Music is really something else. With just a few beats or words sung, we have something to sway our hips to or to help us emote. It’s especially vital in the movies, on par with the visuals. Music sets the tone, provides textual context for the film. Today, I’m going to talk about the best uses of soundtrack. This means best uses of songs with lyrics and words in film. I will do best uses of film score in the future. Until then, enjoy this ode to soundtracks!
Let’s start off the list with songs sung throughout the entire film, otherwise known as the movie musical. The musical has had a long and fruitful history, opening the sound era with The Jazz Singer and being integral to the golden age of cinema to recent films today. Musicals can take inspiration from Broadway, be original, or something in between. For me, the best movie musical is Singin’ in the Rain.
Singin’ in the Rain is a film that crosses both boundaries. It is composed of already existing songs from the 20’s and is an original musical. What makes it so great is its exuberance, especially through the performers and the choreography. The songs blend quite seamlessly into the plot of the film, creating memorable numbers like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Good Morning”. The songs don’t overpower the plot, but make it more fun and add to the Hollywood glamour. Plus, Gene Kelly on that light post in the rain is so iconic.
The next spot on this list is dedicated to the films that aren’t quite musicals, but play songs throughout the film to convey emotions without the characters bursting into song. Rather, the film has a lineup of fantastic songs that compose a fantastic soundtrack. Songs are dug up from the past and revitalized for a new audience. Honorable mentions go to Pulp Fiction, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and both Guardians of the Galaxy films. Honestly, I can’t pick just one movie to give this award to. I’m going to have to give a tie to Inside Llewyn Davis and Baby Driver.
Ok, so I’m cheating a little bit with this one. Inside Llewyn Davis is a character study on its protagonist Llewyn Davis and his struggles during the 1960s folk music boom in Greenwich Village. The music is a blend of folk songs that are sung by the actors. T Bone Burnett carefully crafted the voices and the songs to fit the period and feel lived in. The songs in Inside Llewyn Davis give us a small window into Llewyn and his love of music in its purest form. This is an underrated Coen Brothers gem and should be seen, if not purely for the soundtrack. Oscar Isaac has a wonderful voice as Llewyn that feels old and new at the same time.
Baby Driver is a movie that sets its pace to the music. The opening sequence with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” is pitch perfect and synchronized with the action. The songs are so different from each other, yet they compliment the changing moods of Baby. I can imagine director Edgar Wright strolling through records stores and thumbing through the vinyls to find that perfect tracks. Like, Llewyn Davis, the soundtrack encapsulates Baby and his character. When the music is ripped away, it’s creates an unexpected emptiness. (Review linked in title).
Some movies have a really good soundtrack, but there is just that one song that manages to steal the show and is the most memorable moment in the movie. When you hear that song outside of the film’s context, it’s hard to distinguish it from anything else but that film. Some classic examples are “Born to be Wild” in Easy Rider and “Danger Zone” in Top Gun. But this award goes to Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglorious Basterds and its use of David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)”.
This song is a perfect example of dramatic irony in a film. I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t seen the film, but for those who have, you KNOW. This film is set during World War 2 and one of the plot lines features theater owner Shosanna Dreyfuss and her quest for vengeance in occupied France. Tarantino is known for mixing an eclectic blend of songs in his films, and Inglorious Basterds is no different. The 1982 song couldn’t be further from the music of the time, but it just works so well. It feels empowering as Shosanna puts makeup as if it’s battle armor and prepares to face the Nazis below. It’s cinematic genius.
So there you have it! Some of my favorite uses of soundtrack in film! Please like, share, and subscribe! Did you agree with my list? What would you add in there? Let me know in the comments below!