The Best Music Movies to Watch

The Best Music Movies to Watch

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Music and movies have been inseparable since the first films started being presented to audiences with live musicians. And over time, the musical film, the concert film, and the music documentary have all become their own traditions within cinema. There’s something special about the thrill of a musical performance captured through the camera lens and editing that only movies can offer. Here at agoodmovietowatch, we’ve curated a list of highly recommended music films that still might have flown under the radar for either the casual viewer or the casual listener.

20. In the Heights (2021)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Jon M. Chu

Actors

Anthony Ramos, Ariana Greenblatt, Christopher Jackson, Corey Hawkins

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Feel-Good

Even if you aren’t familiar with the original, Tony Award-winning Broadway production from Lin-Manuel Miranda, this adaptation of In the Heights is still infused with the same infectious energy and loaded with many of the same eclectic songs. This is musical theater at its most fundamental (cheesy, us-against-the-world romance; unstoppable optimism) and also at some of its most unique—with old-school Broadway numbers mixing seamlessly with hip hop, Latin dance, and cheery 2000s pop. But beyond its music, In the Heights offers a gorgeous tapestry of stories about life in a proud immigrant community and the challenges of staying rooted to home while reaching for the stars.

19. Stop Making Sense (1984)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Jonathan Demme

Actors

Alex Weir, Bernie Worrell, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison

Moods

Easy, Inspiring, Sunday

Widely regarded as one of the finest concert movies of all time, Stop Making Sense depicts musical innovators The Talking Heads at the height of their game. Directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), and starring the eccentric and energetic David Byrne, the show is a marvel of perfectly executed choreography and mid-eighties musicality. Halfway through the set, one might think they’ve heard all of the hits, but they keep coming and coming. Before Beyonce was Queen, before Bieber was conceived, this film shows what is capable with a camera, a guitar, and some genius.

18. What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Liz Garbus

Actors

Dick Gregory, Elisabeth Henry-Macari, James Baldwin, Liz Garbus

Moods

Emotional, Thought-provoking

“As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?”. What Happened, Miss Simone? will surprise you no matter how much you thought you knew about the soul singer – not only in its exploration of Nina Simone’s personal life and complexities, but by being both a personal and political documentary. As you discover an original singer with talents that reach all the way to performance art, you will also learn about a Civil Rights activist’s journey and an unstable woman’s struggle. The documentary is not about answering the question of what happened, Miss Simone? – it’s an exploration of why that question is so important.

17. Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Brett Haley

Actors

Alex Reznik, Andrea Morales, Blythe Danner, Harrison Chad

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Funny

A sweet feel-good movie starring Nick Offerman as a dad who has to deal with his only daughter leaving for college and his record store struggling. The daughter is played by Kiersey Clemons who you might recognize from the show Easy. And Ted Danson has a great role too. This is a relatable and heartwarming movie, one of the best the so-called “indie” genre has known in a long time.

16. Begin Again (2013)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

John Carney

Actors

Adam Levine, Andrew Sellon, Aya Cash, Catherine Keener

Moods

A-list actors, Easy, Feel-Good

John Carney, who directed the critically and commercially successful Once, may be the world’s best captor of charm. Begin Again tells the story of a broken-hearted singer who gets discovered by a failed showbiz executive. Their ideas and love for music are all they have to face their failures and bring their creativity to life. The original songs are charming and from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo to Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Adam Levine, and Cee-Lo Green, the cast generate sparkling chemistry and portray the story beautifully. Begin again is a sweet and effortless watch, yet far from being your classic rom-com.

15. This Much I Know to Be True (2022)

best

8.1

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Andrew Dominik

Actors

Andrew Dominik, Earl Cave, Marianne Faithfull, Nick Cave

Moods

Emotional, Inspiring, Original

Whether or not you’re a fan of Nick Cave’s contemplative, idiosyncratic style of music, This Much I Know to Be True still works on a purely experiential level. There’s confusion, then a rush of euphoria, then an overwhelming sense of peace when listening to Cave’s (and musical collaborator Warren Ellis’s) cryptic lyrics and delicate compositions—shot with breathtaking use of studio lights by director Andrew Dominik and cinematographer Robbie Ryan.

And things only get more emotional when you consider how far Cave has come, that these performances are happening several rough years from the untimely death of his son. And suddenly even all the unrelated B-roll footage included in the film—of Cave talking about his sculptures, talking to Ellis, answering profound fan emails—takes on a greater urgency. This sounds like music for mourning, but in its own way it’s music for celebration, too, and gratitude despite everything.

14. Crazy Heart (2009)

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Scott Cooper

Actors

Beth Grant, Brian Gleason, Chad Brummett, Colin Farrell

Moods

A-list actors, Romantic, True-story-based

We all love Jeff Bridges. We all agree that we shouldn’t leave a movie he won an Oscar for unwatched. That’s enough reason to watch this movie, but there are so many others. The story is fantastic and based on true events: a country musician living rough and having a shot at happiness after he falls for a journalist who interviews him. The score is composed by T Bone Burnett. The journalist is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and another musician is played by Colin Farrell.

So many reasons to watch.

13. The Visitor (2007)

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Eran Kolirin, Tom McCarthy

Actors

Bill McHenry, Danai Gurira, Haaz Sleiman, Hiam Abbass

Moods

Heart-warming, Sunday, Thought-provoking

This is a low-scale, intimate, almost minimalist movie that speaks volumes about the misconceptions that westerners have regarding the Middle-East. And the performance of Richard Jenkins is absolutely exceptional (earned him a nomination for the Oscars). He plays a professor who comes back to his New York apartment only to find two immigrants living in it. What a great role and what a great film.The Visitor is from the director of The Station Agent and very recently Spotlight, Tom McCarthy.

12. The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Radha Blank

Actors

Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis

Moods

Feel-Good, Funny, Uplifting

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

11. Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Questlove

Actors

B. B. King, Chris Rock, Fidel Castro, Jesse Jackson

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Easy, Feel-Good

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film’s pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

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