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Music For The Movies 

The 20 greatest rock films ever made

CRITICS' PANEL

Matt Brunson, Kandia Crazy Horse, Lynn Farris, John Grooms, Lew Herman, Fred Mills, John Schacht, Sam Shapiro, Samir Shukla, Ann Wicker

Introduction by Matt Brunson

When Bill Haley sang that it was "One-two-three o'clock, four o'clock rock," he was in effect declaring that it was time for a new musical revolution in movies.

The employment of Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" during the opening credits of 1955's Blackboard Jungle is regarded as the first use of rock music in cinema. It's been over a half-century since that specific merging of movies and music, and we at Creative Loafing figured it was time to pay tribute to a rich history of rock 'n' roll flicks by offering "The 20 Greatest Rock Films Ever Made."

To that end, we assembled a panel of 10 CL contributors (including four previous music editors) who are all well-versed in music and/or movies and asked them to come up with their individual "20 Best" and "10 Worst" lists. The ballots were then compiled to produce our definitive lists. And the spectrum of eligible titles was wide enough to not only include rock but also R&B, pop, disco, punk and other assignations.

As with any list worth its salt, this one's sure to produce plenty of angry outcries and spittle-spraying protests regarding both surprise inclusions and exclusions. For example, I was stunned to see that Bob Dylan's Don't Look Back, considered a landmark rock documentary, only appeared on one critic's list -- and in the lowly No. 17 position, at that (apparently, the times they are a-changin'). And even with a unified front on many choices -- the balloting on the top three titles was especially tight, with the champion beating the second place choice by just one vote and the third-place finisher by a mere two votes -- there were still plenty of disagreements among the jurists. Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, a favorite with several writers, was dismissed by John Schacht with the notation, "should be listed under 'Fantasy,'" while The Last Waltz, earning near-unanimous praise, was tagged the most overrated rock movie by John Grooms, who added that "the overall tone is what you got when '60s revolutionaries became self-important." Several other pictures earned scattered votes on both "best" and "worst" lists (among them Pink Floyd: The Wall, Beat Street, Tommy and The Doors), while one love-it-or-leave-it title made such an impression that it has the distinction of ending up on both the 20 Best and 10 Worst lists.

Before we get to the top 20, let's pay tribute to the five runners-up that just missed making the final list by a couple of points. These honorable mentions consist of The Commitments (1991), director Alan Parker's raucous look at a fictional R&B band in Dublin; The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), Penelope Spheeris' study of the Los Angeles punk rock scene of the late 1970s; the concert film Year of the Horse: Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live (1997), directed by Jim Jarmusch; End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003), an informative and entertaining documentary about the seminal (and dysfunctional) punk band; and Tom Dowd & the Language of Music (2003), a look at the unheralded recording engineer and producer who had a hand in classic albums by Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, John Coltrane and many others.

(For a look at worthy movies that missed making our 20 Best, click on "The also-rans" link, http://charlotte.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/the_also_rans/Content?oid=143203. For a look at our picks for the all-time worst rock flicks, click on "The 10 Worst" link, http://charlotte.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/the_10_worst/Content?oid=143204.)

THE 20 BEST

1. A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964; Richard Lester)

John, Paul, George and Ringo contend with fans and the press while preparing for a live television appearance.

Grooms: Director Richard Lester's inspired idea was to create a facsimile of what The Beatles' lives were really like at the time, including the hangers-on, roadies and dangerous mobs of adoring fans. Luckily, it turned out the boys could act, and the result was the first rock film that actually held together from beginning to end.

Wicker: Like The Beatles as a band, their first movie broke new ground for films about musicians and about showcasing the music within the film. With the thinnest of storylines, Lester allowed the four young men to be themselves, more or less, but doing that forever fixed these personas in the minds of the public: Paul was the cute diplomat, John was clever and cheeky, Ringo was goofy in a good way, and George was more serious but with a sly sense of humor.

Brunson: It's amusing to note that, at the time, United Artists rushed the movie into production and into theaters because they expected The Beatles to be nothing more than a passing fad. Instead, they ended up with an enduring classic that critic Andrew Sarris famously described as "the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals."

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