Music-centric movies worth a deep dive: from ‘Almost Famous’ to ‘Whiplash’

A scene from "Almost Famous." Photo: Neal Preston

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A scene from "Almost Famous." Photo: Neal Preston

Have you exhausted shows to binge yet? I’m at the point of mindlessly cycling through the apps on TiVo and the Amazon Fire TV Stick — where my most notable victory has been the discovery of a SiriusXM app — and watching an episode of “I Love Lucy” before bed to clear my head of the sludge of the day.

If you’re weary from episodic viewing and have already rotated through the crop of “New and Noteworthy!” movies, here are a few music-centric considerations.

The ground rules: no biopics (sorry, "Ray," "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Straight Outta Compton" and "Rocketman"). No documentaries (been there, listed that). No musicals (hello, "La La Land," "A Chorus Line" and "Chicago"). And no movies tied to music only because of formidable soundtracks (that's you, "Footloose," "Dirty Dancing," "The Bodyguard" and most John Hughes films).

Happy viewing. (The $ indicates a download fee.)

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Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna in "Sing Street." (Photo courtesy The Weinstein Company/TNS)

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna in "Sing Street." (Photo courtesy The Weinstein Company/TNS)

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Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna in "Sing Street." (Photo courtesy The Weinstein Company/TNS)

“Sing Street” (2016, Vudu)

Not only was this Irish coming-of-age charmer one of the best music movies in recent memory, it was among the top choices in a year that included “La La Land.” The combination of a working-class ‘80s-era Dublin backdrop, lived-in performances from Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Jack Reynor and pre-“Bohemian Rhapsody” Lucy Boynton, and original songs from Gary Clark (of Scotland’s Danny Wilson) that will be glued to your eardrums, helped the movie land into the sweet spot between tenderness and idealism. A stage version recently stormed off-Broadway, with a Broadway arrival pending.

“Almost Famous” (2000, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube $)

Come for the backstory about a precocious music journalist hanging out with a crazy rock band to profile in Rolling Stone (and spoiler, that young man would grow up to be Cameron Crowe, who would write and direct this movie about his experience). Stay for the “Tiny Dancer” bus scene.

“That Thing You Do” (1996, Hulu)

The tragic COVID-19 related death of songwriter Adam Schlesinger — who penned the title track — makes this piffle about fictional pop band The Wonders (aka The One-ders) an even more poignant experience right now. Written and directed by Tom Hanks, in his debut behind the camera.

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Viveik Kalra in, "Blinded by the Light." (Nick Wall/Warner Bros./TNS)

Viveik Kalra in, "Blinded by the Light." (Nick Wall/Warner Bros./TNS)

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Viveik Kalra in, "Blinded by the Light." (Nick Wall/Warner Bros./TNS)

“Blinded By the Light” (2019, Prime, Hulu, HBO)

You don’t have to be a Bruce Springsteen devotee to appreciate the deft use of his songs to tell the story of a British-Pakistani Muslim teen desperate to escape his small-town life and stifling – if loving – family. It’s been known to make grown men cry.

“Little Voice” (1998, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube $)

The exemplary Jane Horrocks (“Absolutely Fabulous”) is LV – or “Little Voice,” a reclusive young woman who lives with her mother (played by Brenda Blethyn, who would make anyone a recluse by comparison). Little Voice’s gift is mimicking the divas of song – Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey – and thanks to the ear of her mother’s manager boyfriend Ray (Michael Caine) and the infatuation of local guy Billy (Ewan McGregor), she eventually uncovers her confidence.

“Once” (2007, Prime, Vudu, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube $)

Stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová were musicians prior to “Falling Slowly” into this sweet indie (budget - $150,000; gross - $23 million) about a busker (Guy) and a flower seller who plays piano at a music store (Girl). The authenticity extended to director John Carney, the former bassist in Hansard’s band The Frames. (He also co-wrote and directed the aforementioned “Sing Street.”)

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Miles Teller, left, and J.K. Simmons star in "Whiplash." Daniel McFadden / Sony Pictures Classics

Credit: Daniel McFadden

Miles Teller, left, and J.K. Simmons star in "Whiplash." Daniel McFadden / Sony Pictures Classics

Credit: Daniel McFadden

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Miles Teller, left, and J.K. Simmons star in "Whiplash." Daniel McFadden / Sony Pictures Classics

Credit: Daniel McFadden

Credit: Daniel McFadden

“Whiplash” (2014, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play $)

Visceral and gripping, the film is a showcase for Miles Teller, who plays a young jazz drummer and student at a fictional New York conservatory. The fearsome tutelage of the school’s jazz ensemble instructor Terence Fletcher (a simmering J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for the performance) turns music lessons into dangerous psychological games. You will be riveted.

“24 Hour Party People” (2002, Hulu, Sling TV, Starz)

A dramedy that spotlights the music community of Manchester, England, from 1976-1992, and more specifically, Factory Records, the label that birthed Joy Division and New Order, among other British Dark Wave bands. The always-engaging Steve Coogan plays Tony Wilson, a BBC journalist and founder of the record label. It’s partially based in reality, but with many liberties.

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Bradley Cooper wrote, directed, produced and stars in the fourth remake of "A Star is Born." He's joined by pop star Lady Gaga in her feature film debut. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Bradley Cooper wrote, directed, produced and stars in the fourth remake of "A Star is Born." He's joined by pop star Lady Gaga in her feature film debut. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

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Bradley Cooper wrote, directed, produced and stars in the fourth remake of "A Star is Born." He's joined by pop star Lady Gaga in her feature film debut. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Also worth your time: "This is Spinal Tap" (1984, Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play $); "A Star is Born" (2018 version, Hulu, HBO); "The Commitments" (1991, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, YouTube $); "School of Rock" (2003, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes $); "Purple Rain" (1984, Netflix); "The Blues Brothers" (1980, Hulu); "The Way We Were" (1973, Crackle); "Light of Day" (1987, YouTube, DVD); "8 Mile" (2002, Hulu, Sling TV); "Begin Again" (2013, Amazon, Vudu, iTunes $); "High Fidelity" (2000, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, Google Play $).

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