The Doors and Apocalypse Now. Simon and Garfunkel and The Graduate. Richard Strauss and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some of the greatest scenes in cinema history would be nothing without their added soundtracks. What if Tarantino had used "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath instead of "Stuck in the Middle With You" by Stealers Wheel for Reservoir Dogs? What about "You Light Up My Life" instead of "Fight The Power" in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing? There were more than a couple mistakes of this nature in the past decade - the entire Watchmen soundtrack comes to mind - but with the aughts coming to a close let's celebrate the ones that got it right
10. Superbad - 2007 Song: "Panama" by Van Halen
Few songs can pump someone up more than 80's hair metal (basically the reason it was invented), and no band did it better than Van Halen. So when a decision had to be made on which music fits best in a scene where a young renegade and his two new cop buddies trash a squad car, there really was no competition. From the moment Officer Michaels (Seth Rogen) switches it on, to Officer Slater (Bill Hader) screaming “MCLOVIN” while performing the upward spiraling pigtail, there could be no choice other than Panama. The song fits so well that Slater can't help but pound on the side of his vehicle while singing the chorus.
9. American Psycho – 2000 Song: "Hip To Be Square" by Huey Lewis and The News
In addition to being the only horror film on record that features a naked Christian Bale hunting down a prostitute with a chainsaw, American Psycho is a vicious satire of 80's yuppie culture. Patrick Bateman spends his days wearing a mask of conformity, constantly trying to raise both his social and economic status. When that mask slips, however, it isn't a good idea to be near by. Bateman flips on this Huey Lewis tune as he has his arch rival, Paul Allen (Jared Leto), sitting in his apartment, drunk as a skunk. As the song plays, Bateman joyously explains the meaning of the song, while puts on a rain coat and grabs a shiny axe, ready to split Allen's head open. Just as he describes it, the song explains the joy in non-conformity, all while Bateman performs his own interpretation of what that means.
8. Garden State – 2004 Song: "The Only Living Boy In New York" by Simon and Garfunkel
Before the release of this film, I, and many others, couldn't dream of putting the music of Simon and Garfunkel behind any movie other than The Graduate, but Zach Braff pulls it off with aplomb. Prior to the scene in question, Braff's character, Andrew Largeman, is an actor/waiter in Los Angeles called back home for the first time in nearly two decades to attend his mother's funeral. Largeman is a character who has lived most of his life in his own stoic bubble, but after reconnecting with an old friend (Peter Sarsgaard) and meeting a new one (Natalie Portman), he hits a major turning point while standing over a seemingly bottomless chasm. As the song plays, he jumps on top of a crane and begins to scream into the abyss, kisses the girl he has fallen in love with and kicks that lonely boy down the hole for good.
7. Black Snake Moan – 2006 Song: "Black Snake Moan" by Samuel L. Jackson
Black Snake Moan was horribly advertised as a black man taking control of a white woman, stirring up controversy from people claiming the movie represented “reverse slavery.” Anyone who's seen it will tell you this is a massive over-simplification. Probably the greatest thing Black Snake Moan is its soundtrack, filled with incredible blues music by R.L. Burnside and, impressively, Samuel L. Jackson himself (who learned to play the guitar only after taking the role). In a scene notable more because of the music than the plot, Lazarus (Jackson) takes out his old guitar and begins to play for the scared girl, Rae (Christina Ricci), sitting at his feet. As lightning flashes outside and thunder rumbles, he recounts the story of his ex-wife's abortion and his doomed marriage, while the lights flicker and the speaker fades in and out. Jackson reaches down deep to make Lazarus's tale his own and the song has all impact on the audience that it has for him.
6. O' Brother Where Art Thou? – 2000 Song: "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" by Dan Tyminski
In a movie filled with fantastic ol' timey music it is the opinion of many, including myself, that it is this is the film's greatest attraction. By the end of the film, Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) and his two fellow fugitives (Tim Blake Nelson, John Turturro) have traveled to Hades and back as an Odysseus parable, so that Everett can gain back the love of his ex-wife. Finding themselves on stage at a political rally, they break into the song, only to discover that their band, The Soggy Bottom Boys, is the hit of the south. The simple performance ends with the three men being pardoned by the governor, seals the race for constituent Pappy O'Daniel (Charles Durning), results in the fall of KKK-member and political hopeful Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall) and, of course, gets Everett back with his lovely wife. Now if that doesn't show the power of music, I don't know what does.
