’10 of the best’ doesn’t even begin to describe how many great options there are for this feature. With that caveat, here’s our take on some of the absolute classics…
24 Hour Party People
For the purposes of full disclosure: this is something I experienced second hand. I can safely this say this is a toned-down version of what REALLY happened. The film truly subscribes to the Fordian principle of ‘print the legend’.
Steve Coogan plays Tony Wilson as 33.3% Alan Partridge, 33.3% visionary genius and 33.3% utter bellend (‘I’m in charge of Factory Records. I think’). Leave aside the annoyance that is Peter Kay, focus instead on Andy Serkis as Rob Gretton, Ralph Little as Hooky and Christopher Ecclestone as er, Roman Philosopher Boethius. The film celebrates Factory’s successes (the rain-coated drone of Joy Division/New Order, the organised chaos of Happy Mondays) and points out the cack-handed business practices that meant the whole thing was one glorious plunge into the abyss. I go as far to say this is Michael Winterbottom’s best film. Ultimately this is a mood-lifter: put it on on a wet Tuesday, and you will instantly feel your melons twisted.
Set in the 1970s, Almost Famous depicts the coming-of-age journey of William Miller: a 15-year-old aspiring journalist who is struggling to come to terms with being shunned by his classmates, disappointing his expecting mother and dealing with the aftermath of his sister leaving home.
William begins to write for multiple underground papers in San Diego, and scores a break when Lester Bangs takes an interest in his writing. Bangs offers Miller a small $ 35 assignment to review a Black Sabbath gig; it’s here where he meets he formidable band aid (not groupie), Miss Penny Lane.
Starring Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, the most important feature remains the incredibly impressive soundtrack comprising tunes by The Who, Yes, Elton John, Led Zeppelin and many more.
The film contains both heart-warming and hilarious lines, but it’s Penny Lane’s classic that resonates most: “I always tell the girls, never take it seriously. If you never take it seriously, you never get hurt. If you never get hurt, you always have fun.”
The Blues Brothers
There’s a touch of the sublime in John Landis and Dan Ackroyd’s 1980 script that supersedes the need for updated editing techniques: it’s not only that it’s breathlessly entertaining from start to finish, it’s the fact that this script is music. Every word is suffused with it (unsurprisingly, especially blues), and if that weren’t enough it backs this up with cameos from the likes of James Brown and Ray Charles. Cameos? What kind of film puts the Godfather of Soul in a cameo?
At the time of filming, The Blues Brothers held the record against any other movie for smashing cars. Despite the fact that it has since been topped in that respect by lesser productions, it’s hard to imagine any other film before or since that wreaked quite as much havoc on downtown Chicago. For maiden watchers, trust me when I say that you don’t need a synopsis so long as you remember one immortal line: ‘It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.’ HIT IT.
Brummie-cartoon-yob-glammers Slade outdid themselves in 1975 when playing fictional rock band ‘Flame’ in a film Mark Kermode calls ‘The Citizen Kane of Rock Musicals’.
Eschewing a caper-led narrative in-keeping with their peppy media image, the story is one of a tight group of friends in two bands of varying ability who merge and are then catapulted to success as a result of talent and the malevolent tendencies of the ‘biz’ (the vengeful and violent repercussions of a rejected manager and the Machiavellian designs of careerist, Tom Conti).
Derived from actual events experienced by both the band and their manager (former Animal) Chas Chandler, this all-too familiar tale is a stark reminder of the perils of success and how the pursuit of dreams can result in nightmares. Jaded and embittered by the experience the band go their separate ways emotionally crippled and creatively bankrupt. The film features a strong soundtrack including one of Slade’s best known songs, ‘How does it feel?’
Peter Watkins’s 1967 tale of a pop star who is nothing more than a puppet for church and state authorities still carries a hefty punch when watched today.
Inspired by the hysteria surrounding early 60s teen-idol Paul Anka, it stars Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones as Stephen Shorter, the clean-cut, butter-wouldn’t-melt turned riven-with anxiety idol, for his complicity in the seduction of increasingly brain-washed fans. The film’s prescience is evident in how rebellion and free-thought can be co-opted, neutered and refracted through media and ‘celebrity’ resulting in passivity. The film is a terrifying allegory for how the system diverts political challenge by young people. Set during the ‘swinging’ 60s its themes are depressingly relevant today, if not more so than its own era (think control and illusion of autonomy via social media and technology).
