Tag Archives: Richard Dreyfuss

Movies About Music & Musicians

Hollywood is at its best when it produces movies that inspire. With respect to movies about music and musicians, here are a dozen that inspire me:
1. The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) (Jeff & Beau Bridges and Michelle Pfeiffer)
Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors and is extremely versatile. Characters seem real and the movie avoids relationship cliches and stereotypes that so often leave the viewer less than satisfied.
2. For Love or Country (2000) (Andy Garcia)
Garcia portrays Cuban trumpet player Arturo Sandoval. All musicians talk about how important our art is to us, but this movie makes you ask the questions, “How much do I really love music and what would I do to pursue it?”
3. Swing Kids (1993) (Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale)
Compelling story of a movement of young kids who used Swing dance and jazz as a form of rebellion against the Nazi movement in pre-WWII Germany.
4. Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) (Richard Dreyfuss)
Some might find this movie corny or sappy, but I love it. The movie really captures the essence of what makes great music teachers great – The ability to reach into the core of each student individually and give them what they need and to grow as a musician and as a person.
5. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) (James Cagney)
The most iconic performance by James Cagney in his portrayal of Broadway legend George M. Cohan, especially when you consider that Cagney was known as a tough guy, gangster type in most of his movie roles.
6. The Buddy Holly Story (1978) (Gary Busey)
This movie captured the excitement of the early days of rock and roll. Though Busey’s career never lived up to its potential, he turns in a great performance here.
7. This is Spinal Tap (1984) (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer)
Every cliche of the ego-driven rock star is exposed here – some real laugh out loud moments and don’t underestimate the value of the musical talents of the leading actors here in making this movie work.
8. Walk the Line (2005) (Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon)
It’s difficult to portray flawed celebrities in a way that makes you understand both why they were beloved and how they could be despised at times. This film “walks that line” wonderfully.
9. Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) (Sissy Spacek, Tommie Lee Jones)
Like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn’s story had an unpleasant side (primarily her relationship with an abusive husband) that needed to be a part of the mix if the movie was to be credible. Likeable for many of the same reasons.
10. A Mighty Wind (2000) (Ensemble Cast)
It’s clear that the cast and creators of this movie, who have also put together a string of satirical films with a cult following (This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) had a clear affinity for the folk music movement of the 1950’s and 60’s while understanding how the personalities easily lent themselves to jest. Heartwarming and funny and not far from an accurate portrayal of the mindset of the folk musician.
11. The Five Pennies (1959) (Danny Kaye, Barbara Bel Geddes, Louis Armstrong)
Danny Kaye was one of the most likeable and engaging celebrities on the screen or off. Movie features a fun performance by Louis Armstrong.
12. The Blues Brothers (1980) (John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd) Though the movie resorts to car chases and the storyline gets slow at times, this movie stands the test of time for 2 reasons: a plethora of cameo appearances by legendary blues & R&B musicians; and the chemistry and playfulness of the lead actors in their most lovable and enduring roles/characters.

Here are a few others that I haven’t seen that are highly regarded:
Sid & Nancy (1986) Gary Oldman delivered a powerful performance portraying Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols.
Bird (1988) The troubled life of brilliant and groundbreaking jazz saxophone player Charlie “Yardbird” Parker is portrayed by Forest Whitaker. Directed by jazz aficionado and musician Clint Eastwood.
Lady Sings the Blues (1972) Diana Ross gives an Oscar-nominated performance as jazz vocalist Billie Holliday.
Ray (2004) Jamie Foxx in his Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles.
Round Midnight (1986) Dexter Gordon gives a critically acclaimed performance as an aging jazz saxophonist.
Amadeus (1990) The story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart garnered 8 Academy awards.
Shine (1996) Based on the true story of Australian pianist David Helfgott.

Here’s a more extensive list from UC Berkeley

Your thoughts?

Remembering Michael Kamen & Mr. Holland’s Opus

This week marked the 7th anniversary of the death of Michael Kamen. Kamen was a talented musician and music producer. He was also an Academy Award-nominated film composer, and wrote the original music for one of my favorite music films, Mr. Holland’s Opus, released in 1995/96. The movie, starring Richard Dreyfuss, chronicles the journey of an aspiring composer who takes a high school music teaching position reluctantly out of necessity and grows to love the work and the impact that he has on the lives of his students.

Shortly after that film was completed, Kamen founded an organization called Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps bring musical instruments to schools in need. After Hurricane Katrina they formed an emergency fund for school music programs in the Gulf Coast area. Sadly, Kamen was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1997 and died of a heart attack in 2003, but his legacy lives on through his music, and perhaps more importantly through his Foundation.

I’m always intrigued by people who achieve great things, yet find a new calling in life and an opportunity to impact lives to a greater extent. Celebrities like Danny Thomas, Christopher Reeve, and Michael J. Fox found challenging missions later in life that have had greater impact on the lives of others than even their considerable achievements in entertainment.

I think it sends a message to all of us. Whether you believe in fate, destiny, religion, or a higher power, I think it’s important to understand that our journey in life is a winding road and that we may be called to change direction every once in a while to have the greatest impact on others.

Thanks to Michael Kamen for great music, a great movie, a wonderful foundation, and an extraordinary legacy.