What? Where is The Great Rock & Roll Swindle

Matt
Matt

anyone any ideas on how I could find a copy of "So You wanna be a rock 'n' roll star?", or will I have to wait until it comes back on BBC four? any help would be much appreciated. cheers.

monkeystar
monkeystar

I dont want to be funny but how could you leave out The Blues Brothers??? Really, with Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, James Brown and all the other superstars, this is one of the best films about a band and top music ever.. MS

Matt
Matt

anyone any ideas on how I could find a copy of this film, or will I have to wait until it comes back on BBC four? any help would be much appreciated. cheers.



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