Monday, May 14, 2012

The Best Movies with Music

“If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.– Duke Orsino, Twelfth Night

Notice that the title of this category is not “Best Musicals”.  When I see people comparing films such as 1965’s The Sound of Music to 1970’s Woodstock I have a little trouble understanding why they are getting lumped together.  The former is a traditional movie musical.  The latter is a combination concert film and documentary with no plot to it.  The only thing uniting them is the superficial. 

It’s not just movies where this happens, though.  True story – many years ago I was in a mail order music club.  For about six months their catalog had a ridiculous “Black Music” section with listings for Michael Jackson, Public Enemy, Robert Johnson, and Miles Davis all grouped together.  I used to wonder just how out of touch this (major music) company was to not even realize that those were four very different kinds of music that had little in common other than the skin color of the performers.  For some reason they never added a “White Music” section with The Beatles, Metallica, Garth Brooks, and Glenn Miller all lumped together.

To me, movies with music in them break down into four distinct categories: the traditional movie musical; movies that happen to be musicals (the performances are secondary to the plot); concert films; and operas (i.e. 1996’s Evita or 1964’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg where all of the dialog is sung).  For a time in the 1980s people used to talk about “music video movies” such as Flashdance, but those have kind of faded away.

I will be reviewing my choices for the best movie in each of these four categories.  As I post the reviews, I will come back and post the links to them here:

Best Concert Film:  Stop Making Sense
Best Opera:  Chess in Concert
Best Movie That Happens to Be a Musical:  Cabaret
Best Musical:  Singin' in the Rain

Along with this you may want to check out my earlier category Movies with Musical Numbers for No Apparent Reason.  You can find it here.

On to the reviews…


  1. If I might suggest as a fifth category, Best Musical Documentary. And as a suggestion, I am Trying to Break Your Heart as a candidate.

    1. I agree with the category inclusion, and suggest Anvil (though I've not seen I am trying to Break Your Heart). For Best Movie that happens to be a musical I think Scott Pilgrim Vs the World or Moulin Rouge should be considered.

  2. @SJHoneywell and LifeVsFilm - Damn, the first time I get active suggestions on a category before I start it and I find myself in a position where I will probably not be able to immediately explore them. I have until this Friday to complete the category before not posting for a week or ten days. (I will explain in a post at the end of the week.)

    Thank you both very much for the suggestions. I have not seen the Wilco film. I see that it is available for Instant viewing via Netflix so I have added it to my queue and put it at the top.

    I have seen Anvil. I'm afraid it would not be a movie I would recommend. I have a cousin very much like the two main guys in the film (attitude and age). He has been a heavy burden on his immediate family because he constantly wants to relive his past glories and not admit that the glory is never coming back. In addition, I wasn't thrilled by the director moving events around to change the story in Anvil (i.e. the Japanese concert was several months PRIOR to the album contract failure.)

    I've seen both Scott Pilgrim and Moulin Rouge. I loved Scott Pilgrim a lot. I actually have a review for it here on this site. I also liked Moulin Rouge enough to recommend it, but I just haven't happened to post a review for it yet.


    Veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery interested as to what you're going to put for THAT one! Do you mean a DVD of a live show or one of the few operas that have actually been produced as a film?

    And I did a similar run down on music in film last summer at film-flammers. There are so many ways to interpret music in film. SO MANY WAYS.

    I talked about:
    1. musicals
    2. best uses of previously recorded music as soundtrack

    and I still want to write about
    1. best original musical themes for films
    2. best original soundtracks for films
    3. best use of music as sung or performed by the actors live within the film (but not a musical - think of the Hussars song at the end of Paths of Glory, that's the idea)

    By the way, I'm, like, psycho about music in film because music is integral to my life. I play the clarinet in community groups still (it's been more than 20 years now!) and I listen to classical music all the time. I'm always keenly tuned in to how film uses music, and if it's done well, it can completely turn around my opinion of a film.



    2. So, tell me how you really feel about music. :-)

      I'm glad you like the category, but I have a feeling I am going to disappoint you on the Opera selection. I have never seen any of what most people would think of as Opera (i.e. Barber of Seville). I am working from the definition of having pretty much all the dialogue sung when I say "opera". That post will be up on Wednesday.

      I also disliked Umbrellas of Cherbourg, although for a different reason. I settled down for what I thought was going to be a romantic, fun musical and instead got a depressing movie about how much life sucks. Had I been expecting that, and not the complete opposite, I might have liked the film better.

      Do you have a link to those posts you mentioned?

    3. You inspired me to write more about music in film with your posts, Chip, so even though it took a few days, here is the latest link to my articles on music in film. This article has links to the other articles at the top.

      Glad to hear someone else was not a fan of Umbrellas of Cherbourg, nor was I fan of The Young Girls of Rochefort. Just not my type of musical AT ALL. And, if you read my articles, you will find I am a HUGE fan of musicals. Ah well.

    4. Thanks for the link. I will check it out. I haven't seen The Young Girls of Rochefort yet. It's still in my Netflix Instant queue.

  4. If you want to see a funny, yet very good movie about concerts, try Le Concert, made by Radu Mihaileanu. I believe it is French, with a mix of Russian to it, but it's very funny and interesting! Check it out!

  5. @Diana - I will. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. Excellent topic, Chip!

    While they are not about classical music or opera, some of my favorites are:

    Control (2007) , a captivating biopic about the band Joy Division.

    The documentary: Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005).

    The Wall (1982), is also great, mostly for the visuals and Pink Floyd music.

    I guess movies with music are often dependent on our musical tastes. To a certain degree, anyway.

  7. @Chris - Thanks for the suggestions. I have seen The Wall. It was interesting both from how it tied into the story the concept album was telling, and also how the pressure of making it was probably the last straw that broke up Pink Floyd. I have not seen the other two films. I will check them out when I get a chance.