“I’m telling you, you’re coming along at a very dangerous time for rock and roll. I mean, the war is over. They won. And 99% of what passes for rock and roll these days… silence is more compelling.”
They say hindsight is 20/20, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that one of the greatest films about rock and roll came 30 years after the fact. Rock and roll was a movement born out of the cultural revolution of the 60s, but that intellectual purity couldn’t last forever. Almost Famous, directed by Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire) and starring Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, and Billy Crudup, attempts to capture the moment when rock and roll changes from a movement to an industry. It’s also a great coming-of-age story and a very effective comedy. It’s full of memorable scenes, quotable lines, and just the right amount of drama, and this is definitely one of the most likable movies on this list.
The plot follows William Miller, an uncommonly young 15-year-old high school senior who falls in love with rock and roll as he prepares for his dream career in journalism. He meets a famous music critic, one thing leads to another, and next thing he knows he has an assignment from Rolling Stone to write a feature article on the fictional band Stillwater. On the tour, William quickly befriends the band’s guitarist, Russell, who struggles with being honest about the band’s internal problems when publicity could make or break the band. Also along for the ride is Penny Lane, a self-proclaimed “Band Aid” (don’t call her a groupie) who serves as a muse for Russell’s creative genius on the tour and becomes another close friend of William. The band tries to bury its problems to put up a rock-and-roll front in the pursuit of fame, but the clock is ticking on how long they can go without dealing with them.
Rock and roll is a lifestyle and a way of thinking, and it’s not about money or popularity—although some money would be nice. But it’s a voice that says, ‘Here I am, and fuck you if you can’t understand me.’
Almost Famous may be a nostalgia piece, but it could easily stand on its other merits and still be a great film. The dialogue is clever and the characters are hilarious at times, although they’re very grounded in reality and show other emotions when they should. The three main characters are all very deep and well-rounded, showing significant growth and dimension throughout the film. Most of all, though, this film is just a joy to watch. Every scene was entertaining and even the tense moments couldn’t kill the lighthearted mood.
I was fortunate enough to see this film in theaters in September of 2000, when I was a poor college student who had just dropped out of the school’s music program because I came for rock and roll but couldn’t put up with the industry. This film was just what I needed at that time. It does an amazing job of showing rock and roll’s true roots as well as how things changed in the 70s when some money got behind it. Some scenes, such as the “Tiny Dancer” scene in the bus, are truly magical, while some of the later scenes show corruption take hold even as the band members don’t want it to. There are many points of conflict in this film, but the quiet internal conflict in Russell as he decides what rock and roll really means may be the most important conflict here. It’s a touching tribute to the days of pure rock and roll ideology, and you will definitely leave this movie wishing it was still alive today.
I really can’t overstate how good Almost Famous is. It’s not as brilliant as some of the greats like The Godfather, of course, but based on pure entertainment value, it’s right up there with films like Back to the Future and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Whether you were there for the birth of rock and roll or just want to learn more about it—or just want to see a great comedic coming of age film—Almost Famous is a great film to watch. It’s also light and entertaining enough to be a top pick for a movie night with friends. If you’re a fan of rock and roll at all, this is an absolutely essential movie.
View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!
Director: Cameron Crowe
Genres: adventure, comedy, music