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Criticwire Survey: Lousy Film, Great Soundtrack

Criticwire Survey: Lousy Movie, Great Soundtrack

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Leave your own response in the comments, and send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.

Q: Many great movies draw strength from their musical soundtracks, but sometimes the films don’t measure up to the songs themselves. What’s your favorite example of a great soundtrack to a not-so-great film?

Tim Grierson, Screen International, Paste

There was some talk before Singles came out that writer-director Cameron Crowe was making a movie about the Seattle music scene of the early ’90s that was just starting to explode. That made sense since Crowe had gotten his start as a music journalist, but his film was actually just a mediocre romantic comedy set in Seattle, with a few references to the city’s alternative rock movement thrown in. The soundtrack turned out to be far more culturally signficant. It’s not a definitive overview of grunge — Nirvana’s not on it — but it has Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, and as a great meta-commentary, the soundtrack also features Seattle’s own Mudhoney doing a song called “Overblown,” which expresses their disdain for the hyped-to-death scene of which they were a part. But you also hear Paul Westerberg, who with the Replacements in the ’80s helped give birth to the alternative/college-rock environment that paved the way for most of the Singles bands. As a nod to Seattle’s rock roots, Jimi Hendrix is included, and as a warning of what was to come in grunge, there’s also Mother Love Bone, whose lead singer Andrew Wood died of an overdose in 1990, a sad harbinger of the drug problems that would plague Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley. (In terms of Mother Love Bone’s legacy, it’s also worth noting that a few of the band’s members went on to form Pearl Jam.) There’s even room on Singles for Smashing Pumpkins, which had nothing to do with grunge or the Seattle scene but would become one of alt-rock’s biggest bands in the ’90s. I just rattled off all that history about the Singles soundtrack off the top of my head. The movie, I remember almost nothing about.

Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today

Elizabethtown, for sure: I have fond associations with that film because my husband and I saw it on what turned out to be our first date, but it’s basically just Garden State (which has an exceptional soundtrack itself), except with Orlando Bloom, and nobody needs that movie to exist. But I still listen to Elizabethtown‘s soundtrack all the time. It’s great southern-inflected rock and alt-country. And It’s nice to have something to be nostalgic about from the movie itself. Cameron Crowe sure can pick ’em.

Sean Axmaker, Parallax View, Cinephiled

The first Austin Powers has its moments and its fans and yeah, I get a kick out of the way it pokes fun at sixties spies and mod culture, but the soundtrack to the movie brings the sixties and the nineties together even better than the film. There are some covers (Susanna Hoffs, married to director Jay Roach, is heavenly on “The Look of Love”), composer George S. Clinton provides spot-on Bond-esque cues, and Hoffs and Matthew Sweet jam with Myers on the sixties TV-style drop-in “BBC,” but what works so well in is the mix of period and contemporary songs in a single sensibility. The funky swing of Quincy Jones’ instrumental “Soul Bossa Nova” and the Top 40 psychedelia of “Incense and Peppermint” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock meets the contemporary psych-inflected electronica of Broadcast’s “The Book Lovers” and the abstract indie pop of The Cardigans, pulling decades together in a continuum of musical conversation. I don’t know if credit for the musical line-up goes to Clinton or producer/writer/star Myers or director Jay Roach, but together they came up with a great set of songs that set a sensibility of the sixties in the nineties (and to give credit where it is due, Myers’ movies all have good soundtracks). It’s an inspired jukebox soundtrack that shouldn’t necessarily all work together — “You Showed Me,” the Lightning Seeds’ almost spooky cover of the Turtles hit, kicks the sixties song right out of time — but it does, and I still spin the CD constantly. Far more often than I think of rewatching the film.

