After La La Land’s hype and my increasing interest in jazz music, I’ve decided to talk about five incredible films I’ve seen over the last two years that are just too good to be left in the dark. You can find several movies about jazz out there, but since we’re talking about the golden era from the ’50s, nothing more interesting than watching movies that were made at that time, especially when we throw Paul Newman or Frank Sinatra into the mix. Not only that, but these films are also known for their excellent soundtrack, which we’ll also talk about it here:
Young Man With A Horn (1950) by Michael Curtiz
From the same director of Casablanca, Young Man With A Horn is a movie I just can’t get enough with it. Staring Kirk Douglas and Doris Gray, the film tells the story of a little kid who learns how to play the trumpet after watching a jazz band play throughout his youth. When he becomes older, he goes to New York to try his chance in the big city, but his reputation takes a risk when he falls in love with a rich femme fatale. More than a love story featuring a lot of jazz, Young Man With A Horn isn’t afraid of going to dark places, making jazz a love and a curse for Kirk Douglas’ character, who is brilliantly played by the actor. The film has also an amazing soundtrack composed by Doris Day and Harry James.
Paris Blues (1961) by Martin Ritt
Paris Blues is an important film because of many aspects. First, Duke Ellington not only did the soundtrack of the movie, but he also appears in it as one of the characters. Second, is an anti-love story by portraying two couples in Paris that are not willing to change who they really are for somebody else. And third, the film develops a strong racial question when it comes to black people in America in the 60s. Paul Newman plays Ram Bowen, a jazz musician who is living in Paris with his friend Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier). They both start a love affair with two American tourists, who test their values and the freedom that they have achieved by moving to Europe to achieve their dream. The scene where Paul Newman and Duke Ellington have a “fight of trumpets” it’s probably the most magic moment of the entire film.
The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) by Otto Preminger
Frank Sinatra and Paul Bass’ credits are probably enough reasons for you to watch The Man With the Golden Arm. Nevertheless, the film also contains a soundtrack that is considered one of the finest jazz scores that came out on the ’50s. Directed by Otto Preminger, the film was also polemic by portraying heroine on-screen, as Sinatra plays Frankie Machine, a mob’s dealer addict who comes back home after spending some time in rehab. Ready to start a new life as a jazz drummer, Frankie faces new challenges with his possessive wife, his old friends involved in illegal activities, and all the drug around them. With a thrilling soundtrack composed Elmer Bernstein, The Man With the Golden Arm is a must watch for jazz lovers!
Elevator to the Gallows (1958) by Louis Malle
Elevator to the Gallows isn’t exactly a film about jazz, but is extremely very well-known for its original soundtrack composed by Miles Davis. The music’s cool style set the tone for this nouvelle vague noir-inspired story of two lovers who decide to kill the woman’s husband and run away together. After the crime is done in a building company, the man gets trapped in the elevator and the woman who waits for him outside of the building thinks something might have happened, starting a catastrophe course of events that will change their lives forever. Jazz critic Phil Johnson describes the soundtrack of Daves in this film as “The loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear, and the model for sad-core music ever since. Hear it and weep.”
Whiplash (2014) by Damien Chazelle
And for last but not least, Damien Chazelle’s first feature film, which in my opinion is one of the best movies of the 2010s. With an amazing soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz, Whiplash pays homage to the modern jazz by telling a story between a jazz drummer student and an aggressive teacher. Usually compared with Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, Whiplash is a movie which its format is turned to the beat of the music, creating a frenetic and tense editing that becomes quite intimidating with the story that we’re watching. There a lot of modern jazz movies out there, but I’ll stick with Whiplash for now.