The Best Music Films of 2012

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you’re not still nursing that hangover from last night. My first post of 2013 is actually going to be one more look back at 2012. Although music is an essential part of film, the number of films actually about music each year is comparatively pretty small. And the number of good films about music is even smaller. Film is definitely right behind music as one of my biggest passions, so I wanted to take a look back at some of the best music films of last year. It’s documentary-heavy (a lot of the narrative music films are garbage- remember Rock of Ages?), but it’s still a pretty eclectic range of subjects and styles. I’m ranking not just on subject matter or artists of focus, but overall quality of the films. Since a lot of these films were released in extremely limited capacity, I’ll give you a short take/description for each.

Just like my 2012 Guilty Pleasures list yesterday, this one is a personal effort rather than a No Country group effort. For the official No Country group-ranked lists, check out our Best Albums of 2012, Best Nashville Albums of 2012, and Best Nashville Shows of 2012!

_

1. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap – Perhaps the most intimate and comprehensive hip hop documentary ever made, featuring everyone who is anyone in the rap world. A little bit genre study, a little bit history lesson, and analytical look at artistic validation- this is my favorite music film of the year and one sure to engage any music fan, even if hip hop’s not your thing.

Stream | Netflix
Rent | iTunes | Amazon
Download | iTunes | Amazon
DVD | Amazon

_

2. Under African Skies – Chronicling Paul Simon’s return to South Africa for the 25th anniversary and landmark reunion concert for his classic album ‘Graceland,’ this documentary has plenty of performance footage for the Paul Simon fans and plenty of ’80s South African political/cultural history through the lens of popular music for the just generally interested music fans.  

Download | iTunes
DVD/CD | Amazon || Blu-ray | Amazon

_

3. Marley – An insanely well-made documentary that chronicles the life, death, and legacy of reggae’s biggest and most influential star. This is hands-down the best documentary on Bob Marely ever produced, and an engrossing and insightful look into the rise of regge in a cultural context. It’s balanced, interesting, and fun for fans and non-fans of Marley alike.

Stream | Netflix | Amazon Prime
Rent | iTunes | Amazon
Download | iTunes | Amazon
Blu-ray | Amazon || DVD | Amazon

_

4. Searching for Sugar Man – Though this is a documentary, it almost sounds too fantastic to be true. It’s the story of two South African fans who sought out to find the truth about Rodriguez, an American singer who achieved monumental success in South Africa in the ’70s but relatively none in the states. Though rumored to be dead, the duo finds him alive and well and encourages him to return to music and tour.

Download | iTunes
Blu-ray | Amazon || DVD | Amazon
This one’s not officially out for a couple more weeks- I have a feeling it’ll show up on Netflix (and iTunes/Amazon rentals) shortly after if you sit tight.

_

5. The Sapphires – This is my top pick that isn’t a documentary. At first glance, it might seem like the Australian version of ‘Dreamgirls,’ but ‘The Sapphires’ is a distinctly different and better film. It’s the story of a Supremes-esque aboriginal R&B group sent to Vietnam to sing for the troops. The film is a funny and dramatic tale of perseverance with great musical performances.

This one’s still making its festival rounds stateside and is currently only available to own in Australia. Keep an eye on the film’s Twitter and Facebook accounts for announcements on theatrical/home media releases for 2013.

_

6. Chely Wright: Wish Me Away – This is a documentary chronicling the announcement, and subsequent aftermath, of singer Chely Wright’s decision to come out as gay. It’s kind of shocking (though not so surprising) that Wright is the first openly gay country star and that she faced so much backlash from the notoriously conservative country scene. It’s poignant, well-timed, and an interesting watch even for non-country fans.

Stream | Netflix
Rent | iTunes
Download | iTunes | Amazon
DVD | Amazon

_

7. Shut Up and Play the Hits – Chronicling the calculated end and subsequent massive final concert of seminal ’00s dance-punk band LCD Soundsytem, this documentary captures a true era-defining piece of musical history. I wish it had dug just a bit deeper into the psyche of frontman James Murphy, but the magnitude of the events it preserves still makes it a must-watch.

Rent | iTunes | Amazon
Download | iTunes | Amazon
Blu-ray | Amazon || DVD | Amazon

_

8. Bad 25 – Directed by Spike Lee and featuring commentary from both contemporary artists and people involved with the film’s focus, this documentary is a refreshingly thorough and objective look at the making of and influence of Michael Jackson’s classic album ‘Bad’ (in celebration of its 25th anniversary). It’s full of interesting commentary and rare footage- definitely a treat for Jackson fans.


ABC bought the rights to air this one on Thanksgiving, but expect it to become available to rent and own (and hopefully stream) soon. The television broadcast was almost an hour shorter than the full-version shown at festivals, so even if you caught it on ABC, the home media release is worth another look!

_

9. No Room for Rockstars – The Vans Warped Tour – This documentary takes a look behind the scenes and into the culture surrounding the most successful and longest running traveling summer tour in history, the Vans Warped Tour. It truly hammers home the vibe of community, sense of unity, and brotherhood that might be missed if you judge the tour by the superficiality of some of its headliners. It’s a great look at why the “scene” still matters to so many young people today.

Rent | iTunes
Download | iTunes
DVD/CD | Amazon

_

10. Katy Perry The Movie: Part of Me – It would have been really easy to phone this one in and still cash in on Katy Perry fans coming to see it. Instead, ‘Part of Me’ is an enthralling, entertaining, and often deeply personal look into the life and career of the popstar. Even if you could care less about her music, you’ll almost definitely leave ‘Part of Me’ with a great deal of respect for her artistry and be charmed by her out-of-control likability. Also, it’s a damn well-shot documentary, if not (unsurprisingly) superficial at points.

Rent | iTunes | Amazon
Download | iTunes | Amazon
Blu-ray | Amazon || DVD | Amazon

_

_

Honorable Mentions:

I Am Not a Hipster

Neil Young Journeys

The Sound of Noise

Pitch Perfect

Wagner & Me

Did I miss any of your favorite music films from last year? Let us know in the comments!

1 comment

  1. Pingback: No Country in a Nutshell: The Weekly Recap | 12.31-1.6 « no country for new nashville

Have your say