5. Donnie Darko – 2001 Song: "Mad World" by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews
To this day, many of those who've seen Kelly's film still have no idea what they saw. That doesn't mean it wasn't good. The film was never given a release of more than 58 theaters, but has gained cult status on DVD. While the ending is constantly bickered about amongst viewers, there is one thing everyone sees eye-to-eye on: Gary Jules and Michael Andrews' cover of the Tears For Fears song “Mad World,” gives a whole new meaning to “hauntingly beautiful.” After Donnie is crushed by a time-traveling jet engine, the song begins as we peek into the lives of the people in his world, now unaffected by the events that transpired earlier. The song becomes almost too powerful when we see Donnie's grieving family, as his body is taken away.
4. Kill Bill Vol. 1 – 2003 Song: "Twisted Nerve" by Bernard Herrmann
Since his arrival on the scene with 1992's Reservoir Dogs and the soundtrack that accompanied it, Quentin Tarantino has been noted for his eclectic taste and ability to match music and film perfectly. In his long awaited ode to the kung fu movies of his childhood, Tarantino once again brings the goods, the standout being an early scene featuring Darryl Hannah and some impressive whistling. Not surprisingly (considering Tarantino's love of film), the “Twisted Nerve” track was originally made by Bernard Herrmann for the 1968 British horror film of the same name, but Kill Bill brings it back with a punch. As Hannah, playing the assassin Elle Driver, calmly walks into the hospital whistling the tune while she walks, the film splits in half, the right side keeping focus on Driver as she changes into a nurse uniform, while the other half looks at The Bride's (Uma Thurman) nearly dead body. The scene would have been naturally tense with dead silence as the track but the simple, almost cheerful, whistling ups the suspense to 11.
3. High Fidelity – 2000 Song: "Most Of The Time" by Bob Dylan
You had to know this was coming. I mean, the entire point of the film was to look at how music affects our daily lives. Had the soundtrack supervisor on the film screwed the pooch, it would have effectively killed the movie. Fortunately, they didn't and the film is as strong as ever. To recap: record store owner Rob Gordon, (John Cusack) after being left by his girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle), begins to feel that he is doomed to be left. He revisits his past relationships to get closure on what his life has meant up to this point, but it isn't until he goes to the funeral of Laura's father that he realizes how much he cares about her. After delivering one of the most sincere apologies in film history, Rob walks out into the rain (what is it about rain in John Cusack movies?) when Dylan's crooning begins. He sits at a bus stop bench and narrates to the camera his realization that he never truly committed to her and always had one foot out the door. Did I mention that the Dylan classic is about a narrator that can't forget about a past love? That's not a coincidence.
2. The Royal Tenenbaums – 2001 Song: "Needle In The Hay" by Elliot Smith
In addition to being a breathtaking scene, it is also a bit of reflective history that makes this scene even better. Featuring Luke Wilson alone in a bathroom with a dark blue filter, the scene is devoid of dialogue with the exception of a broken promise (“I'm going to kill myself tomorrow”) with Elliot Smith's calm voice walking the audience through Richie Tenenbaum's heartbreak. Shaving off his long locks and shaggy beard, he erases his entire image before removing his straight razor from its handle. His arms dangling over the sink, the blood rushes down his arms in a vein like pattern as he flashes back to all the things in life that he cares about, sinking to the floor waiting to die. Two years later, Smith committed suicide by stabbing himself in the chest with a kitchen knife. Scary version of life imitating art to say the least.
1. Almost Famous - 2000 Song: "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John
What else could it have been? Admit it, you rushed to see what my number one choice was when you first started reading this list and simply nodded as I proved you right. You get a gold star! Take a movie about music (a la High Fidelity), a director like Cameron Crowe's great taste (he is Tarantino's predecessor), a cast of characters enjoying a song that actually exists within the movie (Superbad) and add a song that fixes problems between characters (much like O' Brother Where Art Thou), and it has to be number one. After a big rout between band members, lead guitarist Russell Hammond decides that he is not going to tour with the band, and instead lives with a bunch of teenagers who's party they crashed (keep in mind he had been doing a lot of drugs). After being convinced to return to the bus, strife still palpable, the band members and groupies one by one begin to sing the Elton John song bringing them all back together. Even the young journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit), Cameron Crowe's stand-in for this semi-autobiographical piece, discovers that he is now at home with the band as well.
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