Mike D’Angelo, Las Vegas Weekly, The Dissolve 

k.d. lang’s soundtrack was the sole worthwhile element of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I’m also quite fond of Mark Isham’s jazzy score for Jodie Foster’s meh directorial debut, Little Man Tate. And then there are some more controversial cases — Michael Nyman’s work in The Piano does much more for me than Jane Campion’s, for example; likewise Clint Mansell vs. Darren Aronofsky in Requiem for a Dream. Oh, and Stewart Copeland’s Rumble Fish score. And Philip Glass’ amazing work in Mishima, which I owned for more than 20 years before finally seeing and being pretty underwhelmed by the movie itself. Wow, I own a lot of film scores, he suddenly realized.

Dan Kois, Slate

I barely remember anything about Until the End of the World, Wim Wenders’ sort-of road movie, sort-of spy thriller, sort-of apocalypse sci-fi. I remember being really, really disappointed by it when I saw it my senior year in high school. But oh, wow, the soundtrack, which served as rich mixtape fodder that same year: crucial unreleased tracks by R.E.M. and Talking Heads; Elvis Costello doing the Kinks; grim and great Lou Reed, k.d. lang, and Depeche Mode songs; and my first introduction to CAN, Patti Smith, and Nick Cave. Plus that Achtung Baby song, before I got sick of everything on Achtung Baby.

Peter Keough, Boston Globe, Critics a Go-Go

My choice would be the soundtrack to Robert Altman’s Pret-a-Porter or Wim Wenders’s Until the End of the World. Neither shows the director at his best, but the soundtracks make for great CDs

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

As much as I disliked the entire series, the Twilight movies have had amazing alt-rock soundtracks. Over the course of five films, this franchise has utilized Paramore, The Black Keys, Muse, Death Cab for Cutie, Metric, Florence + the Machine, Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, and The Joy Formidable, among many others. I’d go so far as to say that the music is the best part of the Twilight Saga by a mile. Even when I felt tortured sitting through the movies, I often loved cranking the soundtracks in my car later on. More recently, I walked out of Ron Howard’s Rush feeling very disappointed, yet the first thing I did when I got home was download Hans Zimmer’s striking score, which makes for inspiring listening when writing movie reviews.

Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

The Blues Brothers. It’s a variety show disguised as a movie, but boy are the individual acts fantastic.

Kate Aurthur, BuzzFeed

My answer is one that has been altered by time, because I certainly thought Purple Rain was a good movie when I first saw it. But whoa: It’s a terrible movie! And yet, it’s one of Prince’s best album’s, if not his absolute best. The fortuitous thing is that when you listen to it, you can completely divorce the film from the music. One other offering: I haven’t seen the movie The Crow in years, so I can’t write with authority about whether it’s good or bad. And I never had the full soundtrack. But when I hear “The Big Empty” by Stone Temple Pilots, I’m always secretly pleased. 

Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film

Purple Rain: an extended music LP video turned into a film by Albert Magnoli in 1984. 

Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Fred and Ginger: not Ginger and Fred but the Astaire-Rogers “classics” of the thirties, which are irresistibly listenable and borderline unwatchable. Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and George and Ira Gershwin delivered unto Astaire some of the crown jewels of the American songbook, and he puts them over with a breezily conversational understatement to match his seemingly effortless virtuosity on the dance floor, which is a marvel to see but is filmed with a suffocatingly bland lack of inspiration — neither inventively interventionist nor starkly documentary — that is partly Astaire’s own fault. His contractual control over the filming of his numbers was a straitjacket to his directors, who didn’t have had the inspiration to overcome the imposed obstacles. It wasn’t until his career was slumping that he entrusted his genius to the genius of Stanley Donen — and Royal Wedding is the first Astaire film that is fully worth watching (as opposed to those earlier ones, which are only worth seeing and, above all, listening to). So, of course, is Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon, from 1953 — and I just found out that Astaire also starred in the original stage show, in 1931 (a revue from which the movie derives nothing but some songs).

