Eight essential country movies | EW.com

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Eight essential country movies

Eight essential country movies -- ''Coal Miner's Daughter,'' ''Payday,'' and ''Tender Mercies'' are some of our favorites

Eight essential country movies

Country music — real country — has an undertone of hard bitterness that doesn’t easily square with Hollywood’s glamorous lies. A few exceptions aside, it wasn’t until Willie Nelson achieved mainstream fame in the late ’70s that the film industry came a-courtin’. The result was a five-year boomlet, a handful of Oscars, and not quite enough profits to keep the hayride rolling. Maybe with Garth Brooks’ breakthrough, we’ll see another cycle of Nashville narratives. Until then, here are the films to watch on video.

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
Loretta Lynn was married at 13, a mother at 14- and a country-music sensation at 25. This adaptation of her autobiography is rock solid almost all the way, with Sissy Spacek well deserving of her Best Actress Oscar. But the film barely touches on the multiple breakdowns and fan death threats of later years. And where’s Conway Twitty? A-

Honeysuckle Rose (1980)
Willie Nelson, Amy Irving, and Dyan Cannon in a country remake of that old romantic-triangle chestnut Intermezzo? Sure sounds like a bad idea. In practice, though, it’s back-porch pleasant, with Willie a genuine (if hairy) sex symbol. Cannon sings well, Emmylou Harris pops in for a song, and director Jerry Schatzberg captures Austin’s outlaw scene with ramshackle verve. B

Honkytonk Man (1982)
Clint Eastwood’s downer about a tubercular guitar player in the Depression flopped — wags dubbed it Bronchial Billy — but it looks a bit better now. Eastwood re-creates the rural South with fond grubbiness, and if his voice lacks the melodrama of true country, the role’s a nice nod to trailblazers like Jimmie Rodgers. C

Nashville(1975)
Maybe it’s not the most realistic depiction of the title city — but it’s one of the greatest movies ever made, so who cares? Taking place in one weekend, utilizing 24 characters, Robert Altman’s shimmering, cynical mosaic offers brilliant acting and creepy truths. What it lacks is a musical score that feels like the genuine article. Still, of the many films that have tried to dissect the American dream, Nashville is one of the very few that succeed. A+

Payday(1973)
Rip Torn plays Maury Dann, a third-tier country star who boozes, dopes, wenches, and screws over everybody he meets. But he’s a good son — he always remembers to bring home some uppers for his Maw. Directed by Daryl Duke (The Thorn Birds), Payday is country without a shred of sentiment. Hank would have understood. A-

Songwriter(1984)
Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson play ex-bandmates who scheme to get the former out of a crooked contract. As usual with director Alan Rudolph (Choose Me), it’s the shaggy-dog touches that charm: Nelson playing acoustic guitar with two little girls, a radio station exchange that goes ”You still take payola?” ”You bet!” And when Willie says, ”Bankers don’t care a lot about artistic vision,” the line rings cruelly prophetic. B

Sweet Dreams(1985)
Jessica Lange doesn’t quite do for Patsy Cline what Sissy Spacek did for Loretta Lynn. Still, it’s a pro job, and Ed Harris is dazzling as Cline’s husband, Charlie Dick. Between those two, lush Cline hits like ”Crazy,” and a subversive little message (ladies, you can be a housewife and a nationally famous country star at the same time), Sweet Dreams ends up worthy of its subject. B

Tender Mercies (1983)
Robert Duvall won a Best Actor Oscar for playing Mac Sledge, a fallen country star who might be Payday’s Maury Dann given a second chance. The script is too plainspoken, but there’s some truth to the idea that country music is a voice for people who aren’t so good at talking. A-