From the zither in “The Third Man,” to Busby Berkeley routines set to “Be My Baby” in “Mean Streets,” to the dance contest in “Pulp Fiction,” to Wes Anderson’s use of the Rolling Stones and The Kinks (among many others) in his oeuvre, some of cinema’s finest moments are intrinsically tied into music.
2015 might not have been a vintage year for music moments in film necessarily, but there has been nevertheless more than enough that we could fill up our annual list with some choice selections. Take a look below and let us know your own favorites in the comments.
In case you’re asking where is [insert movie], we have an entire feature dedicated to the The 30 Best Scores & Soundtracks Of 2015 and that probably covers most of your remaining concerns. Click here for our complete coverage of the Best of 2015.
Best Use Of A Song Already Iconically Used In A Recent Movie
When a song is used so well in a movie, the unspoken rule is that it can’t be used in another film, or at least not for several years or even decades. Imagine if a filmmaker tried to use Stealers Wheel’s’ “Stuck In The Middle With You” —they’d be laughed out of the room. To that end, 2011’s baseball drama “Moneyball” makes contemporary iconic use of the post-rock instrumental “The Mighty Rio Grande” from the group This Will Destroy You. It’s in the climactic scene of the movie, and it is so effective that it was used in pretty much every one of the film’s trailers. A24’s “Room” by director Lenny Abrahamson has the audacity to use the same song four years after the fact, and while we are kind of music supervision zealots about this sort of thing, we have to admit that the slow-burning getaway moment when the abducted Jacob Tremblay finally musters up the courage to jump out of the pick up truck is extraordinary. It’s a furious mix of anxiety, fear, desperation and finally oceanic catharsis when the boy makes the leap to freedom. It’s so damn good that you have to excuse the “Room” crew for employing it so soon.
Best Use Of A Christmas Song
Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” is partly an homage to Sergio Leone westerns, but is also partly a tribute to Agatha Christie murder mysteries, not to mention including some nods to “Clue.” The film can be vile and unpleasant, but there’s some admittedly terrifically crafted scenes therein. One such scene spins massive tension out of a simple piano bar version of the Christmas tune “Silent Night.” Therein, Bob The Mexican (Demián Bichir) tinkles away at a half-adept version of the carol on the piano, consistently messing up at the same part in the song. Meanwhile, a black former Union soldier turned bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) tells the grizzled Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) about the heretofore unknown fate of his son. Let’s just say it’s a nasty-as-hell provocation, but the way the scene builds and explodes at the end with a melancholy “Silent Night” playing during the scene is brilliantly orchestrated and may be one of the best sequences Tarantino has ever directed. Bonus: Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a sinister rendition of the folk song “Jim Jones at Botany Bay.” This is another near-perfect moment played out in almost one long shot. Leigh plays the song with its ominous lyrics about those about to hang, and what makes it even more chilling is that her murderous character has a little secret —while the camera stays on her while she sings the song, characters in the background are about to make key mistakes that will result in their doom.
Best Soundtrack To A Fairly Awful Movie
“Youth” was pretty disappointing, but it at least has some decent music going on. Opening with a pretty memorable cover of “You’ve Got The Love” by The Retrosettes Sister Band, the film goes on to make good use of Red House Painters Mark Kozelek (performing live), Smog and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as well as a whole host of classical tunes. If only Michael Caine character’s crucial composition at the end was as memorable.
Best Dance Sequence
Picking the movie with the best dance sequence seems to get harder every year, and we’ve ended up with a four way tie this year. Who could pick between Oscar Isaac and Sonoya Mizuno throwing down some disco moves to Arthur Cheatham’s “Get Down Saturday Night” in “Ex Machina“; Naomi Watts awkwardly trying to keep up in a hip-hop dance class in “While We’re Young”; the joyous moment when the central quartet celebrates in a blue-tinged hotel room to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in “Girlhood“; or basically anything in “Magic Mike XXL” (but perhaps particularly Joe Manganiello’s almost Gene Kelly-esque moment in a gas station to “I Want It That Way”)? No one. So we picked them all.
Best Dance Sequence (British Edition)
Daniel Wolfe’s nail-biting social realist thriller “Catch Me Daddy” reaches a frenetic peak at the end of its first act, as its off-her-face-on-drugs heroine Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) throws shapes to the unexpected but brilliantly picked choice of Patti Smith’s “Land,” the camerawork moving into a sort of frenzy as the song peaks, even as the men stalking her close in. Fun fact: the choreography for the scene was done by FKA Twigs.
Best Use Of A Cyndi Lauper Song
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s existential crisis comedy “Anomalisa” finds several moments for genuine tenderness. What’s amazing about the moment in which Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Lisa character earnestly belts out every line of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in a pathetic a cappella performance is that it practically encompasses every emotion crucial to the movie: a deep and painful awkwardness, an aching need to connect, a cruel kind of humor, and eventually, a kind of sincere beauty. It’s all wonderfully conveyed in Leigh’s cracked singing and the gorgeously complex animation. You’ll be laughing one moment and then tearing up the next, which once again speaks to Kaufman’s brilliance.
