Country music often brings the best out of actors, with handful winning Oscars for performances in movies based on the lives of country legends and fictional country stars.
The trajectory of a country star is tailor-made for the movies. They often come form humble roots, strike out on their own to find their first successes and struggle with personal demons before coming back to glory. The rise, fall and rise again is perfect for biopics and fictional stories.
Scroll on for a look at eight great country music movies you need to see.
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The fourth version of A Star Is Born brought the story to country music. Following in the mold of Barbra Streisand's pop world-set 1976 take, Bradley Cooper plays the fading country star who discovers a young singer played by Lady Gaga. The movie has an interesting, love-hate relationship with pop music, as it seems like Gaga's character is selling out by singing "Why Did You Do That?" and "Hair Body Face." The country moments in the film are top-notch, as Cooper brought in some of the best country music sessions players to back him, creating memorable songs and performances.
Watching Coal Miner's Daughter today shows just how hard it is to see where Sissy Spacek ends and Loretta Lynn begins. The film was a box office smash when released in 1980, mostly thanks to Lynn's truly incredible life story and Spacek's fantastic performance. She justly deserved the Oscar for Best Actress that year, even if it meant Ordinary People's Mary Tyler Moore lost.
In 2009, Jeff Bridges finally delivered the performance that won him an Oscar. In Crazy Heart, Bridges starred as Otis "Bad" Blake, an alcoholic country singer who meets a journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who inspires Blake to get his life back on track. The story may seem a bit familiar to longtime movie fans, but Bridges' performance brought out the best of the material. The movie also features the Oscar-winning song "The Weary Kind."
James Mangold's Walk the Line brought the story of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash to life. Joaquin Phoenix earned an Oscar nomination for playing Cash, while Reese Witherspoon won Best Actress for playing June. The film succeeds in focusing on particular moments in Cash's life, rather than trying for a birth-to-death approach. It would be impossible to squeeze Cash's life into two hours.
Tender Mercies predates Crazy Heart by more than 25 years. Although the two films are about an alcoholic country singer, they are very different. Tender Mercies, which earned Robert Duvall the 1983 Best Actor Oscar, is a much quieter film, focusing on the performances of Duvall and a young Ellen Barkin. Australian director Bruce Beresford (who would later make Driving Miss Daisy) takes advantage of being an outsider looking in by bringing an affectionate portrait of Texas to life. The film was not a hit when released and Universal spent almost nothing on an Oscar campaign. But the film wound up earning a Best Picture nomination and Horton Foote (most famous for writing the film of To Kill A Mockingbird) won Best Original Screenplay.
Legendary director Robert Altman took his ensemble film approach and brought it to Nashville for his 1975 masterpiece. With 24 main characters, and running almost three hours, it's a movie that never lets up. It might be big in scope, but is filled with the intimacy Altman's best films have. Amazingly, the film's only Oscar win came for Keith Carradine's song "I'm Easy," which turned into a surprise chart hit.
The Coen Brothers love music, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s soundtrack is their tribute to the country music of the Great Depression. Dozens of country and folk artists contributed to T Bone Burnett's aural collage, and the soundtrack became a bigger hit than the movie itself. O Brother, Where Art Thou? brings country music to life through the Coen Brothers' eyes, just as Inside Llewyn Davis would bring their vision of the '60s folk scene to life later on. It's funny, and filled with great performances.
In Coal Miner's Daughter, Patsy Cline was only fleetingly mentioned, with Beverly D'Angelo playing Loretta Lynn's idol. Cline got her own biopic five years later, with Jessica Lange starring as the country legend. While Lange lip-synced to Cline's recordings in Sweet Dreams, she still earned her fourth Oscar nomination for the film. The cast also featured Ed Harris as Cline's husband Charlie Dick and John Goodman in a supporting role.
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