Jeff Simon, Arts Editor
Milos Forman's "Amadeus" isn't just a great music film, it's probably the best film ever made about the artistic process. More importantly, its real subject, courtesy of Salieri in Peter Shaffer's original play, is the unappeasable energy and malice of mediocrity, one of the eternal human subjects.
Anand Tucker's "Hilary and Jackie" is a pretty good variation on that. It's the story of cellist Jacqueline du Pre and her sister Hilary, the one in the family who wasn't possessed by performing genius and who didn't die tragically young from MS. If the story alone doesn't break your heart, Emily Watson as Jacqueline and Rachel Griffiths as genius-bypassed sister Hilary will.
And, too, Michael Wadleigh's documentary "Woodstock" is awfully good. I covered the festival for this newspaper in 1969, and Wadleigh did better with it than I ever dreamed - certainly than I did.
Jeff Miers, Pop Music Critic
"Masked and Anonymous" There are, of course, the staples of the "music movie" diet - "The Last Waltz," "A Hard Day's Night," "Don't Look Back," "The Song Remains the Same," and so forth. I'll forgo all of these wonderful instances of the marriage of music and film this time around, though, because by now, they just seem too obvious.
For my money, "Masked and Anonymous" is the most successful example extant of a musician making a great (and greatly flawed) movie. Bob Dylan and "Seinfeld" writer Larry Charles collaborated on this slice of celluloid myth-stroking, and the end result is a film that whips by the mind's eye with all the imagistic fury and hyper-text logic of a great Dylan song-painting - say, "Desolation Row," "Isis," "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" or "Sugar Baby."
I find its main thematic structure - an over-the-hill singer of protest songs is sprung from prison to appear at a benefit concert and makes his away across a landscape that is never identified, as said landscape grapples with civil war and imminent collapse - strangely uplifting. This may say more about me than it does about Dylan or Charles, but something about this washed-up singer "bearing witness" to the absolute mess man has made of the world is gratifying and poignant.
"Masked and Anonymous" is a Dylan song come to life on the screen. It's surrealism, start to finish. But it also really speaks to you, if you're willing to listen. The movie is a bit of a mess, but then, the world it's portraying is a complete train-wreck.
Mary Kunz Goldman,
Classical Music Critic
"Intermezzo." In this 1936 Swedish movie, a very young Ingrid Bergman plays a pianist who falls for a famous, married violinist. The movie plays up not only the glamour of the classical music world - especially as it existed in the 1930s - but also the allure of playing chamber music together. This music can be powerful stuff.
"Amadeus." I used to dislike this movie because much of it unfairly makes Mozart out to be an idiot. Mozart had a great sense of humor, but he was ambitious and serious, and his contemporaries are on record saying that judging from his clothes and deportment, you could mistake him for a high official. But some scenes ring true. You see Mozart writing music while idly pushing a ball around a billiard table, you see him clowning with his son and, finally, haunted by the Requiem. And the movie ponders a question we'll always wonder about - where such an inexplicable genius could possibly come from.
"Bird." Brooding and swirling, Clint Eastwood's 1988 portrait of Charlie Parker captures the jazz legend's scrambled life and relationships. I like how the movie emphasizes how, as a young man, he "got the gong" - and he used that humiliation as a reason to get good.
"Impromptu." Maniacal, loopy Judy Davis plays George Sand, the eccentric Parisian writer who fell in love with Chopin, in this 1991 dramatization of Chopin's love life - which was, face it, tied in with his creative life. Chopin is played by Hugh Grant, whose stammering and retiring manner makes him a good choice for the role. I love movies about old masters, and this one's a goodie.