In a year that has proven to be a cinematic feast for music enthusiasts and movie goers alike, 2023 has ushered in a wave of compelling music documentaries, each vying for a coveted spot on the list of the best. 2023 unfolded like a well-curated playlist, from intimate portraits of revered musicians to explorations of pivotal moments in music history, this year stands as a testament to the power of storytelling through the lens of music, with documentaries that captivate, inspire, and resonate with both devoted fans and casual viewers alike.
Here’s our official list of the 20 best music documentaries of 2023. Sound off in the comments, and let us know if you agree, or he missed some. Which ones stood out to you the most?
Personality Crisis: One Night Only
Documentary/concert film featuring David Johansen, the onetime New York Dolls frontman who went through several other phases of his career, including as the Buster Poindexter character. Here, Johansen performs a concert in New York as the film tells the story of his life and career.
Documentary, from the Tribeca Film Festival, about the life and career of Cyndi Lauper. In addition to the 1980s stuff, as well as her background and personal life. Also explores how she succeeded in writing Broadway music when so few pop stars of recent vintage have.
Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)
Film about Hipgnosis, the studio that made the album covers for many of the most important albums of the 1970s, including Dark Side of the Moon. Remember when album covers mattered? This movie certainly does.
Documentary about the 1970s disco queen is about the famous recording of the titular song, but also about a lot more, including Summer’s life and death. The narrative film Spinning Gold also touches on this story, but the doc does it better.
Using her diaries, as well as plenty of archival footage, this film tells the long and unique story of the famed folk singer. Also contains somewhat shocking revelations, including a pretty great performance at the end.
The engaging portrayal of Manuel Gagneux, the Swiss frontman of the titular band. His music consists of a combination of death metal and the field collars of slaves, and the film follows him on his eventful first U.S. tour.
The wonderful story of David Wisnia, a man who kept singing even during his time in Auschwitz, and kept on doing so for the eight decades since. Now, he performs with his grandson – and the New York Times wrote a major story a few years ago about his reunion with a woman he knew during the war.
A look at the pop duo of George Michael and Andrew Ridgely, who had at one point been eclipsed by Michael’s solo success, but have since seen their song “Last Christmas” endure as a classic 40 years later.
A fascinating film about the band’s visit to the Soviet Union in the 1970s as part of Cold War détente – something that was seen as State Department stoogery and therefore cost the group their counterculture credibility.
The Stones & Brian Jones
Illuminating look of the man who was the co-founder of The Rolling Stones, and enjoyed a tumultuous tenure with the group up until he died in 1969. Then, the group carried on for another 50-plus years.
A very fun examination of the band Low Cut Connie and its frontman Adam Weiner. A very intimate look in which the on- and off-stage material is equally strong.
A look back at the lip-synching duo from the early 1990s, who collapsed in scandal when it was discovered that they didn’t sing on their hit album. Not a new story, but another doc that looks back at a scandal from that decade and suggests that maybe we all overreacted a bit.
A look at the life and career of the late rock legend, finds two fascinating through lines: Little Richard’s complex relationship with his homosexuality, and his feeling, later in his life, that he hadn’t been appreciated as much as he should have been.
The stalwart New York drag performer, in a club in that city, performed a marathon 24-hour concert featuring the entire history of musical influences, and this HBO film chronicled the entire thing- in abridged form, of course.
Not even announced until weeks before it was released, this was the first-rate concert version of Taylor Swift’s record-breaking tour. It certainly made me appreciate the Swiftie phenomenon, in a way I hadn’t before.
The hugely compelling story of multi-hyphenate museum Jon Batiste, who composed his new symphony of the title, as his wife, the writer Suleika Jaouad, battled cancer. A one-of-a-kind explanation of the creative process.
On the shelf since 2019, presumably, while the filmmakers sought to clear Led Zeppelin songs, this tells the story of Akio Sakurai, a Japanese man who became obsessed with Jimmy Page, specifically in re-creating his guitar solos in concert. Then, Sakurai comes to Los Angeles and joins the Zeppelin jam band scene – where it’s clear he’s way more into it than everybody else. Just a wild and wonderful story.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.