Sean Hutchinson, and

I was tempted to say Daft Punk’s score for TRON: Legacy because most of the songs are still pretty killer if you’re in the right mood, but that seems way too obvious and will probably be everyone’s answer. Instead I’m gonna go with the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, a movie I don’t outright hate or think is particularly lousy but one that definitely isn’t Coppola’s best. The soundtrack, however, is her best and is my post-punk dream come true. You’ve got your Siouxsie and the Banshees straight off the top and you throw in some New Order, Gang of Four, The Cure, and probably the only tolerable Bow Wow Wow song for a great foundation. Then you have newer stuff like The Radio Dept., Aphex Twin, the best song The Strokes ever made after “Is This It?”, and some Kevin Shields remixes for a soundtrack with gem after mopey gem. So, so good, yet the movie is so, so meh.

Jordan Hoffman, ScreenCrush, NY Daily News

A strong recent example: TRON: Legacy. Come to think of it everything about TRON: Legacy was great — great costumes, great marketing, great use of special effects — everything was great about the movie except the movie. I don’t think there’s been a bigger budget “cart before the horse” boondoggle in quite some time. Going back a few years, Wim Wenders’ Far Away, So Close fit this bill. I must confess, though, I saw the movie once — at its release — and don’t remember it all that sharply. It could be do for a revisit.

Christopher Campbell, Nonfics,

I enjoyed TRON: Legacy more than most, but while I have no interest in seeing it ever again I still listen to Daft Punk’s score all the time. Honorable mentions go to Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend and the soundtrack to Xanadu (minus the Tubes track).

Scott Weinberg, FEARnet, Fandango

Everyone will say this but I don’t care: Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy score is so cool. and the film is so not. I’m tempted to mention John Williams’ rousing score for 1941, which is one of the master’s very best, but I truly adore 1941 so that’d be a lie. But the truest answer I can think of is The Pirate Movie (1982). The film is outstandingly bad whereas the music is only hilariously bad. Enjoy the trailer

Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

If we’re talking soundtrack (not score) then I would have to nominate I Am Sam. I’m convinced the only reason this film exists was so contemporary pop stars could cover Beatles tunes. (Apparently Sean Penn commissioned the cover versions when he couldn’t get the rights. I’m guessing Michael Jackson still owned them?) Some of the tracks are inspired, especially Heather Nova’s rendition of “We Can Work It Out,” or “Two of Us” by Aimee Mann and Michael Penn. Despite (though some might say because of) Sean Penn’s Oscar-nominated turn, the film is pretty insufferable.

Adam Kempenaar, Filmspotting

Wow, did I hate the 2001 film I Am Sam starring Sean Penn and Dakota Fanning. But how can you not love the soundtrack, at least if you’re a Beatles fan? All the music is Fab Four, but since they couldn’t secure the rights to the originals, they enlisted some great artists to do covers. Highlights for me are: Aimee Mann and Michael Penn doing “Two of Us”; Eddie Vedder’s “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away; and Paul Westerberg’s “Nowhere Man.”

Matt Prigge, Metro

I wouldn’t call it “lousy,” but Richard Linklater’s Suburbia (sorry: subUrbia) isn’t one of his best works. However, it has a pretty killer soundtrack, one totally worth looting for in the used stacks of hipster record stores. Sonic Youth are all over it, including the rare “Bee-Bee’s Song” and a longer, more languid “Sunday.” But there’s also a cover of X’s “The Unheard Music” by Elastica and Stephen Malkmus — made, I think, when they cuckolded Damon Albarn — Beck, Superchunk, U.N.K.L.E. and the ace Butthole Surfers song, “Human Canonball.” It’s thoroughly, almost toxically late ’90s (the latter song and Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity,” both from decades prior, excepted), and a better time capsule than the movie it holds up.

Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute

Tommy; Ken Russell’s 1975 adaptation of The Who’s rock opera is a bloated, star tilted extravaganza. Yet the soundtrack, produced by and with the band, along with the somewhat surprising cast of the film, is enduringly listenable. Elton John’s “Pinball Wizard” is still a hit and Tina Turner’s “Acid Queen” is the stuff of legend. It’s kind of wild to listen to movie superstars (Ann-Margaret, Jack Nicholson and the ferocious Oliver Reed) along with Daltrey, Clapton, Moon (yes, Moon) and Townshend bring the story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy to a very theatrical life. The best, most revelatory recording of Tommy, though, is the original cast recording of the spare and stunning 1992 Broadway stage version, starring Michael Cerveris.

Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal

I don’t have a proper answer, but I can think of a couple of examples where the theme song eclipses the actual film. All I can remember about the Stephen King movie of the month Pet Sematary is the great, funny Ramones title song (and Fred Gwynne, as a munster-iffic Maine oddball who bites the dust all too soon). Likewise, the Terrence Howard vehicle Hustle & Flow, which wasn’t even a bad movie. But all that sticks is the refrain “It’s hard out here for a pimp,” which I like to use as often as tolerable as a freelance catch-phrase. Three-6 Mafia won the justified and historic Oscar for best song (eat it, Randy Newman, even if you weren’t nominated), the first black rap artists to do so, a great source of pride for the Dirty South.

Bilge Ebiri, New York/Vulture

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, having been a fairly obsessive film music collector for most of my life. I even wrote about this phenomenon a couple of years ago. The answer for me is still Ennio Morricone’s score for Adrian Lyne’s Lolita. God knows Morricone wrote a number of great scores to terrible movies. Very often, you can tell that his heart wasn’t really in the film, because he goes off and does his own thing, and the music is often upholstered throughout the film without any rhyme or reason. But with Lolita, you actually get the sense that he *cares.* It’s some of the best work he’s done from his later period — subtle, lilting, evocative. And it’s totally wrong for this belabored, shampoo commercial of a movie. At times you even get the sense that Morricone is trying to bring down the temperature somewhat, trying to undo some of the emotional crimes of Lyne’s direction. (Of course, I’m being glib — I’m sure Lyne had quite a bit to do with the music Morricone composed and how it was used in the film.) But what a heavenly score for such a misfire of a movie.

Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine, In Review Online

Brian De Palma’s 1976 film Obsession is, to my mind, a minor work for him at best, but Bernard Herrmann’s score for the film is so extravagant and overpowering that it practically makes the film all by itself, doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to elucidating the drama and expressing its inner emotions. If ever there was a film in which its composer could be considered an auteur, it’s Herrmann in his swooning score for this blatant, perverse riff on Vertigo.

Peter Labuza, The Cinephiliacs, Masters of Cinema

Merit is up for debate, but John Brahm’s Hangover Square is a nifty little British noir with at least one quite fascinating body disposal scene on Guy Fawkes day and a strong, manic performance by Laird Cregar. I’m not so sure it’s a great film, but the final sequence features a sequence that might be my favorite Bernard Herrmann’s score ever, a fiery orchestral performance tuned and rhymed to his score. It’s a rare showing where the composer is perhaps most in command of the scene, and the images and dialogue seem tuned to Herrmann’s baton than the directing on set.


