8 Best Music Movies On Kanopy

Staff & contributors

I’m Not There is an unusual biopic in that it never refers to its subject, Bob Dylan, by name. Instead, Todd Haynes’ portrait of the singer mimics his constant reinvention by casting six separate actors to play as many reincarnations of the same soul. It’s an ingenious spin on a usually stale genre, one that liberates the film from the humdrum restrictions of a literal retelling of Dylan's life.

If there’s anyone who warrants such an inventive approach to biography, it’s Dylan, whose public and private personas are so numerous that it’s only by angling six different mirrors at him that Haynes can hope to catch some of his essence. Impressionistic editing toggles freely between these vignettes, each visually distinct: from the 11-year-old Woody Guthrie-obsessive (Marcus Carl Franklin) and the black-and-white Super 16mm-shot poet (Ben Whishaw) to the aging cowboy outlaw (Richard Gere), all by way of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett’s incarnations. To be sure, this is a somewhat challenging film, reflecting, in places, the enigmatic surrealism of Dylan’s lyrics and his refusal to be pinned down to one thing. But, as Blanchett’s embodiment says, “Mystery is a traditional fact,” and that’s no more true than of Dylan, making Haynes’ film a fascinatingly fitting spiritual biopic.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alison Folland, Andrew Shaver, Angela Galuppo, Arthur Holden, Ben Whishaw, Benz Antoine, Bill Croft, Bob Dylan, Brett Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Cate Blanchett, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale, Danny Blanco Hall, David Cross, Don Francks, Eric Newsome, Gordon Masten, Heath Ledger, Jane Gilchrist, Jane Wheeler, Jason Cavalier, Jodie Resther, Joe Cobden, Julianne Moore, Kathleen Fee, Kris Kristofferson, Kristen Hager, Kyle Gatehouse, Larry Day, Maggie Castle, Marcus Carl Franklin, Mark Camacho, Melantha Blackthorne, Michelle Williams, Pauline Little, Peter Friedman, Richard Gere, Richard Jutras, Richie Havens, Roc LaFortune, Shawn Baichoo, Tim Post, Trevor Hayes, Tyrone Benskin, Vito DeFilippo

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

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.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family, Music

Actor: Alex Reznik, Andrea Morales, Blythe Danner, Harrison Chad, Jeff Tweedy, Kiersey Clemons, Kim Ramirez, Linda Lee McBride, Michael Abbott Jr., Nick Offerman, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Rafael Poueriet, Robert Reed Murphy, Sasha Lane, Ted Danson, Toni Collette, Will Rogers

Director: Brett Haley

Rating: PG-13

A Swedish film about a world-famous conductor who suddenly interrupts his career to return alone to his childhood village in Norrland. It doesn't take long before he is asked to come and listen to the fragment of a church choir, which practices every Thursday in the parish hall. "Just come along and give a little bit of good advice". He can't say no, and from that moment, nothing in the village is the same again. The choir develops and grows. He makes both friends and enemies. And he finds love. It's a wonderful movie about faith, values, and the exploration of one's spirit.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: André Sjöberg, Barbro Kollberg, Frida Hallgren, Helen Sjöholm, Helen Sjöholm, Ingela Olsson, Kristina Törnqvist, Lasse Petterson, Lennart Jähkel, Lennart Jähkel, Michael Nyqvist, Mikael Rahm, Mircea Krishan, Niklas Falk, Per Morberg, Ulla-Britt Norrman-Olsson, Verena Buratti, Ylva Lööf, Ylva Lööf

Director: Kay Pollak

Rating: Not Rated

, 2019

This drama is about two friends attempting to rave in 1994 Scotland, after a recent Thatcher-era law banned the act and all music “characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”.

Johnno and Spanner, one living in fear of his older brother and the other of his stepfather, want to turn things around by joining their first and probably last rave. They’re introduced to the world of illegal parties, a movement as influential as punk, that in the 1990s was born in reaction to the U.K.’s oppressive policies.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Music

Actor: Amy Manson, Anthony Anderson, Ashley Jackson, Brian Ferguson, Chris Robinson, Christian Ortega, Dave East, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Kevin Mains, Khalil Everage, Laura Fraser, Lorn Macdonald, Martin Donaghy, Megan Sousa, Neil Leiper, Paul Walter Hauser, Ryan Fletcher, Seandrea Sledge, Stephen McCole, Uzo Aduba

Director: Brian Welsh, Chris Robinson

Rating: N/A

, 2020

Frank Zappa's creative scope could barely be defined -  a mix of rock, composition, design, and in his early days even filmmaking.  This documentary does its best to summarize the un-summarizable, starting with Zappa's last time playing guitar and going back to early details like an infatuation with explosives as a kid. 