It couldn’t really happen though… could it?
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Phil Daniels playing the iconic Jimmy the Mod, yet had Pete Townshend’s original choice got the part, the film might have been an iconoclastic work as sacred to punks as it’s been to mods since its release more than 35 years ago. John Lydon auditioned for the lead role, and it’s fair to say he would have embodied the protagonist’s spirit of chaos and inner turmoil with even more gravitas than the young Daniels, given his own rite of passage with the Sex Pistols in the late seventies. Whatever your take on the mod movement, Quadrophenia presents more than just a study of one of the most ideologically troubled and visually striking British youth tribes; it’s a film that captures the essence of what it’s like to be young, confused and possessed by a desire to be different to an out-of-touch generation of parents and moral gatekeepers. And it has one of the best soundtracks in all of cinema.
Saturday Night Fever
In the same year that Elvis died, the phenomenal Saturday Night Fever movie soundtrack came to life.
Saturday Night Fever is often seen as a ‘disco’ film but underneath the surface, all that glitters is not a disco ball. It is a running commentary on the struggles facing a group of youths in Brooklyn. The only escape from their bleak existences is via the nightclubs. The only way that they feel they can belong is via formation dancing. Music is their saviour. This soundtrack is their God. These feelings transferred to real nightclubs. The Bee Gees had composed a sound, mixing disco with classical music, to accompany subjects that disco glossed over.
As anti-disco demonstrations started in the tail end of the decade, this movie soundtrack became an audio memory of a music movement that had substance and then became a gimmick – but whatever your opinion of the genre, the film is one of music-led cinema’s finest.
Scott Pilgrim VS The World
Leave aside this film’s box office crash and burn. Please also ignore the incidental pleasures of its daft, geeky, romantic enthusiasm. This is the film about the life and death of a band. Alongside Stephen Stills, Young Neil and his snarky ex Kim Pine, Scott was a member of the little known, much-missed Toronto band Sex Bob-Omb. Another of his ex’s was the lead singer of the massively successful The Clash At Demonhead. Although they won a battle of the bands – gaining a massive contract with narcissistically evil label chief (not many of those about) Gideon Graves – it ended in property damage, death and money all over the place.
That’s the premise. Now enjoy a film which can never fails to put a smile on your face. Edgar Wright produces a visual representation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel, which, factored alongside Nigel Godrich’s pounding soundtrack, produces a visually stunning and musically hilarious movie that has a life beyond its initial reception.
This Is Spinal Tap
A trailblazer of the mockumentary format, Rob Reiner’s 1984 “rockumentary” charting the touring exploits of fictional rock/metal outfit Spinal Tap has become the standard reference for laughable band behaviour, farcical touring mishaps and major industry excess. Cited by countless musicians as being painfully realistic, it also boasts some of the most perfect and pervasive gags in existence (so much so that the film’s IMDb score is out of 11; and if you don’t get that, watch the film – right now).
Main band members David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) are accomplished musicians but total berks, allowing for some vintage peacocking and lyrical douchebaggery along their mishap-laden journey. Cameos from the 80s A-list add to golden work from the leads, who improvised much of the dialogue and performed all the music for real. You know good satire when you can’t quite tell if it’s satire or not, and …Spinal Tap is a stone(henge) cold slab of genius.
Walk the Line
When I look back, it’s extremely difficult to conjure up the name of a music-related film that has been as powerful as Walk The Line. The film follows the transitions of Johnny Cash beginning in his early years, where we see him deal with the difficulties of losing his 15-year-old brother, Jack, and a troublesome relationship with his father. As Cash begins to evolve into a man, we get a taste of the music routes which he was running in the early prime of his career.
The aspect which makes the film, however, is the soundtrack. The likes of Waylon Payne (as Jerry Lee Lewis) and Tyler Hilton (Elvis Presley) stand out, of course alongside Joaquin Pheonix (Cash) and an impeccable performance from Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, which saw her pick up an academy award for best actress.
The film ends with the poignant scene of Witherspoon finally answering yes to Phoenix’s 42nd marriage proposal, during an onstage performance of ‘Jackson’. Walk the Line is an undoubtedly moving film, and succeeds in doing Johnny Cash’s life justice.