Anyone who has read more than a half dozen posts on this blog, sat through a semester of one of my English classes, or talked to me at a party for more than ten minutes knows that music and movies are two things that are near and dear to my heart (almost as dear as hard shell tacos). And while there are plenty of movies out there with great soundtracks, the ones that really get through to me are the ones that are about those soundtracks.
Here is a list of seven great movies for people who love music:
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
The music: Some of the best of the early Beatle catalog, including "Can't Buy Me Love," "If I Fell," and "All My Loving," among others.
The moment: Early in the film, while the Fab Four are hanging out in the dining car of the train they are using to make their next gig, Paul wanders over to flirt with a couple of school girls. It would just be another charming throwaway moment if one of the school girls wasn't Patty Boyd, future wife of both George Harrison and Eric Clapton, and the woman who inspired the song's "Something" and "Layla." That must have been some cameo.
Almost Famous (2000)
The music: The movie is a semi-autobiographical account of how director Cameron Crowe got his start at Rolling Stone, so the film is jammed with music from pretty much every act from the early '70's: Bowie, Zeppelin, Hendrix, and an unforgettable sequence with Elton John's "Tiny Dancer."
The moment: William Miller may be on tour with a real rock band, but he's still an outsider. When things go bad late in the film and William has no one else to turn to, he calls up his mentor, Creem Magazine editor Lester Bangs (played by Philip Seymour Hoffmann), and the resulting conversation says it all.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The music: The music in this film is the template for a working knowledge of soul music. Not only do James Brown, Aretha Franklin and John Lee Hooker play on the soundtrack, they also show up in cameos throughout the film. This movie is ground zero for my music appreciation.
The moment: After looming in the background like the angel of death for two hours, Carrie Fisher finally tracks down our heroes in a dank sewer. When he finally takes off his sunglasses for the first and only time in the film, you know why John Belushi was one of the greatest comedians to ever hit the screen.
The Commitments (1991)
The music: Do-it-yourself covers of soul standards from Aretha Franklin to Wilson Pickett.
The moment: The drummer wants to kill the lead singer. The sax player thinks he's a jazz soloist. The trumpet player has turned all three backup singers against each other. The manager has a price on his head from the loan shark he used to score the band's equipment. And outside, Wilson Pickett may or may not be on his way to jam after he finished a gig of his own. In the middle of everything, the band gathers on stage for one last rally before the lights go out, delivering a cover of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" that explains just what soul music is all about.
High Fidelity (1998)
The music: "High Fidelity" is set in the 90's, but it's about a record collector, so the soundtrack covers ground as diverse as The Velvet Underground, Marvin Gaye, and the Stiff Little Fingers.
The moment: When Robb finally concedes to attend the local debut of his manic employee Barry (Jack Black)'s new band, he expects the worst of garage rock. What he gets is something entirely different.
Pirate Radio (2009)
The music: Set in 1966, the movie features the best of The Who, The Stones, The Kinks, and tons of other British Invasion greats.
The moment: When one of the DJ's steals the girl of his dreams, Carl (the dropout) finds himself in familiar rough waters. When two members of the crew try to cheer him up, you realize that the movie is about a lot more than music.
That Thing You Do (1996)
The music: Unlike most of the other movies on this list, the music in "That Thing You Do" is all original, penned to mimic early 1960's styles, and it is remarkably effective in doing so.
The moment: When the band inevitably splits, leaving Guy at the recording studio with no one to play with, he runs into his Jazz, drummer Del Paxton, who passes on some advice that has pretty much defined my amateur musical career.
Honorable Mention: American Graffiti (1973)
The music: Set in 1962, "American Graffiti's" soundtrack covers the best of early rock and roll, right up to the days before the Beatles hit. Del Shannon, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly...they're all here.
The moment: In one of the most contemplative scenes in the movie, Richard Dreyfuss' character Curt actually drops in on The Wolfman because he wants to drop off a dedication to the elusive blond he's been chasing for the whole movie. Growing up, my favorite scene was Curt's initiation into the local Pharoah gang, but as I get older this encounter with The Wolfman takes the number one spot.