Adam Nayman, The Globe and Mail, Cinema Scope

The great Jerry Goldsmith won his only Academy Award in 1977 for scoring The Omen, and with apologies to Bernard Herrmann (who was tapped that year for Taxi Driver) boy oh boy did he deserve it. I grew up adoring 20th Century Fox’s grab at the classy-horror brass ring forged by Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, mainly because it was one of the more lurid movies in my mother’s extensive VHS collection: hangings, maulings, and that indelible decapitation (shot and replayed from multiple angles in what may have been Richard Donner’s little tribute to Zabriskie Point). Looking at it again a few weeks ago — for probably the first time since high school — I was disappointed at how boring it really is. All the down time in between those fatal set pieces is absolutely deadly, especially since David Seltzer’s script eschews any ambiguity about whether or not little Damien is actually the Antichrist. While it’s true that nearly a decade after Rosemary’s Baby a big budget studio thriller probably couldn’t get away with too much coyness, The Omen is played so straight by the unholy trinity of Donner, Seltzer and the desultorily trusty Gregory Peck that it becomes funny in spite of itself. It’s the inverse of Polanski’s film, which keeps striking lightly comic notes until revealing itself as a spooky dirge. But I’d choose Goldsmith’s moody mix of surging strings and spooky chants over the work of Polanski’s house composer Krzysztof Komeda — hell, I’d take it over the tubular bells that open The Exorcist or the creepy Casio riffage of Halloween. The story goes that Donner got Fox to shell out at the last minute for Goldsmith, and he was worth every penny. His brilliantly arranged Black Mass compositions, filled with faux-liturgical Latin lyrics that sound especially great underneath shots of deserted rural cemeteries, are just overwrought enough to raise the energy level of the movie around them (those suddenly shrieking choirs are a fit complement to Donner’s cheesy crash-zoom aesthetic). There are some lovely, almost pastoral passages early on, before the Devil gets his due, but my favorite is the sinister synth motif that plays when Damien’s nanny is hypnotically compelled by a wandering Rottweiler to off herself. It’s beautifully mixed so as to seem almost subliminal at first, and then builds steadily in intensity until it becomes overwhelming — a perfect example of a soundtrack doing the heavy lifting for an otherwise feeble movie.


Ali Arikan, Dipnot TV

First, two instances of great final moments from films that leave the viewer wanting: The ending scene of Cruel Intentions as The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” plays while the school finds out just how much of a bitch Kathryn really is. It’s kitschy as fuck. But unlike the film, it succeeds. The second is the “Vanity, definitely my favorite scene” transformation in The Devil’s Advocate with the first few notes of “Paint It Black” in the background. Great moment in a pretty shitty film. Actually, that entire movie is one great scene after the next, yet none of them quite cohere. For what it’s worth, the “absentee landlord” speech is so brilliant. Anyway, as for the question proper, Maximum Overdrive, which is terrible, has a pretty awesome soundtrack by AC/DC, who provided compositions old and new. As for scores, Jerry Goldsmith pretty great and distinctive scores for a whole bunch of shitty films, like The Swarm and Supergirl. And even though I like the prequels fine (well, The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith; Attack of the Clones is rubbish), I must admit that John Williams’ scores towered over their respective films.

Marc V. Ciafardini, GoSeeTalk

James Newton Howard may be one of the most accomplished and versatile composers out there but he still has some real stinkers on his resume as of late. Sadly his musical might just can’t put M. Night Shyamalan’s recent films in the win column but it doesn’t stop him from trying and because of that perseverance the score for The Last Airbender contains some of the best work Howard has ever done. Though the film falls flat in every single way Howard’s music, especially in tracks like “Journey to the Northern Water Tribe” and “Flow Like Water“, is simply exceptional and prove with each passing second that he’s still got it. Now close second choice would be John Williams’ Hook. Removing nostalgia from the equation the film is not as bad as people make it out to be… but granted it isn’t very good either. Yet of its few redeeming qualities the film contains one the top 5 scores John Williams has ever done. It’s extraordinary work and even naysayers will have trouble arguing with the complexities, sophistication and grandeur in a track like “You Are the Pan” which in and of itself is a precursor to the music he created for Harry Potter.

John Semley, NOW Magazine, Slant

I wouldn’t say that John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic is a lousy movie. I mean, it’s lousier than The Exorcist. And maybe lousier than doing anything that’s not watching Exorcist II: The Heretic. But I’ve always found it more-or-less watchable, thanks in large part to Ennio Morricone’s excellent soundtrack (and a few memorable special effects). Tracks like “Pazuzu,” with its halting vocal chants, and the disco toe-tapper “Magic and Ecstasy” are impossible to shake, awesome even by the high standard Morricone sets for himself. It’s a soundtrack as weird, and in places confusing, as the movie.

