William Fanelli with his top five most convincing performances of musicians in film…
Bennett Miller’s Whiplash has certainly resonated with audiences since its release in theaters late last year. The film follows a young drummer who, in his pursuit to master his instrument, crosses paths with a sadomasochistic music instructor when he enrolls in an ultra-competitive music school. While J.K. Simmons’ Academy Award-nominated portrayal of the abusive conductor Fletcher certainly deserves recognition it’s Miles Teller who will have you musically impressed due to his totally authentic portrayal of the young, eager musician Andrew.
His ability to pull off that of a convincing jazz drummer is nothing short of awe-inspiring and as a result we thought we’d put together our list of the top music-based performances ever put on the big screen. With that said, here are the top 5 most convincing performances of musicians in film…
Sean Penn in Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
When Sean Penn was said to be playing the famous 1930s-40s ‘Gypsy’ jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt in Woody Allen’s 1999 film Sweet and Lowdown, there were probably a few eyebrows raised. Upon viewing the film, however, concerns of whether Penn could handle the pressure of replicating the oftentimes lightning-fast fingering of Reinhardt quickly vanished. Not only could he handle it, he made it look effortless. Word on the street is the dedicated actor was tireless in his pursuit to learn guitar for the role and while the playing heard in the film is that of Penn’s teacher Howard Alden, the musically untrained eye of most viewers could never tell the difference. Penn is so spot on and natural with the instrument Allen can hang on his fingers for unbelievable amounts of time without cutting away. This is one of Penn’s most remarkable performances.
Jamie Foxx in Ray (2004)
When Taylor Hackford set out to make his film on the life and career of legendary blues musician Ray Charles he knew he had his work cut out for him. Most worrisome was his knowing how difficult it would be to find an actor who could please the real Ray Charles who, while working with Hackford in the casting process, was known to be extremely difficult to impress. When the writer/director brought Jamie Foxx, who had been playing piano at the age of three, in to meet Charles, the two didn’t exactly immediately hit it off. When Foxx, mainly known for his stand-up comedy at the time, sat down at side-by-side pianos with Charles it looked like it might be a bust. However, after dueling some Thelonious Monk together Ray gave Foxx his blessing, and the rest was history. Foxx, not only really sang, he also played the piano during much of the off-stage sequences in Ray, delivering one of the most nuanced performances of a musician to date.