Whiplash turns the familiar into something bracingly fresh and funny. It’s intense, clever and brilliantly acted by its two leads, Miles Teller and J.K Simmons who gives the performance of his career. Written and directed by the gifted Damien Chazelle , from his own personal experience, “Whiplash” is about a student (Teller) who is trying to master the art of Jazz drumming at an elite music conservatory. His instructor (Simmons) is a master at making you feel worthless if you don’t follow his tempo. Trust me, you don’t want to piss that guy off. The movie is also thought provoking: how far are you willing to go to become the best? Along the way, Chazelle stages some of the best drum sessions I’ve ever seen onscreen. And the two leads are simply mesmerizing. Teller, a drummer himself, will blow you away with his skills. And J.K Simmons, who usually plays gentle characters (see “Juno”), gives a fearless, electrifying, Oscar-winning performance.”Whiplash” is definitely a crowd-pleaser and one of the best movies of 2014.
It never got the same attention as “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but in many ways, “Rocketman” is a superior movie. This musical biopic about the highs and lows of Sir Elton John, from his early days living in a loveless family, to his rise to fame with such hits as “Your Song” and “I’m Still Standing”, is truly outstanding. Credit writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher for not following the same formula we’ve come to expect from most biopics. Instead, “Rocketman” emerges as a full-blown musical extravaganza that truly captures Sir Elton’s state of mind. And at the center of it all is Taron Egerton, who is truly phenomenal. Musically, the film is a miracle, fueled with beautiful sets that are riveting in every detail. Egerton lets it bleed, giving a performance of a lifetime. If you’re an Elton John fan or if you appreciate music in general, you have to experience “Rocketman”.
Searching For Sugar Man 
2013’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary is the incredible story of a Mexican- American songwriter called Rodriguez, who failed miserably in America in the early 70’s but became a pop culture icon in South Africa where he found a huge audience. The sad thing is that Rodriguez had no idea he was a legend there until a group of fans decided to search for him in the late 90’s (hence the title of the documentary). I won’t reveal more of course but you should know that Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul (who sadly passed away in 2014) begged Rodriguez to attend the Oscar ceremony. But the man refused, scared that he would take the attention away from the makers of this truly terrific documentary. “I was asleep when it won, but my daughter Sandra called to tell me. I don’t have TV service anyway” he said. That’s the kind of man Rodriguez is. And you will love him for that. The title refers to the 1970’s song “Sugar Man” that Rodriguez wrote about a drug dealer. But the movie is filled with so many terrific tunes such as “I Wonder,” “Inner City Blues” and “A Most Disgusting Song”. Just hearing those songs will make you want to know more about the man behind them. But the film’s greatest achievement? It had me, a man who has never ever heard of the name Rodriguez, hooked from the opening minute. “Searching for Sugar Man” will leave you breathless.
Nowhere Boy 
Here’s John Lennon before he was John Lennon. He might have taught the world that “all you need is love”, but what you probably didn’t know is that he spent most of his childhood looking for it. “Nowhere Boy”, from director Sam Taylor Wood, is not a Beatles movie. It’s a John Lennon movie. It’s a nicely crafted film, poignant at times, that makes you understand and appreciate John Lennon the artist. From the age of five, he lived with his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott Thomas) and her husband George. The film focuses on Lennon’s life in his teens when, after the death of George, his biological mother Julia (Marie Ann Duff) entered his life. The relationship between him and the two women in his life is beautifully depicted, as is his connection with a very young Paul McCartney (played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster). The influence of these two very different women, along with his love for Rock N’ Roll music will have a permanent effect on his life, his art and eventually the world. I can’t think of a better John Lennon movie to recommend.
Love & Mercy 
This overlooked biopic about Brian Wilson, the songwriter and leader of The Beach Boys, deserves your attention now more than ever. I don’t suppose any biopic about Wilson could be definitive, but “Love & Mercy” does a great job. Paul Dano delivers a fearless and sympathetic portrayal of the young man who achieved worldwide success with his band but was still led into very dark places by his father. John Cusack plays the older version of Wilson, a middle-aged wreck struggling to reclaim himself (Cusack has never been better by the way). The 1960’s recreation is remarkably good, from costuming and often-hilarious hairstyles to the details of recording music in a studio. The storytelling also benefits from The Beach Boys’ subtly effective music. What’s more, Dano, Cusack and company bring their peculiar characters to life and leave us with something to think about, long after the credits start rolling. Consider “Love & Mercy” a must-see.
Almost Famous 
The quintessential rock movie of the early 2000’s, “Almost Famous” finds director Cameron Crowe at the top of his creative form. Inspired by his own personal experiences as a teenage rock journalist, Crowe tells the story of a 15-year old boy who hits the road with an up-and-coming rock band in the early 1970’s so he could write an article about them. The music, along with great attention to detail, made this film an instant crowd-pleaser at the time of its release. It’s still incredibly entertaining in 2020, and a great reminder that 1970’s rock music is timeless.
Begin Again 
Begin Again is a delightful film with a wonderful soundtrack. Keira Knightley plays a talented songwriter living in New York City with boyfriend Adam Levine, where a hit movie soundtrack has turned him into a star. But when they break up, she winds up singing a song inspired by her heartbreak in a club one night. Enter Mark Ruffalo, a washed up music producer who happens to hear her and becomes convinced that he can make her a star. Don’t let the familiar plot get you down. “Begin Again” is incredibly entertaining, funny, touching and often bitingly true. All the actors are aces, with Knightley scoring points for her terrific voice. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, now’s the time. Chances are, you’ll find yourself revisiting its soundtrack every now then.
The Runaways 
Yet another film about Rock’ n’ Roll in the 1970’s, this movie chronicles the rise and inevitable fall of the all-girl band The Runaways. Kirsten Stewart plays Joan Jett, the 17 year-old girl whose rock and roll aspirations see her paired with 15 year old Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). But with success comes the classic symptoms of fame, including sex, drugs and booze. Kirsten Stewart does a fine job, portraying Joan Jett with her dark jet black hair, edgy style, and passion for rock music. Dakota Fanning is equally good as Cherie Currie, the innocent high school girl turned blonde rock star. The soundtrack features many Runaways songs such as “Queens Of Noise”, and their signature hit “Cherry Bomb”. Rock’n’Roll fans should be more than pleased with what the movie has to offer, and that’s why it’s on this list.
This Is Spinal Tap 
A mockumentary about a fictional heavy metal band attempting an American comeback tour accompanied by a fan who is also a film-maker. This is “Spinal Tap”, a crazy, over-the-top film that defined the 1980’s heavy metal scene and is still entertaining audiences to this day. It’s a lot of fun watching the band create mayhem and madness, and I can’t think of a better film to end the list with. It’s a classic.
The School Of Rock 
Way before streaming services were accessible, “The School of Rock” was constantly playing on TV and I remember watching it every single time. Despite a straightforward premise about a substitute teacher who turns his class into a rock band, the movie benefited greatly from an energetic performance by Jack Black and one hell of an entertaining climax. It’s that energy, along with great music and quotable lines that still make “The School of Rock” my go-to “feel good movie”, even 17 years later.
More movies to see: “Crazy Heart” , “Inside Llewyn Davis , “Walk the Line” , “Ray” , “Once” , “My Immortal Beloved” , “Amadeus , “A Star is Born” , “Bohemian Rhapsody” .