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.

10. Long Time Running (2017)

best

8.6

Country

Canada

Director

Female director, Jennifer Baichwal

Actors

Bobby Baker, Gord Downie, Gord Sinclair, Jennifer Baichwal

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Intense

The Tragically Hip was a deeply beloved band from Ontario that peaked in the 90s with hits like Grace, Too or Nautical Disaster.

The Hip, as their fans refer to them, had just finished recording their latest album in 2015 when the lead singer was diagnosed with a fatal disease.

This movie is about them deciding to go on one last tour to say goodbye to their fans and country. Mostly, it’s about the singer, Gord Downie, and how his personality and love for the music shined through his illness.

Picture someone who is giving an immaculate performance despite being a few weeks away from death, and a packed stadium of people singing along in tears – this is this movie.

It’s truly an incredible story of human ambition, empathy, and the bond that music can create between an artist and a whole nation.

9. Once (2007)

best

8.6

Country

Ireland

Director

John Carney

Actors

Darren Healy, Geoff Minogue, Gerard Hendrick, Glen Hansard

Moods

Dramatic, Original, Romantic

Once is about a vacuum cleaner/repairman/street musician and a florist in a boy-meets-girl-then-makes-music tale of love, friendship, family, and freaking great music. You can just feel the passion from this simple but charming low-budget movie capturing the chemistry of music making. The film’s music will make your skin tingle and hair stand on end. How good is it? In addition to the film winning an Oscar for its music, the Broadway musical version has won 8 Tonys. In short – get ready for a sonic masterpiece!

8. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)

best

8.9

Country

Germany, United Kingdom

Director

Terence Davies

Actors

Andrew Schofield, Angela Walsh, Anne Dyson, Carl Chase

Moods

Emotional, Original, Touching

This tender, autobiographical coming-of-age story about a working class family in post-war Liverpool is Terence Davies’ masterpiece—evoking memories through a series of loosely connected scenes that highlight the joys and woes of growing up. It is comprised of two films shot two years apart. The first details the tribulations of a young family surviving an abusive father in the ‘40s. The second part follows the kids grown up and finding their way in the ‘50s, and the influence of music and cinema on their lives. Davies uses a series of beautifully composed tableaux to tell the tale, which bring the setting and the characters intimately to life. Distant Voices, Still Lives is regarded as one of the greatest British films of all-time.

7. Nothing Compares (2022)

best

8.9

Country

Ireland, United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Kathryn Ferguson

Actors

Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Thought-provoking

Nothing Compares weaves a poignant story about one of the most misunderstood artists of our time, Sinéad O’Connor. The iconoclast first made waves in the ’80s with her catchy music, but she quickly reclaimed the reins of her own fame and used her platform to champion marginalized causes, long before pop stars were expected to do so. 

The documentary zeroes in on this part of O’Connor’s life: what prompted her to music and how she used it as a tool of activism. The answers are multi-faceted and handled here with extreme grace. Like the many from her generation, O’Connor struggled with religion and abuse, such was the Catholic Church’s hold on Ireland at the time time. 

The film contextualizes her once-shocking moments and reveals how they were all grounded on things she cared about. It’s a beautiful piece of work that reassesses and redeems a wronged artist who was ahead of her time.

6. Whiplash (2014)

best

8.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Damien Chazelle

Actors

Adrian Burks, April Grace, Austin Stowell, C.J. Vana

Moods

Dramatic, Intense, Raw

Miles Teller plays Andrew Nieman, an ambitious young jazz drummer striving for greatness, who is edged towards breaking point by the sadism of his teacher and conductor, Terence Fletcher, played expertly by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher insults him, pressures him, and makes him cry in front of all his peers. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who was one of the youngest people to receive a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for the powerful La La Land, the aptly titled Whiplash poses some intense questions about artistry and ambition. Will Andrew survive? Will it lift him to a higher artistic level? Can his tormentor be appeased through accomplishment? It’s almost impossible to single out the best part of this film, considering the flawless performances, masterful script, and meticulously crafted soundtrack. Cherishing the existential artist without giving easy answers, Whiplash is an inspiring watch.

5. Sound of Metal (2020)

best

9.1

Country

Belgium, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Darius Marder

Actors

Alan Resnic, Bill Thorpe, Chelsea Lee, Chris Perfetti

Moods

Challenging, Emotional, Gripping

Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, a heavy metal drummer, who plays in a band and lives in a tour bus with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Quickly after meeting the couple, we witness the touring musician drastically losing his hearing. As recovering addicts with little financial means, they soon run out of options. Lou desperately wants to prevent Ruben’s relapse into addiction and so she helps him retreat to a deaf community group home, run by the illustrious Joe, a truly amazing character played by the equally amazing Paul Raci, himself the hearing son of deaf parents. There is something deeper going on though: the question of what disability is, and how, despite how it drastically changes Ruben’s life, it might not be his biggest problem. In addition to the stellar acting and delicate writing, we experience his condition through the incredible sound design used by director Darius Marder, complete with muffled conversations, garbled noises, and piercing silence. This is a movie to be taken in completely. Above all, it’s about Riz Ahmed’s performance. He learned to play drums, sign language, and studied deafness ahead of the shooting, and he does not strike a wrong note.

