The Ten Best Films about music

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Michael Winterbottom, 2001

Few films about music work for those who are not fans of that particular style, but this is a marvellous exception. A wild and imaginative look at a tumultuous time in pop music, it encompasses cultural change, the glory of drugs and "the dawn of punk to the death of acid", in the words of the real Tony Wilson. The script, by the excellent Frank Cottrell Boyce, inventively suborns the music-documentary style, while highlighting some of the great tunes to come out of Madchester.

Bob Fosse, 1972

Much more than a musical, Cabaret casts a cynical and irreverent eye over the politics surrounding Hitler's rise to power: it contrasts nightclub life with the rise of the Nazis in Germany, and is driven by the eternal themes of corruption, decadence and self-deception. It kicked the arse of The Godfather, won eight Academy Awards and makes me cry every time I watch it.

John Landis, 1980

This film is the perfect combination of screwball comedy and funky musical. It's never quite as good as you remember it being - although you probably remember it as one of the funniest movies you've ever seen - but it still deserves to make this list, just for "Rawhide" and the car crashes alone. Even better, it has a novel plot, great acting, a fantastic soundtrack and some cool cameos (which include James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles). How can Jake and Elwood not make this list? They are, after all, on a mission from God...

Ken Russell, 1975

It's a rock musical with a rubbish story, the dialogue hardly sparkles and some of the acting is a bit iffy. So why is it here? It's got some of the greatest music ever to feature in a film, it's visually stunning, it has Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Oliver Reed, and it features Ann-Margret rolling around in baked beans. It might not be great, but it is great fun.

Stephen Frears, 2000

The music is almost incidental to this film - the hero's obsession could be football or knitting and the movie would work just fine - but as it is music, it makes the list. I like the film because it's smart, funny, romantic and gutsy enough to allow the "hero" to be flawed.

Rob Reiner, 1983

This nomination is probably no surprise, and you know why it's been chosen: you know about Nigel's tantrum concerning the catering trays (the cold cuts don't match up with the bread), the tiny Stonehenge prop, the cocoon that doesn't open, the Yoko-lite girlfriend and the custom-built amplifier that "goes to 11". It's one of the funniest, most intelligent, most original films ever made. And you know about that, too...

Baz Lurhmann, 2001

It might be completely barmy and over the top, but Moulin Rouge is also charming and remarkable entertainment. It's unusual for a big-budget movie to take on the quaint concept of true love, and it's unusual for a film studio to spend more than $50m on a musical. But this film makes up its own rules, relying on zest, colour and pure energy to see it through.

Iain Softley, 1993

Backbeat captures the Beatles before they were famous, which is a brave step. The second brave step is to focus on Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatles' original bass player, who was an inept bassist but a gifted painter, and who had, until this, been confined to footnotes of musical history. And I assume that they didn't get the rights to the music, because that early Beatles noise has been re-created by Nineties musicians: the drummer Dave Grohl, bassist Mike Mills, guitarists Thurston Moore and Don Fleming, and singers Dave Pirner (for Paul McCartney) and Greg Dulli (for John Lennon).

Julien Temple, 1979

This is Malcolm McLaren's version of the Sex Pistols' history. These days, with our neatly packaged pop stars, it's hard to remember a time when music seemed truly dangerous, but there was such a time and this documentary tells us about it. Some of the comments seem revisionist and self-serving - but the point of it all, as I vaguely recall, was for these blokes to do things how they wanted, when they wanted, whether we liked it or not.

John Cameron Mitchell, 2001

This is the story of an East German gay youth who escapes to America and becomes a transsexual/ transvestite lounge singer after undergoing a botched sex-change operation that leaves him with nothing more than his "angry inch" of flesh. Hedwig re-invents the rock musical: it is imaginative, daring and utterly marvellous.

Jeremy Drysdale is the writer of 'Grand Theft Parsons', currently on general release