Peter Howell, Toronto Star

I still listen to Polish composer Wojciech Kilar’s richly ominous soundtrack for The Portrait of a Lady, although the memory of Jane Campion’s misbegotten 1996 film has largely faded.

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

I’m something of a Leslie Bricusse fanatic, particularly his scores for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (in collaboration with Anthony Newley) and Scrooge. And while I’m a big fan of his songs for the 1960s musical remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips — yes, even the ones sung by Peter O’Toole — the movie itself is one of those overdone, stodgy warhorse epics that pretty much killed the musical for a while around the dawn of the 70s. I own a DVD that I have yet to pop in, but I keep the soundtrack in fairly regular rotation.

Danny Bowes,,

I didn’t really mind the Eddie Murphy remake of Dr. Dolittle all that much, especially in comparison with a lot of the other entries in the post-good chunk of his resume, but when the best even a defender can come up with is “cute” and “inoffensive” we are not dealing with an enduring classic. The soundtrack, on the other hand, was awesome, in particular the four and a half minutes of fierce realness that is Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” The rest of the OST is a fairly representative sampling of 1998-vintage R&B and hip-hop (i.e. lots and lots of Timbaland) but “Are You That Somebody?” is a total classic. Honorable mention goes to every other soundtrack Aaliyah had a song on. RIP.

John Keefer, 51 Deep

The Batman Forever and Batman and Robin soundtracks scored back-to-back hits with a not-that-great and god-awful movie respectively. Highlights include an introduction to the Flaming Lips for a young and grateful John Keefer with the Bad Days track, Foolish Games by Jewel who was singing that song directly to me and the track Gotham City by R. Kelly in which R. Kelly sings the line, “A city of justice, a city of love / A city of peace, for everyone of us / We all need it, can’t live without it / Gotham City, oh, yeah”.  While Mr. Kelly remains an R&B genius he clearly needs to brush up on his comic book reading since the city he describes would not need The Batman. Though perhaps this was a subtle commentary on the failure of the film to capture what it is about Batman that audiences love. R. Kelly, secret cinephile.

Pat Padua, DCist, Spectrum Culture

I had fond memories of Allan Arkush’s rock-star satire Get Crazy when it was in heavy rotation on cable in the 1980s. But when I had the chance to program the film for a repertory series, I found it almost unwatchable, an even worse programming decision than my screening of the Donny and Marie movie Goin’ Coconuts, which drew a crowd of five people, four of whom were friends, two of whom walked out. But Get Crazy ends with a great Lou Reed performance that appears nowhere else but on this soundtrack: the sweet ballad “Little Sister.”

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames a Second, Periodical

I’ve long remarked that it’s a crying shame that John Murphy’s booming, enthralling score comes attached to a film as downright flaccid as Danny Boyle’s Sunshine

Jeff Berg, Local IQ

Although long forgotten by most everyone, and probably that is for the best, there was a Terrence Stamp western Blue (that Robert Redford was scheduled to star in) that came out in the ’60s. I never saw it until years later, with great anticipation, but with even greater anticipation, I bought the soundtrack, which turned out to be better, albeit it only a little, better than the film, which was tepid and dry.  

John DeCarli, FilmCapsule

The first soundtrack I thought was for Undercover Brother, the 2002 blaxploitation parody starring Eddie Griffin. There’s nothing very stylish, biting or even funny about the movie, but the soundtrack is full of classic disco and funk songs by the likes of James Brown, Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire, etc. Even the cheesy theme song is pretty awesome, written by funk bass legend Stanley Clarke.

