Only time will tell if Amy Winehouse’s life will be scripted to become a feature film like that of several musicians whose lives ended early and tragically. When biopics are cast well and executed successfully, they can be superb films and great vehicles for the actors portraying the beloved musicians. Biopics also merge two great art forms together – music and film. To learn about the life that inspired the music through a captivating narrative is a difficult feat for filmmakers, and it’s a feat accomplished well by this list of films:
This biopic shows the meteoric rise of Tejano music sensation, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. Mexican director Gregory Nava begins the story during Selena’s childhood when her father realized her musical talent and the family set off on the road performing countless shows through until Selena became a big star in the Latin music industry, married, began a fashion line and recorded an English cross-over album shortly before being shot by her fan club president. Jennifer Lopez is perfectly cast as Selena and imbues the role with vibrancy truly reminiscent of the late beloved star.
Lou Diamond Phillips is brilliant as the 17-year-old pop singer who dies tragically in a plane crash. The film shows the young love that blossoms between Ritchie Valens and Donna, the girl who inspires Valens’ hit song – “Donna.” Valens records an album and is invited to tour with other famous recording artists at the time like Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. All three musicians perish one fateful night when they board a plane after a gig that crashes killing all on board.
The Buddy Holly Story
Back before Gary Busey was a wannabe apprentice to Donald Trump and the wacky, colourful character he’s become today, he was a promising young actor who wowed critics as Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story. Busey embodied the character so completely, remarkably transforming himself to look and sound uncannily like Buddy Holly. His performance was so believable and remarkable that he earned an Academy Award nomination for best actor for his portrayal of the teen singing sensation.
Oliver Stone pays homage to the popular 60’s rock group while documenting the life of the group’s lead singer, Jim Morrison. Val Kilmer delivers a mesmerizing and unbelievably realistic performance. His physical transformation is uncanny and his vocals in the film sound so much like Morrison’s that it has been said that members of The Doors could not differentiate between the two voices.
Notorious is the story of slain rap star Notorious B.I.G (aka Christopher Wallace.) The film shows Wallace’s troubled early days during which he was a hustler and a drug dealer and served time in jail, to his triumphant rise as one of the hip hop industry’s biggest, most talented MC’s, to his drive-by shooting death by an unknown assailant.
La Vie En Rose
Marion Cotillard won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of France’s famous chanteuse. The film doesn’t follow a standard, linear narrative but rather a non-linear telling with Cotillard switching back and forth between portrayals of Piaf as a 17-year-old street singer to a 47-year-old terminally ill, drug-addicted, sickly music icon, and her performance is simply brilliant.
This biopic focuses largely on the stormy, off-stage love life of country singer Patsy Cline. The tumultuous relationship between Patsy and her husband Charlie Dick is superbly rendered by lead actors Jessica Lange and Ed Harris. Cline’s musical career is highlighted briefly in scenes where Lange convincingly lip-synchs some of Cline’s biggest hits like “Crazy” and “Walkin’ After Midnight.”
What other musician biopics stand out for you? Let us know in the comments section.