As some of you may know, The Playlist started out way back as a music-influenced movie blog and while our horizons have expanded exponentially since then, we like to keep a finger in that pie, and hope that we’re never remiss in giving the often overlooked audio component of the cinemagoing experience its full due. This year we’ve already run two celebrations of music at the movies: our Best Soundtracks of 2013 and our Best Scores of 2013, but as much as we think they give a good overview, there’s still room to talk about those times when a film’s music has been so integral to a scene that it transcends the wider discussion of whether the whole soundtrack is good or bad, or even whether the movie is good or bad, and creates a small sliver of something special and memorable.
These music moments, as we’re calling them, can be anything really—whole songs sung by characters from the film; soundtrack choices that lift an ordinary scene or shot into the realm of the extraordinary; or oftentimes some perfectly apropos, transformative moment where the image and the music merge so exceptionally that it’s impossible to think of one without the other. This is our much-wrangled-over top twelve of those moments from 2013 movies.
12. “One That Got Away” - “I Used To Be Darker”
Matt Porterfield's underrated Baltimore-set "I Used To Be Darker" tells the story of a pregnant Northern Irish runaway who shacks up with American relatives who are in the late stages of a crumbling marriage likely to end in divorce. The married duo are both musicians, though the male half Ned Oldham has “grown up,” left it behind professionally to keep the family fed. This is of course part of the family schism and strain. Named after a lyric in a Bill Callahan song, “I Used To Be Darker” is pretty intimate and restrained; a lot of passive aggressive characters with internalized pain, suffering, regret and anger. The veil of these tucked away emotions doesn’t get lifted much, but in one scene, an introspective Oldham, who still plays music at home for fun, breaks out the acoustic guitar and belts out a song (“One That Got Away” by The Anomoanon, his real life band). It ends with an explosion of frustration; a resigned father and husband smashing his guitar, knowing all too well this drama isn’t going to end well. But it’s not that exclamation mark on the end of the scene that really does it, but the song itself; communicating so much with its ache, it’s yearning, it’s howl of pain. It may not be as special out of context (see the scene below), but in the movie, it’s just one of Porterfield’s deeply empathetic and well-observed moments.
11. "Joga" - "Top Of The Lake"
We really loved it, but since it was a TV show that aired early in the year, arguably not enough great things have been said about Jane Campion’s moody crime mystery TV mini-series “Top Of The Lake.” Directed by Campion and Aussie Garth Davis, “Top Of The Lake” takes a “Se7en”-esque thriller and transforms it to something more sensual and mysterious, often due to the fact that several of the main characters are female and its ghostly feminine traits are all over the show (in a terrifically original way we might add). In the seven-part mini-series, Holly Hunter plays GJ, the enigmatic leader of a camp of estranged females (mostly divorceés and abused women) squatting on a drug dealer’s land. The energy in the camp aloof, much like the spiritually esoteric GJ, who is a sage, but not a flaky, new-agey one; instead vehemently encouraging the women to crawl through the muck of their pain to get to the other side. As the main mystery of the film unravels—the whereabouts of a disappeared and pregnant 12-year-old girl—with its cool, icy tone, the final episode takes a breath to pause and features singer Georgi Kay as one of the girls on the camp playing a song to her fellow campmates (and Kay is shown throughout the series, playing her guitar and adding a spooky, echo-y musical texture to the show). Her song is an exceptional cover of “Joga” by Bjork and it’s incredibly haunting on its own, but as the movie slowly coils towards its conclusion it transforms the already disquieting mood into something deeply unforgettable; both beautiful and unnerving.
10. “Gloria” - “Gloria” & “The Wolf Of Wall Street”
On the surface, 2013 was a good year to be Laura Branigan. Her 1982 hit “Gloria” was included in two movies this year, one of them Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.” But really, 2013 was a great year for the Italian singer Umberto Tozzi, the original author of the song in 1979. Tozzi’s “Gloria” was a huge hit in Italy in Europe in the late 1970s, but it was Branigan’s U.S. English-language cover that rocketed her to (albeit brief) international fame. So perhaps it’s fitting Tozzi is finally getting his due. The first version of Tozzi’s disco-pop classic is utilized in Sebastián Lelio’s “Gloria,” a Chilean drama about a 50-year-old free-spirited divorcee making her way through life (starring a brilliant Paulina García, and if it’s lucky, it’ll be one of this year’s five final Foreign Language Oscar nominees). Being the namesake of the song's subject, Gloria plays her song often, and we see it twice, the first time in her car as she belts along to it out loud; it’s a nice little introduction to the character. But after her journey ends, an up and down of daughters leaving the country and a wishy-washy boyfriend who causes her nothing but pain, Gloria hears her song again. This time it’s a clarion call to persuade her out onto a dance floor, despite being miserable and surrounded by happy people. