In his book “High fidelity,” author Nick Hornby wrote, “What came first, the music or the misery?” as the hopelessly romantic protagonist, record store owner Rob, revisited his failed relationships to figure out where he went wrong. With this popular scenario, “High Fidelity” has been adapted into a movie with John Cusack in 2000 and recently in a genre Hulu original series with Zoë Kravitz in 2020. Was Hornby’s “emo” review of music and love the first music-related storyline in a movie? No. Was it a catalyst for my love of musical movies and bad love songs? Absoutely.
Films like “High Fidelity” and “Empire Records” (1995) made me want to work in a record store. “Aerial heads” (1994) inspired my unfortunate quest to become a radio DJ. Movies about real bands and musicians like “A hard day’s Night” (1964) and “The runaways” (2010) were my top picks for weekend movie marathons, and recently “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) and “Rocket man” (2019) have joined the line-up.
Same “School of rock” (2003) has found its place in my list of musical films to see without hesitation. Movies like “This is a spinal puncture” (1984) and “Almost known” (2000) are often the best choices, but my own list, like Hornby’s Reading List, has always struck me as a little less predictable. Among the wide array of musical films, here are my definitive favorites that, if you haven’t seen them, you should check them out.
Meet “The Oneders” – which is pronounced like “wonders” and not “oh-NEE-ders”. Tom Hanks made his directorial debut while writing and acting in this film, following the rise and fall of a successful fictional band. This small town band rose to fame with a big song and then got pushed into the industry whirlwind, with posh parties for record labels, drugs, women, stadium shows and all the stressors. that accompany fame.
The character development, relationship building, and conflict between the fantasy and reality of being a famous musician make this film a great watch. Plus, the Oneders hit song is super catchy and will stay in your head for days.
Most billed players: Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Tom Hanks
Directed by: Tom Hanks
Check this out: google play
Based loosely on the Archie BD band of the same name, “Josie and the Pussycats” is a hilarious and ironic take on the music industry and the market value of girl and boy groups. When the boy group Du Jour mysteriously goes missing in a plane crash, Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook) and her friends are suddenly put in the spotlight as the “Next Big Thing”.
Subliminal mind control, product placement, fame pressures, and industry politics threaten to destroy the Pussycats, but misadventures, hijackings, and friendship prevail. I love this satirical story and all the sharp ridicule in the movie. The film itself was a business failure but was considered more recently as a cult success.
Key actors: Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, Rosario Dawson, Alan Cumming, Gabriel Mann, Paulo Costanzo, Missi Pyle, Parker Posey
Directed by: Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan
The film follows the struggle of a determined jazz drummer and his toxic and abusive relationship with his perfectionist drum teacher at the fictional Shaffer Conservatory. This movie is intense and uncomfortable at times, with the instructor throwing chairs, physically assaulting and berating the drummer in front of the rest of the ensemble for struggling to keep the tempo. There are legal battles, lost hopes, suspicions and confrontations that create a lot of tension – the acting is amazing. This movie isn’t as light-hearted and fun as the other movies on my list, but definitely worth a look.
Most Billed Actors: Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Reiser
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Check this out: Amazon
Including this movie on my list often surprises people – there’s more to the plot than meets the eye. Singer-songwriter Violet (Piper Perabo) leaves her comfortable New Jersey home with her father and moves to New York City to try and become a songwriter. After a rough start, she landed a job at a bar, began performing, and gained confidence as a musician.
There is romance, including a scene where Violet’s beau sets up a cutout cardboard celebrity room as a mock audience to help her overcome her stage fright. There is also a short cameo from country singer LeAnn Rimes at the end.
Most billed players: Piper Perabo, Adam Garcia, Maria Bello, Melanie Lynskey, Bridget Moynahan, John Goodman, Tyra Banks, Izabella Miko
Directed by: David McNally
Check this out: google play
“Bandslam” is just a little different for me because the protagonist isn’t in the group, but manages it. The main character, Will (Gaelan Connell), is obsessed with music – especially David Bowie, writing letters to the star like a journal.