4. Cold War (2018)

best

9.2

Country

France, Poland, UK

Director

Paweł Pawlikowski

Actors

Adam Ferency, Adam Szyszkowski, Adam Woronowicz, Agata Kulesza

Moods

Depressing, Romantic, Tear-jerker

While barely 90 minutes long, Cold War is epic in scope and a modern testament to what cinema can be. Whether we are feasting our eyes on the decaying post-war landscape of Poland, the patinated streets of East Berlin, or the delicate magic of a historic Paris, Cold War offers its viewers meticulously staged black-and-white beauty, conceived by Polish wunderkind director Paweł Pawlikowski and his trusted cinematographer Łukasz Ża. Winner of a slew of prestigious awards, this is a film made for the silver screen, so we recommend leaving your iPhone on the table and getting your hands on the biggest screen you can muster for watching this. The plot is essentially about the obsessive attraction between musician Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and the young singer Zula (Joanna Kulig), who is recruited as the newest member of the former’s state-sponsored folk music band. Cold War follows their impossible love for fourteen years and across many European countries on each side of the Iron Curtain. It is a statement on how far artists go for their art, especially when they become constrained not only by dictatorship but also love. A poetic, sexy, and gorgeous movie without a wasted moment. A work of art.

3. George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)

best

9.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Martin Scorsese

Actors

Billy Preston, Dhani Harrison, Eric Clapton, Eric Idle

Moods

Instructive, Long, Slow

Living in the Material World tells the story of one of the most influential musicians of recent history, the “quiet Beatle” George Harrison. It is, in turn, told through the eyes of one of the most prominent filmmakers of recent history, the always amazing Martin Scorsese. Famous for his feature films, Scorsese has been a champion of documentary films and an avid maker of them. Drawing on archive footage, home movies, and many newly recorded interviews, including with Paul and Ringo, Eric Clapton, Phil Spector, and Terry Gilliam, he tells the complete story – and this is to be taken quite literally – of an indeed quiet, torn, and searching human being as well as an immensely talented, inspiring, and spiritual artist. This heart-felt and intimate 3.5-hour documentary is an awe-inspiring exploration of Harrison’s time with The Beatles as well as his subsequent solo career as a musician and as a philanthropist. In case you had your mind made up on who’s your favorite Beatle, Scorsese might make you rethink.

2. Love and Mercy (2014)

best

9.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Bill Pohlad

Actors

Bill Camp, Brett Davern, Carolyn Stotesbery, Dee Wallace

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Sunday

If you’re a fan of the Beach Boys’ legacy, or you want to find out more about Wilson, the person, this movie will give you what you need. It has been widely praised as being true to the facts – even by Bryan Wilson himself. But thanks, in part, to the incredible writing by Oscar-nominated Oren Moverman and the work of director Bill Pohlad, this is much more than a fact-based fictionalization of a famous musician’s biography. It is a singularly convincing account of the artistic process and the effects of mental illness.

Love and Mercy tells the tale of two Bryan Wilsons: the first of a young and slightly square-looking musical pioneer in the 1960s, when Wilson was working on Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys’ most ambitious and ground-breaking album. Paul Dano’s performance here is nothing short of perfect. And, second, the tale of the tormented, middle-aged Bryan Wilson, played by John Cusack, during a time when he was under treatment for his deteriorating mental health in the late 1980s. The juxtaposition of these two very different people and the brilliant performances of Cusack and Dano will completely absorb you and change the way you look at things. A unique and beautiful film!

1. Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

best

9.5

Country

Finland, South Africa, Sweden

Director

Malik Bendjelloul

Actors

Clarence Avant, Craig Bartholomew Strydom, Dan DiMaggio, Dennis Coffey

Moods

Emotional, Inspiring, Suspenseful

American folk singer Sixto Diaz Rodriguez recorded two albums in Detroit in the 1970s, which he played live across the city, but never to critical acclaim or commercial success. Disappointed, he soon quit his musical career, bought a run-down house in the Motor City, and lived a simple life working in construction. So far, this sounds like the biography of many musicians that never quite made it, talented or otherwise.

However, a strange thing happened. By the mid-1970s, his albums were getting significant airplay in countries like Australia, Zimbabwe, and Apartheid-era South Africa, where he was soon considered a musical voice on par with the Beatles. While living a reclusive life in Detroit, Michigan, he unwittingly became a star on the other side of the globe. This engaged and visually appealing documentary by the late Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul tells his story and spells out a fascinating footnote of global music history.

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