Music in film does something special. It strikes your senses in a unique way creating a new connection. Certain filmmakers are really good at selecting an existing song and using it in a new way. They aren’t just picking what’s on top of the charts right now. The song can enhance a scene into higher level of quality so it’s important it is the right song.
This has been done well throughout the history of cinema, but today I’m just going to highlight the best ones in the past few years.
“What I’ve got’s full stock of thoughts and dreams that scatter. You pull them all together and how, I can’t explain, but you make my dreams come true.”
I’m actually not a big fan of this movie. For every inventive scene, there seems to be a dozen stale ones, but this is the big scene that worked. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tom is in the point of his relationship where all of the colors around him are brighter and everything seems perfect. So that is played out through a musical number. He dances down the streets singing Hall and Oates and is even accompanied by a cartoon bird at one point. It’s a lot of fun and further shows the range of Levitt. He’s revived his career by playing heavy characters like the ones in Mysterious Skin and Brick, but here he also shows his joyful energy and fun dance moves.
“Miles From Nowhere” – The Brothers Bloom
“I have my freedom. I can make my own rules. Oh yeah, the ones that I choose.”
This scene was good the first time, but really worked for me the second time I watched the movie. Con movies are always so much about the twists, it’s hard to watch the film and really believe it is about the characters, not the con. In this scene Adrian Brody’s Bloom is finally free to really express himself. He isn’t playing a character or confused about his emotions. In this scene he stops to actually appreciate the beautiful city he’s in and to steal an apple. Cat Stevens plays while he he’s being chased through the park and he recognizes how happy he truly is and who is making him feel that way.
“It’s been so long and I’ve been putting out fire with gasoline.”
Oddly enough this song was first created for the horror remake Cat People. Like most of Tarantino’s references, he takes the tone of something he loved and now puts it into a new exciting setting. The entire movie has been leading up to this confrontation. The entire plot and all of its strands have come to this confrontation, at a cinema no less. The most fascinating character, Shosanna, pauses briefly and then puts on her metaphorical war paint as David Bowie revs it up. She is ruthless and ready to do what she has to do for revenge against the cruelty of the Third Reich. It’s incredibly invigorating. This shows how Tarantino used the subgenre of the “adventure war film” without ever discounting the horror behind it.
“Memories” – Jackass 3D
“Memories make me want to go back there, back there.”
Yes, I like the Jackass films. I don’t need to go back and watch all of the TV show, but the films have this odd blending of fun and friendship. Sure it’s a psychology major’s thesis about why they do the things they do, but that’s not the point of the movies. It’s about guys hanging out and coming up with the worst things possible they could go through. The films are engaging because they are creative and there is this evident love for each other. At the end of this one, Weezer’s “Memories” plays as we see pictures of the gang as children. It’s shows how much they’ve grown and how much they haven’t. It’s a moment of sweetness in a film filled with some of the grossest things imaginable.
“If I didn’t care would it be the same? Would my ev’ry prayer begin and end with just your name?”
This was a charming movie that unfortunately not too many people saw. Francis McDormand is the titualar character who has an exciting day because she gets to hang around Amy Adams’ Delysia. Delysia is a fun bubbly girl but she is also torn. She is all set to marry rich, but she hates that she’s actually in love with Michael (Lee Pace). She denies this and Michael makes her confront her emotions by having her sing this song. Delysia tries to keep the persona for the crowd she desperately wants to be part of, but she can’t keep it up. Michael vocally supports her when she stumbles and they create a personal moment hidden on a stage.
“How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? Now that you know who you are what do you want to be?”
The bitter irony of plots can be a bit tedious. You don’t know what you have until it’s lost. You get everything you wanted but you’re still not happy. These things make for exciting drama, but it’s too easy to become preachy when it’s time to make the point. The Social Network keeps it simple and very effective. The final shot, which I won’t spoil, starts to play this Beatles tune and suddenly we view Mark Zuckerberg in a different way. He’s no longer the anti-hero but someone more sympathetic. Whether he’s justified or not, is the ultimate question.
“My heart won’t let my feet do the things that they should do.”
Seriously. This isn’t even a good movie, but man I love this one scene. In the Step Up films the dancing numbers are silly, but they are always entertaining especially when they are completely ridiculous. In their third entry, they pay homage to the musicals that paved the way for them. The two most likable and charismatic characters dance to a song that brought them together. It’s Fred Astaire’s “I Won’t Dance.” Just like those movies with Ginger Rogers, these character dance down the streets of New York (In one shot, mind you), communicating and flirting through their common ground: their impressive dancing skills. It’s still shocking how charming this scene is in a movie called Step Up 3D.
“Through the storm we reach the shore. You give it all, but I want more. And I’m waiting for you.”
My list isn’t ranked, but if it was this would probably be number one. This is a French thriller based off the American crime novel by Harlan Coben. One of the variations from the book is how Alex Beck solves the puzzle to find the wife he thought was dead. In the movie, the password is from a concert they went on together to see U2. Once he figures it out, he regains hope and runs through the streets of Paris. “With or Without You” is loudly playing as the wide shots fill the screen. Seeing it in theatres made it feel so vibrant and uplifting.
“Out there. There’s a world outside of Yonkers. Way out there beyond this hick town, Barnaby, there’s a slick town Barnaby.”
I adore WALL-E and I’m not even a big fan of Hello Dolly. It almost doesn’t matter. The movie and this song is just a symbol for how WALL-E sees the world. It’s the kindness and innocence that makes him one of the most sympathetic characters. He plays this song a few times in the movie because it’s one of his movie beloved possessions. He loves the colors, the movement, and the people in the video. In the best scene in the movie, he turns on the video once more to share his world with EVE and even puts on a little hat. It’s a beautiful moment.
“There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle our walls. For the times they are a-changin’”
I liked the Watchmen movie, but I wish it was its own product. Not just an expensive reenacting of the graphic novel. The best adaptations are the ones that stand on its own while being tonally faithfully to the original source. Zach Synder teased us by doing that for one scene, the amazing opening montage sequence. It showed how the alternate universe was different than ours by inserting these vigilantes into iconic moments of our past. More importantly it did show how their time was fading and the difference the future will bring.
“If the children don’t grow up. Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.”
Yes, I’m cheating but I don’t care. This is my list and this is a song I shall forever associate with this movie. The movie is wonderful because it captures a certain element of childhood. There is a lively attitude to make believe, but there is also a degree of sadness. It’s a confusing time but it’s also an exciting time. Spike Jonze balances these with skill, but what’s even more impressive is that the trailer works as a brilliant short film. It conveys these themes, while not spoiling major parts of the movie. One of the reasons the trailer is so artistic is because of how well this song was used over the edited material.
Honorable mentions include “Non, Je Regrette Rien” –Inception and “All I Want is You” –Juno.
Also from television “Way Down in the Hole” – The Wire; “Don’t Stop Believing” – The Sopranos (NOT Glee); “Breathe Me” – Six Feet Under; “…Long Time Ago” –The Shield; “Dancing Queen” – Community; “Make Your Own Kind of Music” & “Wonderwall” – LOST.
What are some of your favorites that should be added to the list?