Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The 100 Best Uses of Songs in Movies pt. 1 (of 10)


Back in January, Time Out New York posted their comprehensive list of The 50 Best Uses of Songs in Movies.  Since then, I've returned to it many times in idle moments.  It's a fantastic list that's trimmed neatly of excess fat and outlined with rules that cut out the bullshit (the songs in question have to be preexisting, not composed specifically for the film or part of the official "score").  As I marveled at their efforts I began to take my own notes in self-addressed e-mails and on pieces of scrap paper.  I've compiled a pretty lengthy list of songs outside of Time Out's initial 50, and have been waiting for a free moment to jump on the bandwagon (RTN of In Camera has been similarly inspired) and start slowly revealing a full list of 100 favorite musical cues from movies minor and major.  These are the moments that altered the song's genetic make-up, that glued it forever to that cinematic moment in my memory, and which worked in that moment like nothing else could.  There will be overlap with the Time Out list, but not the full 50.  It'll take awhile to unveil to full 100, but feel free to join the conversation, point me in the direction of things I may have forgotten, or flat out tell me I'm wrong.  I can take it.


1. "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" / Urge Overkill
Pulp Fiction (1994)
I'm not a Neil Diamond fan, but Quentin Tarantino knows how to use even the least inspiring of songs at precisely the right moment. In the midst of one of my all-time favorite sequences of celluloid, Tarantino has gangster wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) queue up this track in a moment that speaks to some remaining hint of her own innocence...right before she sniffs up something she shouldn't. 

2. "Judy is a Punk" / The Ramones
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
It may not be the first soundtrack choice that comes to mind when you think of Wes Anderson, or even The Royal Tenenbaums, but overlaying a pogoing Ramones track over the detailed dossier of the secret-hoarding Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) was a stroke of high energy brilliance in an otherwise wry, deadpan moment of heartbreak.

3. "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" /
Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
The Big Lebowski (1998)
If this sequence of Busby Berkeley-inspired choreography was all there was to The Big Lebowski, I would love it just the same.  This is the dream sequence to end all dream sequences, a hallucinatory moment that pushes the Dude away from his half-baked L.A. noir and into a backstage musical sideshow filled with strangely operatic imagery and bowling surrealism.

4. "Aquarela do Brasil" / Ary Barroso
Brazil (1985)
Terry Gilliam's dystopian fantasy uses more than one version of "Aquarela do Brasil", and perhaps because the song itself is as ubiquitous an elevator-music tune as ever there was, we don't necessarily consider it a 'dropped in' track.  It's perfect here in all its incarnations and works not only to echo the mundane elements of our protagonist's life, but to heighten the romantic, escapist nature of his daydreams.

5. "Nightcall" / Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx
Drive (2011)
Will this be the most recent film on the list?  Maybe, maybe not. New sheen aside, it's hard not to make note of how thoroughly this track's placement over the opening titles sets the mood for the film as a whole.  Sure, "A Real Hero" does a significant amount of work later, but I'd argue it's this opening decision that really allows that later track to function at all...

6. "Where is My Mind?" / The Pixies
Fight Club (1999)
When I was in high school, I was obsessed with this ending. There's something about this one gentle movement in the midst of complete destruction (and despair) that really hits you dead in the gut.  It's impossibly beautiful, strangely romantic, and 100% fucked up.

7. "Bohemian Rhapsody" / Queen
Wayne's World (1992)
Can you hear this song without headbanging? No. Really. Can you? Because I've never been able to, and I don't think I know a single person who doesn't understand that that instrumental break is supposed to be used for exactly that purpose.

8. "Roxanne" / The Police
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Moulin Rouge! uses a great many appropriated songs, but the transformation of  reggae-pop "Roxanne" into the heavily dramatic "El Tango de Roxanne" is perhaps the most striking, perfectly adapted musical moments in the film. Jacek Koman's gravely vocals are the exact opposite of Sting's strained falsetto, working to dirty up the prostitution ballad into something with a little more grit, a little more tragedy, and just the right amount of over-the-top absurdity.

9. "Bang Bang" / Dalida
Heartbeats (2010)
The Nancy Sinatra version could easily make this list for its presence in Kill Bill vol. 1 alone, but I've opted for a slightly less familiar version is a significantly less familiar film.  Heartbeats is a sort of French-Canadian hipster Jules et Jim, a love triangle in which absolutely nothing is on the line, yet which becomes the obsession of our two leads (Xavier Dolan and Monia Chokri).  It's phenomenally self-important, over-dramatic, and narcissistic; and it uses an abundance of slow-motion to drive home that excessive posturing to an aesthetically pleasant fault.  "Bang Bang" comes in as a repeated instance of the battling friends' own pomposity, a killer moment of ego as they seek to claim a prize they just can't win.  Somehow, it fits perfectly.


10. "On Broadway" / George Benson
All That Jazz (1979)
I'm a fan of Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical All That Jazz, warts and all.  Yet, while it may have its faults and detractors, one thing you can't really argue is that between the brief hits of Vivaldi and this, you've got one hell of a Broadway intro.  This is an audition sequence that makes the run-time on A Chorus Line look completely overblown. Everything that needs to be said happens in mere minutes, and we are thrown deep the corrupt world of the theater as we experience the highs and lows the song describes vicariously through our unnamed players.

2 comments:

  1. Brilliant, love it. You're number 1 and 2 are excellent picks. Ugh, why did the Drive track have to be removed!?

    ReplyDelete
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