A Few Other Recent Oscar-Worthy Music Films

Eat it, Putin.
On film's biggest night this past Sunday, music nudged onto Oscar's center stage and stole the show. Jared Leto's incredibly moving Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech was a beautiful way to start the night. Music-video directing legend Spike Jonze won the Best Original Screenplay award. Karen O and Ezra Koenig sounded fantastic and looked like the cover of a White Stripes album while singing their nominated duet from Her. Pharrell wore his hat. Bono was Bono.

John Travolta professed his love for musicals, then butchered the name of one of Broadway's biggest stars. Bette Midler's voice turned back time to remind us why we loved "Wind Beneath My Wings" before it became a maudlin funeral dirge.

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life, won for Best Documentary Short. Moments later, the very deserving 20 Feet From Stardom took home the Best Documentary Feature.

That film was not only the best of this year's documentaries, it was the best of a strong crop of documentary films about music released in the last year. In a perfect world, they'd all have been nominated. Here's my list of the best music documentaries from the last year, all of which are now available on Netflix.

"Who would want to hear a secretary's story?"

That's the question Freda Kelly poses in the opening moments of this film. She's devoted 50 years to the profession, most of them workaday if you don't count those first 11 years. That's when she was administrative assistant to a band called The Beatles.

One of the most awarded music documentaries of the last year, Freda features incredible archival footage and photos of The Beatles dating back to The Cavern days. Kelly relates modern music history from the corner of her living-room sofa for most of the film, chatting casually about her friends who went on to influence musicians everywhere.

Although the movie is about music royalty, Freda is the star because it's evident she never stopped being a fan, even as she grew closer to the band. We'd like to believe we'd all be the same, humble person in such extraordinary circumstances.

I'd recommend the Oscar-winning film for, if no other reason, Tata Vega. She's just one of the artists featured in the movie, which focuses on the unheralded world of music's background singers. By no means is she the biggest name in the film, which includes Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen. She's probably lesser-known than other singers chronicled in the film: Darlene Love, now a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Judith Hill, who recently competed on The Voice; or Merry Clayton, the background singer whose haunting voice still creates shivers when listening to "Gimme Shelter."

But Vega's story is truly one of a singer who has worked steadily but toiled in relative anonymity. I first heard her in the 1970s when Mom bought her Motown album, Try My Love. It featured a great track, "If Love Must Go," which Mom sang every day for about a year. We next heard Vega singing vocals on The Color Purple soundtrack. Then Mom sang "Miss Celie's Blues" for a year solid.

The years passed and Vega continued to sing though she never had broad solo success. She's worked in the long shadows of artists like Madonna, Michael Jackson and, these days, Elton John. Once music went digital, I wore out every search engine looking for Try My Love, always to no avail.

Vega's story and others relayed in the film are testaments to pursuing one's musical dreams and how musicians can make careers out of dreams deferred. I'm happy to report, Vega's Motown albums -- including Try My Love -- finally went digital last month, thanks to the film's success.

List continues on the next page.

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