Top 10 Rock Movies
Posted by David Thomas on January 22, 2009
Top 10 Lists: Letterman made them famous, the Internet made them commonplace, but WNEW makes them rock! Resident music pseudo-savant David Thomas brings you a classic rock Top 10 every week for WNEW’s List-o-Mania …
There are concert movies, there are rock biopics, there are films with knock-out soundtracks, then thereâ€™s the rock movie. Sometimes inspired by real events, sometimes satirical, these are the tales of fictitious performers, usually on their way up, or crashing back down. Here are ten that spring to mind:
10. Rock Star (2001)
In a plot borrowed from Ripper Owensâ€™ temporary replacement of Rob Halford in Judas Priest, copier repairman Mark Wahlberg joins his idols Steel Dragon; the band liked his work in a tribute group. The soundtrack is a mixture of custom-written songs and covers played by real musicians but lip-synched by the singers; in the concert footage, the band do look and behave like they should. Rock Star is consistently entertaining, but not particularly deep, except when Wahlberg interacts with avuncular manager Timothy Spall and long-suffering girlfriend Jennifer Anniston.
9. Top Secret! (1984)
Val Kilmer is at the top of his form in this lightweight spy comedy. Kilmer plays a West Coast surfer on a cultural mission to East Germany, who breaks into full throttle musical numbers at the slightest provocation. Kilmer, who later re-recorded several Doors tracks for the Oliver Stone movie, performed all the songs himself. He dances up a storm during Cut the Rug, but the showstopper is Tutti Frutti.
8. Velvet Goldmine (1998)
More or less about David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust heyday, Velvet Goldmine stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the androgynous starman role. Heâ€™s ably supported by a reliably exhibitionistic Ewan McGregor, who gleefully channels Iggy Pop. The soundtrack is mainly covers of ’70s numbers performed by a cabal of English musicians credited as Venus in Furs; Meyers and McGregor also sing. As an added bonus Christian Bale costars as a journalist with no psychopathic or vigilante tendencies at all. So, Velvet Goldmine; thereâ€™s sex, drugs, rock and roll, Mr. McGregor gets his knob out, and no one ends up on the business end of an axe.
7. Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid star in a frenetic, satirical tale of music business skullduggery and brainwashing, saturated with product-placement sight gags and running jokes about narcissism and insecurity. The three leads who actually do wear long tails and ears for hats donâ€™t sing or play â€“- that was fine work from Kay Hanley in some uncredited session musicians â€“- but were sent to camp so they could, at least, look like rock stars. Oh, and make sure to relish the magnificent boy band Du Jour performing Back Door Lover on the tarmac before taking a final, doomed flight.
6. Walk Hard â€“ The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
John C. Reilly stars as Dewey Cox â€“- mostly Johnny Cash, but with bits of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and (perhaps) Sonny Bono mixed in â€“- a superlatively gifted and very fertile singer, songwriter and guitarist. The movie mockingly follows the reverential biopic format, dropping in on Mr. Cox every decade from the ’50s to the present, noting his lifeâ€™s many crises and having great fun with his unusual susceptibility to drugs. The songs are fine pastiches of the Cash and Dylan oeuvres; Walk Hard and Guilty as Charged in particular are excellent.
5. Purple Rain (1984)
The Minneapolis Maestro performs in a Peggy Sue picture about someone whoâ€™s trying to make it big in the music business, while working a day job as a valet, or something like that. While the flick is short on dramatic interest or tension, musically itâ€™s the dogâ€™s bollocks; Prince and the Revolution were amazing in their day, and this movie has some of their best stuff â€“- Letâ€™s Go Crazy and When Doves Cry, for instance â€“- played to perfection. For Jay and Silent Bob fans, this is also a good place to catch Jayâ€™s favorite band the Time in full flight. Theyâ€™re great too â€¦
4. Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Elvis Presley starred in 29 musical pictures; this is his best; heâ€™s excellent as a petulant ex-jailbird performer with talent and, well, issues … The solid musical numbers and fabulous choreography â€“- some, like the title numberâ€™s, by Presley himself â€“- make the movie on their own, and the story is good in its own right; not just a pretext for the King to do his thing.
3. The Rose (1979)
Most of the films on this list are comedies, or at least have funny bits; not The Rose. In this, her debut movie, Bette Midler does a very convincing impersonation of Janis Joplin during her descent from success to overdose and death. OK, so itâ€™s a bit depressing in the end, but itâ€™s the journey that counts, not the destination, and Midler is superb and the much-covered title track was a big hit.
2. This is Spinal Tap (1984)
I donâ€™t know anyone who doesnâ€™t dig Rob Reinerâ€™s sublime rockumentary, but whatâ€™s not to like? A wonderfully crass soundtrack peaking with the hilarious Big Bottom, a compilation of the worst things that can happen on tour, like having to resort to free-form jazz odyssey, and some magnificent lines like â€œthisâ€, says Nigel Tufnel, referring to a sad, pretty tune in D flat minor â€œis called Lick my Love Pump.â€ Eminently quotable, itâ€™s only #2 in the list, but in every other way, This is Spinal Tap goes all the way up to 11.
1. Still Crazy (1998)
A film synopsis of “’70s rock act Strange Fruit goes on a disastrous warm-up tourâ€ shouldnâ€™t be number one in anyoneâ€™s list, but the plot is just a pretext for a story of coming to terms with the past and overcoming old hostilities. The Clement/Le Frenais script is sharp, the performances â€“- especially by Bill Nighy, Jimmy Nail and Timothy Spall â€“- are spot on, and the soundtrack is the best on this list (although Purple Rain comes close), featuring songs co-written by Squeezeâ€™s Chris Difford that underscore many of the movieâ€™s themes. Round it out with some fine gags about music, touring and superstition and you have my favorite rock movie and therefore the best.