With the recent release of the Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy, I decided to devote June's Movie List of the Month to the best films centering around real-life musicians (May's List). One thing I discovered immediately, was that I hadn't seen a few of the big ones such as Control, Get Up, What's Love Got to Do with It and Sid and Nancy. I also noticed that there aren't nearly enough to choose from, so Hollywood should quit it with the sequels and re-boots and tell us more stories about the musicians we love.
Honorable Mention: The Doors, I'm Not There, Love & Mercy and The Runaways
#5. The Soloist (2009)
This is kind of a cheap move on my part, especially considering Joe Wright's musician of choice was a promising young Julliard student who ended up homeless while battling Schizophrenia. In fact, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) is a virtual unknown in the music community. However, his powerful true story is told extremely well and it's brilliantly acted through Foxx's attention to detail and co-star, Robert Downey Jr's, fine dramatic work.
#4. La Bamba (1987)
The most iconic musician-centered biopic of my childhood is, without a doubt, Luis Valdez's La Bamba, Lou Diamond Phillips is masterful as Ritchie Valens, a promising young talent that died in a plane crash at the age of 17. With plenty of strong subplots scattered wonderfully throughout the film, La Bamba is an extremely gripping film that stands the test of time.
#3. Walk the Line (2005)
Oscar-friendly enough to land 5 nominations in total - including a win for Reese Witherspoon - underrated auteur, James Mangold, delivered an exceptional hit with Walk the Line. Joaquin Phoenix was magnificent as a drug-addicted Johnny Cash who struggles to find his voice in music and win over the real love of his life, June Carter (Witherspoon). Walk the Line never attempts to paint a false portrayal of the flawed musician, which truly makes the film stand out as a great biopic.
#2. Ray (2004)
Another beloved Oscar biopic was Taylor Hackford's Ray. Released one year before Walk the Line and telling a similar drug-addicted story of blind pianist, Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx), this movie feels slightly more original and superior in many way. For starters, it's almost impossible to match the towering performance given by Academy Award winner, Jamie Foxx, who both looked and acted the part. Ray went on to earn 6 nominations in total, 2 of which were wins (Sound Mixing). Kerry Washington also delivers a fine supporting turn in this unforgettable instant classic.
#1. Nowhere Boy (2010)
Before director Sam Taylor-Johnson was put in charge of the box-office smash, Fifty Shades of Grey, she was telling the spectacular story of a young John Lennon with Nowhere Boy. Her leading star and now husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), gives a transcending performance as the Beatles' John Lennon prior to the band's breakout success. We're given the early story of Lennon's life and how his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) raised him and tried to protect the young man from his unstable biological mother whom he reconnects with during his teen years. Nowhere Boy is a fantastic film that's massively overlooked and under-seen. If you're interested in an engaging biopic, then this is a must-see.