From biopics to documentaries to live concert recordings, there have been a whole host of epic music films to enjoy this year. And so, as the year draws to a close, we’re taking a look back at some of the best music-based films of 2023.
This documentary film, which aired worldwide on Netflix in July, focused on the English pop duo, Wham! Commemorating the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Fantastic (1983), the 93-minute picture was directed by Chris Smith.
Featuring unseen archive footage, television appearances, home videos, interviews and family comments, it is a comprehensive exploration into George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, from their first meeting in Hertfordshire to their appearance on Top of the Pops in 1982 to their sell-out free concert in 1986.
Watched by 4.4 million people in its first five days of release and receiving critical acclaim from The Evening Standard, The Guardian and Screen International, among others, the documentary provides a fascinating insight into the evolution of success of one of the 1980s’ most beloved bands.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer
This HBO documentary, which was released in May, followed the life and career of American singer/songwriter Donna Summer. Her prominence in the disco era of the 1970s gave her the nickname “The Queen of Disco,” and Billboard has ranked her sixth on the list of ‘Greatest of All Time Top Dance Club Artists’.
With five Grammy Awards and over 100 million record sales worldwide, she is one of the most recognisable names in music. It was her 1976 single that inspired the docu-film’s title, ‘Love to Love You Baby,’ which rocketed her to success, reaching No.2 on the US Hot 100 chart.
Directed by Oscar and Emmy-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Summer’s daughter, Brooklyn Sudano, the documentary provided a deep insight into the late singer, who died in 2012 at the age of 63. Featuring concert footage, home videos and rich photography, it provided a hugely entertaining and intriguing window into the artist’s life and career.
Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming with Dave Letterman
Released on Disney+ back in March, this documentary followed US television presenter David Letterman on a journey around Dublin, Ireland, the hometown of U2’s Bono and The Edge. Directed by Oscar winner Morgan Neville, the movie was advertised as “part concert movie, part travel adventure” as Letterman joined the Irish singers for their live performance of a special concert in Dublin.
Exploring the cultural impact of U2 on the Irish community and delving into the pair’s close friendship and strong musical partnership, this was a candid and warm documentary which not only shed new light on their lives and careers but also painted a fascinating portrait of Dublin’s rich political, religious and cultural history over the past 50 years.
Directed, produced, and starring Bradley Cooper, Maestro is a biopic that stands apart, focusing on the complex relationship between legendary American conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and his wife, Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). The film, reminiscent of Cooper’s previous work A Star is Born, chronicles Bernstein’s struggle with his closeted sexuality and its impact on his marriage rather than his musical legacy.
Shot in a melodramatic style, Maestro uses creative camerawork and close-ups, intertwining Bernstein’s hidden desires with his musical talent. The narrative, rich in overlapping dialogue, portrays Bernstein and Felicia’s intimate relationship, splitting the film into black-and-white and colour sections to signify pivotal personal crossroads.
Cooper’s portrayal of Bernstein is transformative, capturing the various stages of his life with remarkable attention to detail. However, it’s Mulligan’s portrayal of Felicia that leaves a lasting impression, delivering a deeply poignant performance that transcends the usual biopic tropes.
Maestro is a complex and melancholic film that showcases Cooper’s directorial prowess, offering a more nuanced and less accessible experience than A Star is Born. Set for a November cinema release in the US and a December global release on Netflix, Maestro premiered at the Venice Film Festival and featured at the BFI London Film Festival.
Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour Movie
There’s no denying that Taylor Swift has had a successful year, possibly the biggest of her career so far. Having been recently named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, she is rounding off a series of special achievements in 2023, including the success of her monumental Eras Tour.
Giving the fans what they wanted, the multiple Grammy Award-winning singer had the concert filmed and produced into a 169-minute movie directed by Sam Wrench. Focusing on three shows at SoFi Stadium in California, the movie has made almost $250 million at the box office since its release in October.
And rightly so. The concert itself is an epic exploration into the various phases or ‘eras’ of Swift’s almost 20-year career and gives a masterclass in stage presence, audience commandment and cardio-fitness, with Swift performing non-stop for almost four hours. The movie captured the beauty, quality and slickness of this religiously rehearsed performance and, with its theatrical release, made cinemagoers feel like they had been lucky enough to secure concert tickets themselves.
Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé
However, the film also provided insight into the development, rehearsal and execution of the stadium tour, which focused on her seventh studio album, Renaissance, which was released in July. Helping Beyoncé become the most awarded person in Grammy Awards history, the album was a massive success.
The film, which was released through AMC Theatres in November, has amassed a worldwide total of $36.1 million, coming in much lower than Swift in box office success. However, the critical response was excellent, with multiple five-star reviews which credited the documentary segments, the rare inside look into the production aspect of the tour, and the film’s immersive visuals, showcasing Beyoncé’s artistic flair.
Just over a year since the hugely successful biopic, Elvis, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks, comes Priscilla, a look into the other side of one of the most public marriages in history.
Directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi as the Presleys, the film is adapted from Priscilla’s 1985 memoir. Spanning the time from their first meeting in 1959, when Priscilla was just 14 years old and Elvis was ten years her senior, all the way to the couple’s divorce in 1973.
Featuring many aspects of Elvis’ rise to fame and his resultant struggles with addiction, which are now more well-known thanks to Luhrmann’s biopic, the film neatly portrays the impacts of this unusual life on Priscilla, including her experience trying to navigate their public marriage, being cast in Elvis’ various musical comedies, and his increasingly volatile behaviour.
The film, which was produced by A24, the studio responsible for several Oscar-winning movies, including The Whale and Everything Everywhere All At Once, has received generally positive critical acclaim. It tells an often untold story, providing an insight into the wife of one of the most famous people in the world, illustrating the difficulties and challenges that come with this level of celebrity.