During 2016, I spent much of my spare time learning about power pop music. I watched documentaries about Big Star and The Knack, watched some concert videos of Bangles, Cheap Trick and several other bands whom I would classify as power pop. Then, I read all kinds of books about the genre. Rarely had I ever sustained a “hyper-focus” for such a long time. This infatuation lasted a good 18 months of so, but it has finally broken as I reached the halfway mark in my book about the cult band Jellyfish. But, when you know you are ADHD and suspect that you might be on the autism spectrum (a touch of Asperger’s, anyone?), this type of hyper-focus is come. Yet, it was the length of time of the hyper-focus that was unusual. Recently, the streak was broken by the Netflix series Hip Hop Evolution, which has led to a mini-run on hip hop. Still, I have been able to pivot from hip hop back into a fascinating topic of films about rock music.
Yesterday, I presented my Top 20 Rockumentaries. So, today, I am prepared to give to you my Top 20 Rock Movies. Let me just say right now that you will NOT find the following movies: Tommy (The Who’s take on Willie Wonka‘s bad trip scene), Xanadu (way too dorky), The Harder They Come (it’s really a cop movie with reggae music being played), Jailhouse Rock (Elvis movies are too silly for me), Grease (I love it, but it’s still too Broadway for my tastes), Sgt. Pepper (Really?!?! Peter Frampton + Bee Gees does NOT equal The Beatles!!!) or The Wall (I know, it’s popular with my age group, but it’s way too English and dark for my tastes). Also, I left off Help! because I prefer the Austin Powers trilogy for a James Bond parody. Finally, I know that Sid & Nancy has become something of a cult film, but I found it a little too “cute” for my taste. So, here we go!
My Top 20 Rock Movies
20. The Doors (1991). Val Kilmer really channeled Jim Morrison. Too bad Oliver Stone wrote such a klutzy screenplay about such a compelling band.
19. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). I spent many midnight showings going to see this cult fave. It’s more of an event than a film.
18. 8 Mile (2002). This was Eminem’s Purple Rain moment, and he created the hip hop generation’s first great movie.
17. Velvet Goldmine (1998). I remember being so pumped to see this movie that I came away somewhat disappointed. Still, the movie did a great job reliving the Glam scene of the early Seventies.
16. The Buddy Holly Story (1978). This was my first exposure to Buddy Holly, and Gary Busey’s portrayal of the rock founder was brilliant.
15. Quadrophenia (1979). Of the two rock operas that Pete Townshend created with The Who, this was the one that translated best to film. Plus, anything that had Sting in it at the time was brilliant.
14. American Graffiti (1973). George Lucas’ non-Star Wars movie was a brilliant piece of nostalgia that set the standard for the use of contemporary rock music in the soundtrack. Almost makes you wish he had included Kraftwerk or Daft Punk in the Star Wars series.
13. Bob Roberts (1992). A movie about a right-wing folk singer running for a national Congressional seat is a brilliant piece of political satire. I believe this character started as a sketch on Saturday Night Live. Tim Robbins brilliantly portrayed the title character.
12. The Blues Brothers (1980). Who knew that John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s loving tribute to the greats of the late-Sixties, early-Seventies R&B artists would stand the test of time? My favorite quote: “I hate Nazis!” But, is know for “We’re on a mission from God.”
11. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979). This movie exudes nothing but teenage rebellion, starring the Ramones. Did you know that the director’s first choice for the band was Cheap Trick? Too bad that Trick had a scheduling conflict. Then again, can anyone else imagine any other band but the Ramones in this film?
10. High Fidelity (2000). How could a book or movie lose as it uses GREAT music to tell the heartbreaking story of this man’s life? I think I will rearrange my album collection into a biographical manner.
9. Singles (1992). Welcome to Seattle, Washington, and it’s thriving grunge scene. The soundtrack is killer, and we all knew that Citizen Dick sucked. Sorry Matt Dillon’s character.
8. A Hard Day’s Night (1964). The granddaddy of all music movies. Historically speaking, this should be number one. But, as a work of art that speaks to me, it is number eight.
7. That Thing You Do! (1996). Tom Hanks wrote and directed a fantastic tale of a local band of innocents who go on to become “one hit wonders”. Pure fun!
6. Straight Outta Compton (2015). To me, this should have WON the Academy Award last year. It was timely in its tale of race relations. Plus, it showed how a group of inner city kids came together to rival the Sex Pistols in its short history yet lasting influence.
5. Purple Rain (1984). I know, the story is crap. But, the live performance footage is brilliant! That was the summer that Prince became the Prince we all celebrated last year upon his death.
4. The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978). Take equal parts of Saturday Night Live, Monty Python and Seventies rock royalty, and you get a terrific parody of The Beatles in the career of the now-famous Rutles. Like this made-for-television special says, “It’s because of their really tight pants.”
3. The Commitments (1991). Based on the book of the same title, follows a group of slum kids in Ireland coming together to form a soul band. The music was so good that TWO soundtracks became hits.
2. Almost Famous (2000). Before Cameron Crowe became a famous filmmaker and screenwriter, he was a journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, starting when he was a high school student. This coming-of-age story is the fictionalized story of Crowe’s life.
1. This Is Spinal Tap (1984). This brilliant parody of a “rockumentary” of a fiction band called Spinal Tap (or are they fictional?) and their rise to the “top” and their gradual slide back to the “bottom”. So many of the stories told in this movie have been actually experienced by “real” artists that the film is required watching by all budding music stars. Go see Anvil! The Story of Anvil to watch the real life version of this movie.
So, when you are in the mood for some binge watching, here is a list of some rock music films that I would endorse. Let me know what you suggest I watch. Peace out!