We are hitting rewind on the past 12 months to reflect on the highs of 2019 and this past year was a massive year for music on screen. Remember back in January when that Leonard Cohen doc hit you like a mack truck right in the feels? Or that sweaty summer night when you happened upon the Beyonce epic that had you humming “Lemonade” for a whole damn week?
From documentaries shining a light on the past, transporting us directly into the lives of some of the greatest artists of our lifetime, to soaring biopics that transcended our expectations, 2019 was firing on all cylinders for music fans.
This list sums up all those good times with our Top 10 best music-related documentaries of 2019.
Rolling Thunder Revue – Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese and Bob Dylan are a match made on some long, dusty road that certainly leads nowhere near heaven. In this acid trip down memory lane, the wacky 1975-76 cross-America tour is resuscitated at a time when the world could use a little dose of Dylan’s peace and love.
Marianne And Leonard – Nick Broomfield
Be sure to stuff your pockets full of tissues because if this doesn’t activate those tear ducts, nothing will. It’s a longing look back at the life of Leonard Cohen and his lifelong muse, Marianne Ihlen, a relationship that started on the magical island of Hydra in the 60s.
Travis Scott – Look Mom I Can Fly – White Trash Tyler
This is undoubtedly the most ‘2019’ film on the list, and it just might be the purest specimen representing today’s face-tat trap movement. It’s a behind-closed-doors look at Scott’s last two years, and his rise from a little boy that misses Astroworld to a diamond-toothed demigod.
Leaving Neverland – Dan Reed
Leaving Neverland extends beyond the bounds of music. While the black cloud that’s followed the ‘King of Pop’ for years has been common knowledge, in this HBO documentary we get the bare bones perspective from the victims — now men — behind that black cloud. Take a deep breath, watch both parts, and make up your own mind once the dust has settled.
Anima – Thom Yorke short Directed by PTA
Music videos are more relevant today than ever, but this collaboration results in an other-wordly 15-minute long visual art piece that tells the story of a sleep deprived passenger and his solemn search for connection through the uniquely feverish cinematic language of Thom Yorke.
Country Music – Ken Burns
If all that comes to mind when you hear the words ‘country music’ is Taylor Swift and an urge to light something on fire, then this docuseries is probably perfect for you. In the 8-part series, legend Ken Burns gives us all a lasting lesson on why the genre is so much more than what they play on the radio.
Echo in the Canyon – Andrew Slater
It’s Dylan again, but this time, Dylan Junior. Jakob Dylan revives what was a meteoric flash in the music world, when some of the most influential musicians — from the Mamas and the Papas to the Byrds and the Beachboys — were creating all amongst one another in the Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon area.
Amazing Grace – Directed by Sydney Pollack and finally realized by Producer Alan Elliott
In 1972, Aretha Franklin recorded a live album in a small Baptist Church, but due to both technical and legal reasons, the documentary is only now being released. Franklin had a voice that registered on a religious level, so put on your Sunday best and prepare for a soul-rockin’ performance like never before because this sermon is one you need to hear.
David Crosby: Remember My Name – A.J. Eaton
He’s a crusty old bugger that’s lost nearly all his friends on the journey of life, but he feels there’s still a chapter or two yet to be told. David Crosby, from Crosby Stills and Nash (amongst others), reflects in this poignant reminiscence on life, love, regret, and what’s left when each day really might be the last.
Homecoming – Beyoncé and Ed Burke
No music-related list would be complete without some form of reference to the Queen herself, and this one comes as an all-out nod to what’s being called one of the best concert docs, not just this year, but of all-time. It’s a celebration of black culture and the countless painstaking hours it took to prepare for Beyoncé’s performance as the first ever Black woman to headline Coachella.
There’s an enigmatic presence that surrounds her, and the documentary serves to peel back the curtain ever so slightly through the intersection of brilliantly filmed and edited concert footage with candid backstage and preparatory snippets painting hints of personality that come in the form of voice memos and voiceovers, only adding to Bey’s allure.
Where the film truly thrives is the ways in which it transcends the present moment, reflecting not only on the colossal accomplishment of the performance itself, but speaking to its place in history. Quotes from great Black thinkers and creatives are interspersed throughout the film, with no one line better summing the piece up than actress Danai Gurira’s thoughts on what it means to be the guiding light for a world of so many faithful dreamers: “The youth need to see greatness reflected in our eyes. Go forth, let them know it’s real.”