Sunday, May 20, 2012

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

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the end.  100 songs, a whole lot of movies, and not a single one of them is Ghost.  That's right, it's not an oversight,  "Unchained Melody" does not appear on this list  (because seriously, I'm more convinced that moment is famous because it's so easy to parody and not because it's anything other than lame).  If you don't believe me, you should definitely go back and listen/watch/read through the 90 entries that brought us to this moment.  Seriously, though, the last ten involved several tough calls.  New shit came to light, things were remembered, and the competition was fierce.  In the battle between 'canon' and personal impact, the latter often won out.  It's tough to argue when a film transforms the way you hear a song, and if it manages to do that off an album you already love (as with 98, for example), there may be something there...  

91. "Blue Moon" / Sam Cooke
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
American Werewolf is basically one big mixtape of songs featuring the moon. "Moondance" and "Bad Moon Rising" are snuck in here and there, and "Blue Moon" shows up in roughly a million iterations.  The Sam Cooke version, however, serves as a placidly nostalgic backing track to the painful transformation scene. It's a perfectly average horror, something made day to day without excess drama or swelling instrumentals.  

92. "These Boots are Made for Walkin'" / Nancy Sinatra
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
It may not be my favorite Kubrick film, but its hard to argue with how well a bit of Nancy Sinatra works in this too often referenced scene. Just the right amount of cheesy swagger with just the right amount of artfully cheesy exploitation.  

93. "O'Children" / Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1 (2010)
A last minute addition to the list.  I won't tell you what it bumped, but as soon as it was stumbled upon, it grabbed a slot on the list.  Nick Cave is a lyricist who can throw down a thrashing hell or a violent, fairy tale lullaby.  Even in the light there is a darkness, and the tone of "O'Children" beautifully matched the slow, melancholy loss of innocence in the moments leading to the finale as two close friends try to distract one another from heartbreak. It's a sweet, beautifully human instant in the middle of all the fantasy.

94. "The Killing Moon" / Echo and the Bunnymen
Donnie Darko (2001)
I've heard that Richard Kelly swapped out "The Killing Moon" with the release of his director's cut.  Why the hell he did that, I haven't a goddamn clue.  In the din of the living room, with the volume up, the song is a giant, sweeping introduction to the visual representation of all your teenage angst.

95. "Danke Scheon" and "Twist and Shout" / Wayne Newton and The Beatles
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Is it cheating if I push these two together?  Cause, I mean, they're back to back! It's practically a mash-up!  Ok, so maybe not quite, but they blend into a singular memory: Ferris Bueller, larger than life high school ubermensch, casting his spell on the city and reminding Cameron of everything he'll never be.

96. "Orinoco Flow" / Enya
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
[SPOILER ALERT]  In what qualifies as easily the most surprising (and flat out weird) musical cue I've heard in a long time, David Fincher throws down some Enya as Daniel Craig's Mikael Blomkvist gets chained up after getting far too close to the truth.  I associate Enya with my childhood and my mom's really strange predilection for the local smooth jazz station (whatever that means).  So...this was a context that made me snort with laughter.  

97. "Down in Mexico" / The Coasters
Death Proof (2007)
A seductive dance in flip flops for a mysterious psychopath.  Following a genuinely creepy setup, this feels like a long goodbye and a last ditch effort.  Nomination for best supporting performance by a perfectly average dive bar.

98. "Lady Grinning Soul" / David Bowie
The Runaways (2010)
(starting at 2:22) This is one of those moments that resonates with a certain kind of girl, and which I predict will be held dearly in the hearts of semi-awkward teenagers as they stumble upon the film for years to come.  It's the sort of fearless, fuck you assertion of individual preference that kids like me wish they would have gone for (that outfit...great), but which we so rarely do. 

99. "Needle in the Hay" / Elliott Smith
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Yep, I've pretty much put the whole movie on here.  I would argue, though, that "Needle in the Hay" is tonally apart from the rest of the film.  It's a short bit of pitch black otherness, a cold, blue self-examination from a movie much darker than what we'd seen up to this point.  It's unexpected, profoundly sad, brilliantly edited, and punctuated with exactly the right end note.

100. "Baby's on Fire" / Brian Eno
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
There's a surplus of amazing music backing up the glitter glam darkness of Velvet Goldmine.  While the film suffers from a case of unevenness, it's climactic moment is effectively scored to the discordant sound of "Baby's on Fire."  Indeed, here everyone burns.  The storylines intersect to find our Bowie-proxy Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, at his best) in his darkest hour and our struggling teen (Christian Bale) at a definitive moment in the formation of his own sexual identity.

The songs that almost made the cut: 
The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" from the end sequence in Cruel Intentions, the Quincy Jones "Soul Bossa Nova" that opens Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Enid's Bollywood bounce to "Jaan Perichaan Ho" in Ghost World, the dreamy use of "Beyond the Sea" in A Life Less Ordinary, the infamous Phoebe Cates bikini scene set to "Moving in Stereo" by The Cars in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Joy Division's "Atmosphere" in Control (which lost out only because it's a biopic and thus, a little obvious), and the oddly lovely use of Gwen Stefani's "Cool" in Somewhere


  1. That Needle in the Hay scene is revelatory. Haunting and flawless. I'm sad to see that this list has come to a close, but what an accomplishment the entire series is. Well done!

    1. Yeah, I know it was a Tenenbaum overload, but I had serious separation anxiety when I thought of cutting any of them. It would have been too tragic a loss...

      And, really, thanks for keeping up with the full list! Appreciated the feedback throughout the process.

  2. Great finish to a seriously excellent series of posts, and thanks for sparing us from Ghost :)

    1. Sparing people from Ghost is something I'm happy to do ANYTIME. :)

  3. Good call on a lot of these, especially the Nick Cave and Elliott Smith choices. That use of "Needle in the Hay" has just the right sadness like you say, and I agree that it seems out of place in the movie. However, I also think that's why it works so well.


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