Edwin Arnaudin, Ashvegas

Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla may not be a great film, but it did give rise to two things that, at least at the time, were pretty great. The first is Taco Bell’s gordita, which I ate regularly until realizing that fast food is gross. The second is the film’s soundtrack, sporting an impressive array of late ’90s talent. Once you get past The Wallflowers’ unfortunate “Heroes” cover and Puff Daddy’s bastardization of “Kashmir” (which weren’t that terrible in 1998), there’s a string of originals from in-their-prime Jamiroquai, Rage Against the Machine, Ben Folds Five, and Foo Fighters. Toss in a retooling of Green Day’s “Brain Stew,” a decent Silverchair number, and a fun “Secret Agent Man” knock-off from Joey DeLuxe and there were/are worse things to play in your Y2K bunker.

Luke Y. Thompson, Topless Robot

Judgment Night all the way. Had the soundtrack over a month or so before the movie came out, and it’s clear more thought went into it than the film. The only caveat is one track on there called “I Love You Mary Jane,” by Cypress Hill and Sonic Youth. Because I had stoner roommates and they insisted on playing that damn song every time they got high. Took a decade or so before I could enjoy that song again.

Ryan McNeil, The Matinee

The first film that jumps to mind is one that is seen (by some) as a fun film, but one not-so-great movie that comes with a great soundtrack is Empire Records. It should come as no surprise, considering the story is set in a record store, but some really stellar tunes pepper the goings-on at Empire. We get AC/DC, Dire Straits, The Buggles, The Flying Lizards, and Daniel Johnston all playing in the background. Then for all the ’90s children there are appearances by The Gin Blossoms, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Edwyn Collins, and The Cranberries. Even the so-called “cheesy track” by Rex Manning is kinda fun! Unfortunately it’s all wrapped around a film that is super-silly, made all the worse by a handful of grating performances. Perhaps it’s fitting that the film was sent straight to video back in 1995.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit, First Showing

I’ll confess to sometimes liking a movie more due to a great soundtrack (I contend that earlier this year Stuck in Love was unjustly ignored and a quality little flick, but part of why I dug it was the terrific soundtrack), but one such instance where that didn’t occur was earlier this year with Safe Haven. The movie is absolutely atrocious, but perhaps embarrassingly I actually own the soundtrack. It’s on the country/pop hybrid side of things (think moody Taylor Swift from a few years ago) and really is a great soundtrack that deserved a less piss-poor movie. Especially the Tristan Prettyman song “Say Anything” is tremendous, in my humble opinion at least.

Jason Shawhan, Nashville Scene

There are lots of films that, while they’re not necessarily bad, they aren’t really good either that happen to have great soundtracks/scores — and for some reason, I’m thinking of Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac remake and Philip Noyce’s Sliver (which has actually had a catastrophic music change on its DVD and Blu-Ray releases, losing Lords of Acid’s “The Most Wonderful Girl” due to licensing issues). But the ideal example of a weak, weak film that has an exceptional piece of music is David Prior’s 1987 Killer Workout (also known as Aerobicide, because why not). It’s Donna DeLory-sung theme song “Only You Tonight” could have been an international hit in clubs and pastel-colored boomboxes everywhere — but to no avail, without any kind of official release anywhere. As a lover of both horror cinema and Eurodisco, I could choose no other.

Josh Spiegel, Mousterpiece Cinema

Though I have a tiny soft spot for the film, I’d be hard-pressed to say that Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of The Ladykillers is great or even very good, aside from the rarity that is Tom Hanks getting to play a scoundrel. However, I loved the gospel-heavy soundtrack as soon as the movie came out. Working again with iconic music producer T-Bone Burnett, the Coens were able to create an old-fashioned soundtrack full of standards specific to the part of the country where the story took place, much like their excellent soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? I’ve revisited the Ladykillers soundtrack many times in the last decade, but I’ve seen the movie just once.

Q: What is the best movie currently in theaters?

A: 12 Years a Slave

Other films receiving multiple votes: Gravity, All Is Lost, A Touch of Sin, Wadjda

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I'm in the minority, but I actually think Lyne's "Lolita" is a great movie (well, a miscast Melanie Griffith aside), though it's definitely helped along by Morricone's excellent score.

