Using popular music in movies is always a gamble. Filmmakers have used famous, or even little-known, songs in movies instead of an original score for decades, becoming all the rage after shining examples of people like Martin scorsese and Robert altman in the New Hollywood era. Where the gamble comes in is finding the absolutely perfect song for a moment. Sometimes the song is too much on the nose or has already been expertly used by another movie to the point where audiences can’t get rid of it. Maybe the filmmakers get overzealous and throw too many songs throughout the movie, it sounds more like the director’s Spotify playlist than a movie soundtrack. A movie like Cruel from this year is a victim of all these problems.
But when the filmmakers find the right song and place it at the right time in the film, it can create some of the most indelible streaks in movie history, whether it’s Mr. Blonde relishing his cop torture in Tank dogs to the tune of “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Wheel Thief or Faye’s hymn from “California Dreamin ‘” by Moms and dads. Every year has its fair share of wonderful needle drops, and 2021 was no exception. Admittedly, the quantity was not the greatest this year, as many films have focused on original sheet music and even original songs. That being said, those seven needle drops helped create some great moments.
7. “All I need is a miracle” from Spencer
Although most Spencer is marked on the haunting and edgy music of Johnny greenwood, the fable of Princess Diana from the Chilean director Pablo Larrain features a pop song that stands in stark contrast to Greenwood’s work. As Diana, played by Kristen stewart, decides that she must take her children and escape the life of the royal family which has suffocated her emotionally, she jumps in her car and detonates “All I Need Is a Miracle” in Mike + the mechanics with the top down. The song is the kind of synth-based pop-rock that only the 1980s could have produced, and it was the first moment of true happiness Diana experienced during the film. Watching Diana and her two sons sing the song with smiles on their faces is exactly the release Spencer Needs.
6. “Let’s start (live)” from The more they fall
Director Jeymes Samuel co-wrote a ton of original songs for his directorial debut The more they fall, bringing in people like Jay Z, Kid cudi, Ms. Lauryn Hill, and more to work with. Very little room ends up being left for a pre-existing song to appear, let alone have an impact. Samuel decides to use a live recording of ‘Let’s Start’ by legendary Nigerian composer and activist Fela Kunti with Ginger bakery, the famous British jazz-rock drummer of the group Cream, in a climactic punching battle between Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) and Trudy Smith (King Regina). As the fight falls into the slightly boring trope of the two right-wing women having to go head-to-head because the filmmakers don’t want a man fighting a woman, the choreography of the fight has mixed with the propulsive rhythm and funky horns of “Let’s Start” takes all of those grievances away, leaving you with just one breathtaking and exhilarating streak of action.
5. “The Cross of Calvary” by The night house
Sometimes playing a song just once in a movie is not enough, as it can be used as a thematic device that changes meaning over the course of the movie. This is the case with the rather underrated horror film The night house, the story of a woman (the formidable RÃ©becca Room) mourning her husband who recently committed suicide and could also haunt her. Very early on, she turns on her stereo and plays “The Calvary Cross” by Richard and Linda thompson, presumably a song she and her husband bonded on. Over the course of the film, this song is turned on repeatedly by outside forces, making this song that she once loved part of her psychological downfall. Every time the song is used, it blows over the soundtrack and you can’t escape it. A great example of implementing a song that isn’t obvious from the tone of the movie and using it just in the right way.
4. “The winner takes all” of Bergman Island
As in Spencer, sometimes a character needs to let go for a minute. In Bergman Island, the film within a film focuses on Mia WasikowskaAmy attends a wedding weekend where she rekindles an affair with her former partner Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie). Naturally, things are getting especially complicated for the two, especially since they are both in a relationship, and at a time when she really needs to stop being in her head about her relationship issues, she joins her friends dancing on the ABBA classic “Winner takes it all.” One of those times when you’re thankful that you can breathe and really let go. However, the end of this scene uses that bouncy, delicious song to hammer out the sadness as she turns to look at Joseph, and he’s gone. Additionally, the film is set in Sweden, so ABBA is probably legally required to be on the soundtrack.
3. “She’s not here” from Titanium
In the English-speaking cinematic landscape, songs in other languages âârarely have a place. The reverse happens much more often, as English language music usually has a lot more money behind it to spread to other countries. the zombies may not be the best-known band in the world, but their 1964 single “She’s Not There” was a huge hit that obviously permeated other cultures, appearing in Julia ducournauwinner of the Palme d’Or Titanium. Vincent (Vincent lindon) brought home Agathe Rousselle‘s Alexia, as she assumed the identity of Vincent’s long-missing son. He turns on the stereo and plays “She’s not here” in an effort to alleviate the situation and happily bond with his son by dancing, although the scene veers off in so many different directions with the way these two strangers try to interact with each other. Is the title a little on the nose, because Vincent sees only his son and the real “she” is not there? Sure, but The Zombies’ light pop sound is really what adds to the tension and complexity of the scene.
2. “Goodbye goodbye” from Red rocket
This is another example of a song implemented at several points in the movie, but Sean baker uses the classic from the boy group “Bye Bye Bye” from * NSYNC in very different ways for his latest film Red rocket. At first it just seems like a fun juxtaposition playing that upbeat number as Deadbeat pornstar Mikey Saber (Simon rex) travels to his small hometown of Texas, but Baker turns the song into a very heartfelt moment as a teenager he’s grooming for the porn business (Suzanna Son) perform the song simply with a keyboard. It’s a moment that really touches audiences and makes them think about how much it could ruin this girl’s life. But Baker isn’t done yet, as âBye Bye Byeâ gets another strong performance in the film’s climax that flips the song over for comedic effect. The structure of Red rocket requested this song, and luckily they were able to get it.
1. “Let me roll” from Licorice Pizza
Thanks to Peter Jacksonthe new documentary series of The Beatles: Come Back, people marvel again Paul McCartneyability to create songs that imprint on your brain the first time you listen to it. The Beatles breakup didn’t slow down McCartney’s talent for tapping, gorgeous songs and one of the tracks from the flagship album Group on the run with his group Wings helps create a moment of pure cinematic ecstasy. Paul thomas anderson‘s Licorice Pizza uses “Let Me Roll It” in a moment (which I wouldn’t dare to spoil for a film that has yet to be released on a large scale) of intense emotion between the two main characters, Gary (Cooper hoffman) and Alana (Alana Chaim), which makes this almost 50-year-old song sound like it was written just to be played during that streak. The song itself already exudes passion and heart at a high level, and placing it with the images of Anderson really does something incredibly special.
All seven of these filmmakers took the gamble of their needle falls, and they paid big. None of the footage from those movies would have had as much of an impact if they had used other songs or written a sheet music for them. All art is in conversation with all other art, and our relationship to these songs outside of these films is just as important an impact on their success as their actual function within the image. These seven cases recognized it and built on it, creating some terrific cinematic moments that will stay in people’s minds for a long time.
Add these songs to your next Halloween playlist.
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