Best Anniversary Dance
It’s mentioned early on in the film, but when the Platters’ “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is finally and properly deployed in “45 Years” for the anniversary dance of the central couple, it proves at once romantic, regretful, and utterly devastating. So much of the film’s emotional punch comes from this scene, and it’s impossible to imagine a song that would have worked better.
Best Use Of Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship”
A couple of filmmakers showed their appreciation for ambient music godfather Brian Eno this year. Chief among the films as such was “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl” which used about a half-dozen classic Eno songs from his left-of-center pop days in the mid-’70s. Eno was so impressed that he recorded some new connective score material for the film as well. And the film crescendoes beautifully with “The Big Ship,” one of the loveliest instrumentals ever recorded. And James Ponsoldt‘s David Foster Wallace pic “The End Of The Tour” also uses the same song to similar beautiful effect.
Best Use Of An Unlikely Song Choice In An Action Sequence
It’s probably unfair to all involved to decipher what remains of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s contributions to “Ant-Man,” but we feel pretty confident in suggesting that scoring an action sequence (the film’s best) to the title track of The Cure’s album Disintegration is the work of the British duo. As Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket accidentally turns on a mobile inside a briefcase he and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) are battling inside, he cries out “I’m going to disintegrate you!,” which causes the song to start playing. It’s a great joke that gives the scene a surprisingly epic quality.
One of the most consistently inspired jokes occurring across “Inside Out” concerns the song from the TripleDent gum commercial that constantly rattles around Riley’s head. Like all the best running gags, especially musical ones, it keeps coming back. Each time, it’s a little unexpected, and each time it’s utterly satisfying.
Best Quiet Piano Interlude In An Otherwise Hi-Octane Movie
Sebastian Schipper’s terrific real-time thriller “Victoria” almost literally never stops moving. But the one time it does stop for a breather is one of the film’s best moments, taking place in a quiet late-night coffee bar as the title character, a former classical musician in training, demonstrates to her skills to a new beau. As if it wasn’t difficult enough for actress Laia Costa to carry the movie, along comes having to play some Liszt perfectly. But it’s worth it: it’s a romantic, almost sexy scene that does much towards giving weight to the central couple of the movie.
Best Nick Cannon Song
Hot take alert! Is Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” the most positively reviewed silly and messy film of 2015? It would be tough to find even well-meaning reviews that didn’t call the film somewhat of a jumble. But there are two moments that connect. One is utterly simple but arresting: Nick Cannon raps the opening song “Pray 4 My City” and the entire thing plays out like a lyric video, yet the most blistering lyric video ever made, a call to arms leading the way to a prologue detailing the depressing murder statistics in Chicago. The other takes place when the ladies of the film —whose objective is to abstain from sex as a way to convince their macho men to lay down their arms and stop gang violence— crack open an earnest cover of the Chi-Lites’ classic R&B plea “Oh Girl,” and it’s the film’s first true bullseye for laugh out loud comedy.
Best Use Of Music At A Funeral
*Mild spoilers* David O. Russell’s “Joy” is filled with wall-to-wall music, and there’s an argument to be made that there’s too much as such. But the brilliance of the music therein certainly outweighs the overwhelming nature of it. There’s all kinds: be bop, rock, Latin pop and standards, among others. But the musical emotional heart of the movie is during the funeral for Joy’s (Jennifer Lawrence’s) grandmother (Diane Ladd). “Joy” is essentially about the protagonist overcoming her overbearing, selfish and exhausting family and finding massive success. But Joy’s warm and affectionate grandmother is the only character who really believes in her worth, so Russell stages this elaborate scene in which Joy comes home and is told, nearly through silent, sad faces, that her grandmother has passed. It’s gloriously epic, sad and beautiful, much like the melancholy, psychedelic Buffalo Springfield song sung by Neil Young that illuminates it.
Best Soundtrack To An Orgy
It’s always tough to find the right musical accompaniment to group sex, but trust Gaspar Noé to come through: the orgy scene in “Love” is scored to the main theme to “Assault On Precinct 13” by John Carpenter. It’s an unlikely choice on the surface, but a winning (and deceptively sexy) one in practice.
Best Closing Song
Rom-com “Man Up” has a very elegant circular structure —its second half essentially retraces the steps from the first, making for a hugely satisfying ending, one that’s improved significantly by Elbow’s lovely “What Time Do You Call This?” which soars sweetly as our heroes get together and the film turns into a great big party.
Best Diss Track Scene
“Straight Outta Compton” is easily the best hip-hop biopic so far, and needless to say there’s a lot of great musical moments in the movie. But the greatest by far is the “oh shit!” diss track scene of the recording of “No Vaseline.” At this point in the picture, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) has left N.W.A, having grown tired of their oily manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) getting funny with the money. But the bitter Eazy E (Jason Mitchell) can’t resist the temptation to label Ice Cube as a traitor (a “Benedict Arnold” to be exact on the track “100 Miles and Runnin’”). So Cube responds with hot fire in the form of the powerful “No Vaseline” which blows his former bandmates out of the water. Since Cube was N.W.A’s chief lyricist, the group never really recovered from the vicious, musical retaliation. Director F. Gary Gray expertly crafts a scene of first blood —Cube recording the track in the studio, crosscutting to the bewildered and stunned remaining members of N.W.A hearing the track for the first time.
—Oliver Lyttleton, Rodrigo Perez