When it comes to the delicate art of the mixtape, context is everything. And in the context of us hurtling toward the end of summer (ok fine, there’s another month left, and a few big releases still on the calendar, but we’re getting nostalgic nonetheless) we thought we’d emulate Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) in this week’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” who has a cherished memento from Earth in the form of a cassette of classic songs, by putting together a mixtape of our own.
Of course, making a movie song mixtape (“tape,” incidentally, being a small rectangular plastic object containing sound recorded onto a magnetic strip that Grandma and Grandpa might tell you about) adds another layer to the process: should we feature only the movies we liked? Should we feature only the songs we liked from those movies? Thing is, great songs are often used in mediocre films, and mediocre/terrible songs are quite frequently used in great films, so we decided it was open season. And anyway, where would the fun be l;; nin stocking the selection with obscure score excerpts and subtle instrumental cues? (Look to our end-of year roundup of Best Scores and Soundtracks for that). Summer is the season of (mostly) disposable blockbusters, and deserves a mixtape of (mostly) disposable pop tracks to accompany it.
So we’ve gone for broke and simply chosen 20 songs, good, bad and appalling, that we feel sum up our summer at the movies. We’re road-testing a thing whereby Spotify users can play along by letting the Summer 2014 at the Movies Playlist roll sight unseen, and see how many of the tracks you can pin to their correct summer releases.
Everyone else can simply click ahead for a whistle-stop tour through the highs and lows of Summer 2014’s soundtrack cuts in YouTube format.
David Bowie – "Moonage Daydream" from "Guardians Of The Galaxy"
As far as moments in summer blockbusters this year go, the scene in which the title heroes of Marvel’s "Guardians Of The Galaxy" fly to Knowhere, a mining planet and wretched hive of scum and villainy contained within the skull of a dead space-god, has to rank among the weirdest. That the studio let director James Gunn score it with David Bowie‘s "Moonage Daydream" from "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars" is just the appropriate cherry on the top (and one of a series of excellent soundtrack picks).
DJ Snake – "Turn Down For What" from "22 Jump Street"
When the nostalgia hunters of the future look back on this year with the inevitable ‘200 Things Only Kids Who Grew Up In The Summer Of 2014 Will Understand’ pieces on whatever the future equivalent of Buzzfeed is, there are two songs they’ll remember from the past few months: Iggy Azalea‘s "Fancy," and DJ Snake and Lil Jon‘s twerk-tastic "Turn Down For What." The omnipresent club banger opens the movie, re-introducing us to Schmidt and Jenko in posy slo-mo, and there was no more 2014 way to begin.
M83 – "I Need You" from "Divergent"
The film is a little so-so in the run of YA adaptations, but it has a few good moments, mostly down to Shailene Woodley‘s natural underplaying. But one spectacular moment that delivers (especially as we weren’t allowed to watch the eye-gouging) was Tris on the impossibly long zipline flying over and through the ruined city, and this M83 track that accompanies it.
Nat Shilkret – "Dancing With Tears in my Eyes" from "Magic in the Moonlight"
Every generation gets the "Dancing with Tears in my Eyes" they deserve—millenials, you can have your Ke$ha, we’ll take Ultravox, while Woody Allen unearthed a period-appropriate 1930 Nat Shilkret song of the same title to sit alongside more familiar Cole Porter numbers in his frothy, Firthy film.
Keri Hilson – "Pretty Girl Rock" from "The Rover"
Alongside "Boyhood" and Xavier Dolan‘s "Mommy," David Michod‘s low-key existential chase story features one of our favorite incongruous soundtrack moments of the year, as Robert Pattinson, amid a landscape of scorched-earth social collapse,sings along to this slice of cheeseball pop in a moment of deadpan hilarious metatextuality.
Paul Simon – "The Obvious Child" from "Obvious Child"
The song that lends its title to Gillian Robespierre‘s underrated (by our reviewer too imo!) abortion rom-com, had actually been a part of the story way back when the movie was a twinkle in Robespierre’s eye/a short film script, so it’s good to the hear the bouncy, uplifting track play in a pivotal scene in the feature version (just before the night that leads to the unplanned pregnancy in question).
Icona Pop – "All Night" from "Neighbors"
If we’re being honest, the party scene with Ke$ha’s "Die Young" playing probably made as much, if not more of, an impression than this track, which plays over the pool party in the surprisingly fond and funny "Neighbors." But we heart Icona Pop a great deal more than that mistress of unwanted earworm, so we chose them.
Sheryl Crow – "Soak up the Sun" from "Boyhood"
Exhibit A in the "context is everything" argument, this track surprised us totally when it cropped up in a scene in Richard Linklater‘s all-conquering "Boyhood" by giving us a weird rush of nostalgic affection which we’re prepared to swear we’ve never felt for a Sheryl Crow song otherwise. Here’s Linklater talking about the song choices.
Lykke Li – "No One Ever Loved" from "The Fault in our Stars"
Every summer has its unexpected sleeper hit, and shameless weepie "The Fault in our Stars" was undoubtedly it for 2014. To be fair, it’s exceptionally well performed by the increasingly inescapable Shailene Woodley, and well directed by Josh Boone, and features a sensitively chosen selection of songs, culminating in this Lykke Li track which is pretty much a triple-Kleenex job all by itself.
