This weekend, audiences will get the chance to groove and thrill to the exploits of James Brown in Get On Up, depicting his history as an exciting, checkered, and booty-thumping legacy. It's not the first music biopic, and it won't be the last, but it does seem to provide audiences with the charge you'd expect from a movie loaded with great tunes and almost non-stop dancing. So how about 24 hours of that?
This latest marathon actually runs a little long – it'll take you from noon to 12:30 the next day. But the effort was made to avoid simply listing the best of the genre, instead focusing on a diverse and wildly different collection of stories, from legends like Bob Dylan, to curiosities like Glenn Gould, titans like Notorious B.I.G. and tragedies like Kurt Cobain. All the music you could think to imagine is right here, in the 24-Hour Music Biopic Marathon.
Walk The LineWe'll start at noon to the sweet sounds of Johnny Cash. The James Mangold-directed drama is actually the highest-grossing music biopic of all-time, and when you see it you'll note why: the delicate relationship at its core (superbly acted by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon), beat-by-beat summary of a rock-star's life, lived vicariously, and the unbeatable music of a legend.
El CantanteWe mix it up here at around 2:30, as the sultry sounds of Marc Anthony take us over. Anthony's the best-selling salsa artist of all-time, so the idea of him playing the golden-voiced Hector Lavoe in a movie is a lot like Roger Clemens playing Henry Rowengartner. Still, this intense, often hard-to-watch story of hard-charging music and endless excess (which also features Selena star Jennifer Lopez) will shake your speakers and get a good party going in your living room.
Coal Miner's DaughterIt's amazing how we got the story of Loretta Lynn so long ago that we forget she's still alive. Sissy Spacek is too, so... sequel? This hardscrabble drama depicts Lynn as an unlikely success story, growing up in a crowded household, none of whom were artists – though the film amusingly tips its hand with Levon Helm playing her father. It's soapy and heated, but Spacek is a marvel, well-deserving of her Best Actress Oscar.
Cadillac RecordsLess a biopic about a certain person than a snapshot of a moment of time, this underrated drama tells the story of Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), who founded Chess Records, giving America a chance to hear such legends as Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) and Etta James (Beyonce!). The major takeaway is not only the cultural and musical atmosphere of this era, but also the struggles undergone just to cut through the social unrest B.S. and simply get a record on the air.
This Is Spinal TapIt should be around 8:15 by now, which is a good time to dip into maybe the funniest music movie ever made. This Is Spinal Tap isn't the "realest" movie one can make about the eighties rock scene, but it's pretty darn close, depicting the messy exploits of England's loudest band as they complete a disastrous U.S. tour despite infighting, incompetence, and the general indifference of the public. Though they existed in sketches and smaller concerts before this, This Is Spinal Tap propelled its titular band to actual worldwide fame and arena-filling tours, where audiences everywhere could finally Smell The Glove.
Great Balls Of FireDennis Quaid is a flat-out lunatic in this overheated story of Jerry Lee Lewis and his tumultuous career and personal life. While many had qualms with Quaid's over-the-top performance, he's less Lewis and more his own creation, a maniacal, sexy presence with a devilish grin who looks into the audience and automatically convinces you of anything he likes. Lewis was a famous womanizer, but Quaid is a sexual devil.
Last DaysWe're headed into the midnight portion of the marathon, which means things will get a little sadder, a little quieter and a bit more abstract. Gus Van Sant's Last Days isn't necessarily about Kurt Cobain, but who are we kidding? This portrait of a depressed rocker in his final days before suicide pack an aching sadness into their runtime, as Michael Pitt's "Blake" studiously avoids human interaction, swirling into a whirlpool of depression until there's nothing left to hear, see or feel.
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter StoryHopefully you can find a copy of one of Todd Haynes' great rock classics, this experimental film about the tragic life and death of Carpenter, who enjoyed a brief and iconic music career before succumbing to a heart attack at 32. Hayes was not authorized to tell Carpenter's story, so the film has been blocked from distribution, though copies pop up online regularly. Oh, and did we mention the film is told entirely with the use of Barbie dolls? Don't let that fool you – this is a dark, saddening story. At only 43 minutes, this film should take you to the cusp of 2 AM.
ControlDepression really is a common thread in music biopics isn't it? The directorial debut of music video icon Anton Corbijn, this stark black and white film depicts the struggles of Ian Curtis, the singer of Joy Division who struggled with epilepsy, depression and infidelity before taking his own life. The heart of the film is the relationship between Sam Riley's Curtis and Samantha Morton as his wife Deborah, which is notable since apparently the film is told through her eyes, based on the real-life Deborah's writings.
NotoriousHow is it that there's such a shortage of movies about rappers? Notorious tracks the rise of a young plus-sized rapper from Brooklyn who makes a name for himself coming up through a world of crime and strife. Notorious is a slight film, ultimately, though its strengths come from both the music and the reverent supporting turns by Derek Luke (as Puff Daddy) and Anthony Mackie (as Tupac Shakur), as well as a typically volcanic turn by Angela Bassett as Violetta Wallace.
RayMaybe the perfect movie of this bunch to score your waking-up. Because it's sweet, tracking Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles bringing his particular light to the music world. Because it's warm, thanks to those lovely Charles tunes that still sizzle today with inventiveness and good humor. And because it's long-as-hell – the movie is two and a half hours long, probably unnecessarily, so if you come in at the middle, you ain't missing anything. In case you were wondering, starting this at 6 AM would be best, given the schedule in place.
32 Short Films About Glenn GouldThis Canadian feature, starring an intense Colm Feore, depicts the fractured identity of Gould, a tortured pianist who influenced scads of other musicians. The film very much subscribes to the notion not that anyone needs to know who Gould is, but that they need to understand artists, like any of us, contain multitudes and cannot be captured within a two hour movie. Some of these shorts are dark, a couple are funny, and some are just plain weird. You'll be delirious at this point so it may not matter.
I'm Not ThereWell, hopefully you are there during this arduous, ridiculous process taking you from noon to noon. Like 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, here's a film where the truth is in the eye of the beholder. Ostensibly about Bob Dylan, the film breaks his life into vignettes, where each aspect of his personality is represented by a different actor, from Cate Blanchett's dismissive troubadour to young Marcus Carl Franklin as a young train-hopping child. Todd Haynes' film is a travelogue through the life of Dylan, and in this film he's created maybe the greatest music biopic of all-time, showcasing an extraordinary American journey told through music, refracted and remixed dozens of times within the span of two hours. Plus, it's the only place where you'll see Batman (Christian Bale) and the Joker (Heath Ledger) play the same guy.