And my pick for a bad movie with a great score: "Piranha 2: The Spawning". Even at its cheesiest (it was an early 80s Italian horror production–there's going to be some cheese), it's enjoyable. But thankfully the camp is only confined to a couple outdated tracks–the rest of Stelvio Cipriani's score, especially the main theme ("Profondo Sinfonico"), is incredible. Unfortunately, it was all overshadowed by a terrible movie and the whole James Cameron fiasco.


Air: Virgin Suicides.

W. David Lichty

America got an odd, 2 1/2 hour cut of Wenders' 3 film series Until the End of the World. At 90 minutes each, that represents just short of half the movie gone. It is a fundamentally different beast in its proper form. A good one too.

Also, I was surprised at the consistency of pop song soundtracks referenced. When I thought of movie soundtracks, those didn't even come to mind. What did were John Williams' Spacecamp, Heartbeeps, 1941 and Jaws 2; David Arnold's Stargate; John Barry's Raise the Titanic; James Horner's Krull and Battle Beyond the Stars and helf the movies scored by Jerry Goldsmith.

But if we're just going this direction, how could Flash Gordon go unmentioned?

Dean Treadway

Burt Bacharach's terrific score for the 60s James Bond debacle CASINO ROYALE has to be considered the greatest score ever written for a terrible movie (bonus points for the Dusty Springfield version of "The Look of Love"). I'd also have to posit Manfred Hubler and Sigfried Schwab's fantastic score for Jess Franco's VAMPYROS LESBOS, Stewart Copeland's magnificent tracks for Coppola's RUMBLEFISH (which is not a TERRIBLE movie, but not a good one, either), Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score to the ugly BOYS FROM BRAZIL, and Francis Lai's Oscar-winning score for LOVE STORY.


-THE EDGE OF LOVE. A well-cast, even occasionally well-acted film about a love square involving Dylan Thomas that got drowned out by John Mayberry's style over substance. The score by Angelo Badalamenti, even if it does occasionally feel like a re-hash of Badalamenti's older catalogue, is still as romantic and hypnotic as the the film wishes it were. The interesting choice of covers and Keira Knightley's debut at singing also round out an interesting soundtrack.

-W.E. Abel Korzeniowski's hip and elegant score for Madonna's (watchable) clusterf–k of a movie was the best thing about it. If Kate Middleton had a soundtrack as cool as "Duchess of Windsor," all violins and electric guitars, I might be more supportive in the British monarchy.

Nathan Cone

John Barry's score for Disney's THE BLACK HOLE is magnificent. Haunting, bold, mysterious, heroic. The movie itself is full of junk science and clunky dialogue (though I love it anyway).


The tepid Cole Porter biopic "De-Lovely" with Kevin Kline has amazing modern covers of Porter songs from the likes of Alanis Morissette, Elvis Costello, and Robbie Williams. Don't remember a thing about the movie, but I still listen to the music all the time.


I'm rather fond of the film 'Still Crazy', but I love the soundtrack. I wish Steange Fruit were a real band, Bill Nighy and Jimmy Nail make a great vocal duo.


Listening to the Bernard Hermann right now…awesome. Thanks.




Pump Up The Volume

Katy Kern

This was a great Criticwire question. I have many soundtracks that I listen to, but normally I also liked or loved the movie. Soundtracks/scores can make a film SO MUCH better which, I guess, could be the point somewhat to this survey. (Although totally disagree with the Blues Brothers selection.)

One question to think about for a future survey: where a good movie is nearly ruined by a terrible score. Doesn't happen often, at least if memory serves. But one film leaps to mind immediately: LADYHAWKE (1985)- an original storyline with a fantastic romance and adventure rolled into one. It stared Matthew Broderick, Michelle PFeiffer and Rutger Hauer. But the score is now even harder to get through.

Josh Rosenfield

The Great Gatsby anyone? I'll probably never see that movie again for as long as I live, but the soundtrack was in my rotation all summer.

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