The 10 Best Music Documentaries of 2016 – Yahoo Music
6. Oasis: Supersonic
The filmmakers of Supersonic took a similar path as Ron Howardâs Beatles doc (more on that later), focusing on the earliest, more euphoric part of the bandâs career. Some fans may be surprised that Supersonic cuts things off at two hours, after only having gotten as far as Oasisâs massive Knebworth shows in 1996 at the peak of the bandâs popularity. But if ignoring the final 13 years of Oasisâs career makes it sound like the movie is going to be all rise and no fall, never fear: âForeshadowingâ is far too mild a word for how the documentary covers the infighting thatâd doomed the relationship of the Gallaghers almost since the younger brother was in the womb. âLiam was always cooler than me,â muses Noel about his singer sibling, in voiceover. âClothes looked better on him and he had a better haircut and he was funnier. Liam clearly would have liked to have my talent as a songwriter. And thereâs not a day goes by that I donât wish I could rock a parka like that.â As we see 250,000 fans gathered for the â96 concert that is the movieâs artificially upbeat climax, Noel admits he wishes thatâs where the Oasis story really ended: âWe should have disappeared in a puff of smoke. But thatâs what addicts do â they keep riding till the wheels come off.â As the membersâ narcissism is alternately hilarious and alarming, you may feel less nostalgic for the group itself than for the very last days when a rock ânâ roll band could matter that much to that many people. As Noel laments, âI have always thought that it was the last great gathering of the people before the birth of the Internet. Itâs no coincidence that things like that donât happen anymore.â
(Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. Available for sale and rental on all platforms.)
5. One More Time With Feeling
âWhat the f*** happened to my face?â Nick Cave asks himself in voiceover as the cameras go in for a severe, austere close-up. The rock cult hero commissioned this documentary by Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), but with lacerating self-observations like that, itâs hardly a vanity project. Ostensibly, the movie is covering the making of Caveâs 2016 Skeleton Tree album. But what itâs really about is the musicianâs reaction to the 2015 accidental death of his teenage son, although this event is only alluded to in the movieâs first hour and never really explained even in the second. (Youâll have to look up the details on the web, along with any backstory you might require about Cave himself, since the film provides none.) Itâs a bracing portrait of grief, coping, and existential despair, in the thin guise of a making-of project. And itâs in 3D! Widescreen black-and-white 3D, the huge camera rig for which we occasionally glimpse throughout the film. The Blu-Ray comes out soon, so if you have a 3D-equipped TV set, get out your glassesâ¦ theyâll help mask your tears.
(Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Still playing select theatrical engagements; coming to home video March 3.)
4. We Are X
Every once in a rare while, audiences take a chance on a documentary about a musical subject they know nothing about, most notably with Searching for Sugar Man. This year, at least for those not already in the know about Japanese rock, that opportunity came with We Are X, a look at the metal band X Japan. On paper, some of the more outlandish elements of the groupâs story make the film sound like it might be a real-life Spinal Tap. But in more significant ways, their story is a companion piece to the Nick Cave documentary, to the extent that it deals with band leader Yoshikiâs feelings about the deaths of family members and bandmates. âEven though we kind of propped the film up on these pillars of death, these three visits to graves,â says director Stephen Kijak, âit has a full-on triumphant rock concert moment,â in the form of a headlining gig at Madison Square Garden. In that, he says, itâs not unlike his last documentary, Backstreet Boys: Show âEm What Youâre Made Of: The Boysâ comeback story and X Japanâs saga are âboth sort of underdog stories that end with the triumphant retaking of territory.â
(Rotten Tomatoes: 78%. Recently in theaters; coming to home video in early 2017.)
What a year for soul sisters on film. Besides the Sharon Jones doc (which comes in at No. 2 on this list), we got one on the phenomenal Mavis Staples, and while there is no cancer story or anything half that adversarial to tell, hers is just as compelling. Director Jessica Edwards is determined to focus on this last chapter in Staplesâs career, examining how a woman in her seventies/eighties chose to work with talents like Jeff Tweedy and keep herself relevant, even though itâd be easy and worthy to ride on the coattails of the Staples Singersâ career for a remaining lifetime. Itâs a tossup as to which is better â the modern-day footage of Mavis appearing at rock festivals, or the invaluable clips from the family actâs heyday as a robed gospel act and then secular Stax standout. As Bonnie Raitt puts it, there was âsomething sensual about it without being salacious.â Or, as Mavis herself says, digging through old photos with her sister: âWe were sexy. We were singing gospel, and we were sexy girls up there.â It still applies.
(Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Available for sale and rental on all platforms.)
2. Miss Sharon Jones!
Director Barbara Koppleman proves that you donât have to focus on a performerâs earliest years or rise to fame to arrive at a celebratory arc. She captures Jones in the twilight of her life, dealing with the cancer that finally took her in November, finding more to crow about in the singerâs fight for her life than in anything having to do with her career trajectory. But, of course, thatâs a pretty amazing story, too, and is touched on in flashbacks, as Jones became an unlikely soul sensation in her forties after spending most of her life believing that musical success did not become her. Many greats left us in 2016, but among them, only Jones got a cinematic testament as loving (and up-to-the-moment) as this remarkable and delightful parting gift.
(Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Available for sale and rental on all platforms.)
1. The Beatles: Eight Days a Week â The Touring Years
Martin Scorsese seized on something important when he did No Direction Home, his documentary on Bob Dylan: You donât have to cover an important artistâs entire career â sometimes itâs the shorter arc that tells a better story. That lesson was picked up by Ron Howard, who knows just as surely as the folks who put together those 1962-66 and 1967-70 hits collection that the Beatlesâ career breaks up fairly neatly into two halves, with the first being a much happier one. Thereâs no Let It Be bickering in this doc, just an inordinate amount of mania as he recaptures arguably the most delirious extended moment of the 20th century, at least this side of V-Day. Actually, thereâs a bit of rise-and-fall even in Howardâs truncated narrative, as surviving members Paul and Ringo recall the frustrations of their final touring days in â66, when being screamed at over inaudible monitors came to feel like mediocrity and mayhem, not magic. But even so, a crawl that essentially says âand then they made Sgt. Pepperâ makes for a pretty happy postscript.
(Rotten Tomatoes approval rating: 95%. Available for sale and rental on all platforms.)