When Will’s mother finds a new job and they move to a new school, Will meets Sa5m (5 is silent) and Charlotte. He then began managing Charlotte’s rock / ska group I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On to help them participate in a group battle called Bandslam. Ultimately, Bowie responds to Will’s letters, making an appearance in the movie which was his last movie appearance before his death in 2016. This movie is probably one of my favorites.
Most billed players: Aly Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Gaelan Connell, Scott Porter, Lisa Kudrow
Directed by: Todd Graff
Lizzie McGuire going to music school? Well, not exactly. In this movie, Hilary Duff plays Terri Fletcher, a teenage girl who dreams of becoming a professional singer. After applying for a music program where she could win a big scholarship to help make this dream come true, her brother and father argue over whether she should go. When her brother dies in a car crash later that night after the fight, Terri blames herself for her brother’s death.
She participates in the program, but struggles to overcome her trauma and regain her voice. metacritic and Rotten tomatoes both give this movie a pretty low rating – it’s certainly not amazing, but it’s pleasantly mellow and uplifting. Sometimes that’s all you need for a movie, so I’m keeping it on the list for those days.
Key actors: Hilary Duff, Rita Wilson, David Keith, Jason Ritter, Oliver James, Rebecca De Mornay, John Corbett
Directed by: Sean McNamara
Finally, this movie is probably my favorite musical film. Written and directed by former The Connells drummer John Schultz, “Bandwagon” made its Sundance Film Festival debut in 1996 before being picked up by Lakeside entertainment like their first film.
The film follows’ 90s band “Circus Money” through their rough times on the road, playing in dirty clubs and bars and trying to “make it.” Self-discovery and collapse resonate as these four guys, who barely know each other, embark on the rock-n-roll journey through the less-than-glamorous indie music scene. I saw this movie as part of local Sundance programming and fell in love with it in all its ugliness and misery mixed with music and hope. It’s really hard to find but worth the drive.
Most billed players: Lee Holmes, Kevin Corrigan, Matthew Hennessey, Steve Parlavecchio
Directed by: John Schultz
Check this out: Amazon DVD
I have a soft spot for Disney Channel movies – it’s something about the combination of bad acting young actors, cheesy storylines, and healthy happy endings. When it comes to musical movies, I don’t miss those Disney movies.
“Camp Rock 1” (2008) and “2” (2010)
Starring young Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato, this super cheesy but so much fun movie duo follows an aspiring singer and her time at a music camp where she finds her voice. The sequel centers on the campers who come together to prevent their music camp from being crushed by a more corporate music camp on the other side of the lake.
Both films really push the themes to be honest and true to yourself and your own voice in the face of teen peer pressure. Camp Rock was watched by 8.9 million viewers on the night of its premiere and is currently the third most watched Disney Channel Original Movie of All Time, so I guess I’m not the only one who really enjoyed it.
Most billed players: Demi Lovato, Joe Jonas, Meaghan Martin, Maria Canals-Barrera, Daniel Fathers, Alyson Stoner
Directed by: Matthew Diamond
Check this out: Disney +
Based on a Mark Peter Hughes novel of the same name, this DCOM favorite follows a group of five high school kids who meet in detention and form a rock band to enter a music competition called Rising Star against the popular band “bro- rock ‘school. Mudslide crash.
In typical Disney fashion, there is a heartwarming theme of standing up for your values and overcoming personal adversity with the help of friends. I love the songs from this movie and even added several personal music from the actors to my playlists.
Most billed actors: Bridgit Mendler, Adam Hicks, Hayley Kiyoko, Naomi Scott, Blake Michael
Directed by: Patricia Riggen
Check this out: Disney +
I’m still not really sure which came first, the music or the misery – “High Fidelity” never really seemed to come to a conclusion about that either. What I do know is that I love films about self-discovery and the self-destruction of musical creation. I love the hope, the talent, and the hard times behind the scenes that make things hard as hell. These movies stay on my list as I re-watch them, but I always have room for more of this kind of movie.