Zappa's overwhelmingly full life is focused on the documentary in the study of his incredible work ethic and unique creative philosophy. Far from the drugged hippie perception he was often met with, Zappa was hard-working, business-aware, and didn't take drugs.

The manifestations of his exceptional intellect and unique character are abundant in a film that will please his fans and send anyone new to him into a deep Wikipedia rabbit hole.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Ahmet Zappa, Al Gore, Alice Cooper, Arsenio Hall, Brian Jones, Charles Manson, Chester Thompson, David Bowie, David Harrington, David Letterman, Diva Zappa, Dweezil Zappa, Frank Zappa, Gail Zappa, Ian Underwood, John Belushi, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Mike Keneally, Moon Unit Zappa, Nancy Davis Reagan, Pamela Des Barres, Ringo Starr, Ronald Reagan, Ruth Underwood, Steve Vai, Ted Koppel, Yoko Ono

Director: Alex Winter

Rating: Not Rated

We Are the Best! is one movie that may be overlooked largely by viewers, though it perfectly captures counterculture, and relates to the misfit young and old. The movie is an adaptation of Moodysson's wife Coco's graphic novel "Never Goodnight". Set in Stockholm, Sweden in 1982, Klara (Mira Grosin) and her best friend Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) are junior high teenage girls who believe in their heart that punk rock is alive and well. With both of their home lives not so pleasant, the girls spend their time at the local youth center while taking up the time slot in the band room to get revenge on the local metal band. That's when they find themselves starting a punk band without even knowing how to play an instrument. We Are the Best! is a fun and deeply sincere exploration of adventure, friendship, love, and betrayal in adolescence.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Ann-Sofie Rase, David Dencik, Emrik Ekholm, Felix Sandman, Johan Liljemark, Lena Carlsson, Liv LeMoyne, Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Peter Eriksson, Sofi Ahlström Helleday

Director: Lukas Moodysson

Rating: Not Rated

This documentary is about the life of New York rapper Nas around the time of the release of his first album, Illmatic.

It spans a quick and summarized 74 minutes and, while embellished by the direction of street artist One9, it remains a great snippet of recent American history. Nas’s album was a reflection of many realities that characterized his upbringing, while the movie serves to further explore those very realities.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Cornel West, DJ Premier, Fab 5 Freddy, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Marley Marl, Mrs. Braconi, Nas, Pete Rock, Pharrell Williams, Q-Tip, Swizz Beatz

Director: One9

Rating: TV-14

, 2021

CODA has all the trappings of a predictable, feel-good family drama. You’ll recognize immediately the talented teen, the family pulling her back, the cute love interest, the do-gooder mentor, and the swirl of coincidences that blend them all together in one sweet story. But CODA is so irresistibly heartfelt, well-acted, and vital (all the deaf characters are actually played by deaf actors), that you can’t help but be won by its charms. 

Aside from its big heart, the film’s decision to express itself mostly through ASL and music is an impressive technical feat as well. Altogether, these elements make for a refreshing, enjoyable, and simply heartwarming watch. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Amy Forsyth, Armen Garo, Ayana Brown, Courtland Jones, Daniel Durant, David Newsom, Dominic Andersen, Emilia Faucher, Emilia Jones, Erica McDermott, Eugenio Derbez, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Gary Galone, John Fiore, Jose Guns Alves, Kayla Caulfield, Kevin Chapman, Kiara Pichardo, Lance Norris, Lonnie Farmer, Mark Pettograsso, Marlee Matlin, Melissa McMeekin, Molly Beth Thomas, Owen Burke, Pamela Jayne Morgan, Rebecca Gibel, Rena Maliszewski, Sarah Clarke, Tony Viveiros, Troy Kotsur

Director: Sian Heder

Rating: R-16