Cream – "Strange Brew" from "Snowpiercer"
Pretty much the only pop cue (correct us if we’re wrong, oh wait of course you will) in a soundtrack otherwise characterized by Marco Beltrami‘s excellent score, "Strange Brew" is used a little mischievously over the food car scene in Bong Joon-Ho’s unclassifiable, inventive "Snowpiercer" pointedly referring to the green protein goop they’re all fed on.
Keira Knightley – "Like a Fool" from "Begin Again"
We tried to like "Begin Again," honest, but we just couldn’t really. And this unavoidably twee sugar rush of a song kind of suggests why. The film’s story may be about the emotional healing via music, but this kind of thing is so anodyne, no matter how many edgy "fucks" you throw in there, that it’s hard to imagine it soothing anyone’s soul. Still it’s a film about music and we’re excluding "Jersey Boys" on the grounds of being worse, so we’ll reluctantly give it a spot.
Jay-Z, Kanye West – "Ni**as in Paris" from "Made in America"
Maybe a bit of a cheat to include music from a music documentary about a famous musician putting on a music festival, but Ron Howard‘s chronicle of Jay-Z‘s mounting a multigenre celebration of music was infectiously enthusiastic enough for us to want to include mention of it here, especially with this, its climactic tune.
Jonsi – "Where No One Goes" from "How To Train Your Dragon 2"
He’s moved on to scoring entire movies by now (he did the music for Cameron Crowe‘s ‘We Bought A Zoo"), but after having contributed the theme song to the first "How To Train Your Dragon," Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi returned for the sequel with "Where No One Goes." Like the movie, it’s not quite the match of the original, but it’s still appropriately rousing, soaring stuff.
Roberta Flack – "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" from "X-Men: Days of Future Past"
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) wakes up in 1973, so of course the first song he hears has got to be something apropos, but the choice of Roberta Flack‘s almost mournfully beautiful song is actually pretty inspired counterpointing to the loopy, playful tone this segment introduces. (Original review here).
The Band – "The Weight" from "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"
The terrific blockbuster-of-the-summer (for us anyway) is a great example of evocative world-building and nowhere more so than in the scene where electricity momentarily crackles a jukebox back to life in an abandoned, overgrown garage. The song that plays, that hints a little at how much humanity has lost, is not a Skrillex track amazingly, but this classic cut from The Band.
Lana Del Rey – "Once Upon a Dream" from "Maleficent"
If the film overall fell far short of our original hopes for it, despite the seemingly perfect casting of Angelina Jolie (who to be fair is responsible for the film’s other best moments) one way it probably surpassed them was in this marvellously creepy reworking of the swoony "Sleeping Beauty" theme song from the original Disney animation that plays during the end credits.
OK Go – "The Writing’s On The Wall" from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
There are many sins to "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," which means that an over-literal approach to song selection is one of the least of them. In a film where your ears are punished by Jamie Foxx‘s dubstep inner monologue, OK Go‘s typically catchy New Order-thievery is positively welcome, even if it accompanies a moment of Andrew Garfield LITERALLY PUTTING THINGS ON A WALL.
Make the Girl Dance – "Dancing in Nowhere" from "Lucy"
If Luc Besson made music he’d make semi-disposable French-inflected dance tracks that get everybody moving and merge seamlessly into one another in sweatbox nightclubs. But he doesn’t have to, since there are more than enough french electro pop duos to go around, Make the Girl Dance being one we’d not previously known but who provide the propulsive, dynamic "Lucy" with one of its most propulsive, dynamic tracks.
Devonte Hynes – "Palo Alto" from "Palo Alto"
From member of terrible indie rap-rock boyband Test-Icicles to friend and collaborator of Solange Knowles, Devonte Hynes has had one of the stranger career paths around. So much so that scoring a film by one of the Coppola dynasty and based on a book by James Franco doesn’t feel all that incongruous. Hynes’ dreamy soundtrack to Gia Coppola‘s "Palo Alto" is a highlight of the underrated teen picture, and the title track is itself a highlight of that score.
John Newman – "Love Me Again" from "Edge of Tomorrow"
British singer Newman had a Euro-wide hit in late 2013 with this unbelievably catchy, dancey tune, but U.S. audiences will probably know it best as the song that ushers in the credits in Tom Cruise‘s way-more-fun-than-it-had-any-right-to-be "Edge of Tomorrow" (no prizes for guessing which side we agree with in our point/counterpoint review, then). Or rather they won’t, because they were too busy staying away from the fun Doug Liman flick in anticipation of giving all their money to "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (of which we’re registering our disapproval by not including a track).
Aaand, that’s it. James Brown biopic "Get on Up" opens on Friday too, and we’d imagine that might have a good tune or two to its name, but not having seen it in time, we couldn’t include. And "Jersey Boys" is probably a notable omission, seeing as it’s all about music, but hang us if you like, it’s just not music we enjoy, and the film was pants too. If we could have tracked it down we’d definitely have included "Hate the Sport" from Lukas Moodysson‘s "We Are The Best" as well, while Norah Jones‘ "It Was The Last Thing On My Mind" from "They Came Together" could also have nosed in due to being part of an extended gag in that film, only again, not available to us.
Still to come this summer is Lenny Abrahamson‘s "Frank" which we would definitely have included here if it had already opened stateside, and of course there are a host more indies that could well contribute a few more choice cuts to our summer listening, while "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" and "Expendables 3" will no doubt be serving your eardrums some grimy beats and gravelly rawk in August if that’s your thing. Let us know your own movie songs of the summer below.