Musicians and the world of the music industry has been celebrated and vilified in every single way. Everyone on this planet enjoys a good tune or two but the popular and glitzy showbiz world of musical celebrities has its troubles and toils. Many a good artist succumbs to its ways and, often, their lives are cut short. The behind the scenes or on camera escapades are often immortalised on the big screen by filmmakers who wish to show us a glimpse into their world.
With the release of All Eyez On Me, the biopic of Tupac Shakur, we’re looking at the best musical biopics.
Honourable Mention: Marion Cotillard’s La Vie en Rose and Bob Dylan’s film I Am Not There deserve some nods here.
Sid and Nancy (1986)
Sid & Nancy is an uncomfortable, yet enthralling cult film that sees established performer Gary Oldman capture the essence of Sid Vicious and the anarchy within him. Made in the late eighties, director Alex Cox developed a story as honestly as he could, unafraid to show a musician and his wife in the mess of their love. The harshness involved will catastrophically course through you and make you uncomfortable but herein lies the brilliance: The movie is going to make you as uncomfortable as possible by being unafraid to show the devastation and wantonness of a couple unravelling in the worst way because of their love. The scummy stains of drug abuse permeates the cinematography and scene set-up as it’s hard viewing, especially as the pair take to self-harm to feed their addiction to kicks. It’s a hard watch, but also necessary.
Ian Curtis was a tortured soul. Plighted with epilepsy and mental illness, his mind cocooned itself and haunted him for years. Finding solace in his music and work with Joy Division, he struggled with fame and admiration that ultimately lead to his untimely suicide. Control is an astute black and white masterpiece that tackled the brutality of suffering from an unseen illness whilst being thrust into the limelight. Sam Riley in the lead role tackles the icon with a fantastic understanding of Curtis and his life. Conveying his melancholy music that is still idolised today as well as the difficulties, Anton Corbijn does a marvellous effort here. Special mention has to go to Toby Kebbell’s Rob Getton, a humorous addition to the film.
What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993)
Earning lead actors Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett Academy Award nominations, the true and turbulent life of Tina Turner is brought to life in this haunting yet visceral biopic. The story starts from childhood, and sees Turner rise to become a star whilst dealing with the horrors of domestic abuse by the hands of her husband. Angela Bassett is a powerhouse performer who captures the devastation and determination of Tina in an impressive portrayal. Fishburne is equally brilliant and ultimately terrifying as the controlling Ike. Rumour has it that Fishburne only came onboard because of Bassett and it isn’t too hard to believe, together they flourish with extraordinary on-screen chemistry.
Walk the Line (2005)
To me, it’s shocking that Joaquin Phoenix hasn’t received an Academy Award. Sure, he’s a bit bizarre but you’d hand one to Casey Affleck before Phoenix? No, uh-uh, not cool. Anyway, he has been nominated numerous times, including his performance as the iconic Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. The film sees his rise from childhood (as usual) into the iconic country star, only for it to nearly fall apart thanks to his drug addiction. However, through it, he finds solace in his long-time singing partner and lover June Carter, played by Reese Witherspoon in the actual Oscar winning role. Compelling, perforated by Phoenix’s impressive embodiment of Cash is certainly a necessary watch. Just, come on already, give that man a golden gong!
Jamie Foxx’s performance as the blind piano player and singer Ray Charles has earned critical acclaim across the globe. The story is usual biopic garb that peppers musician backstory including a tragic childhood, an illness, and an addiction to drugs. However, it’s the character of the famed musician and his influence throughout the civil rights movements. Foxx is compelling as the lead, able to showcase the good with the bad. It’s a powerful film that is backed by Ray’s genius music which includes Hit The Road Jack and Georgia, On My Mind. It’s no wonder Foxx scooped up the Academy Award with it!
All Eyez on Me is out in cinemas now!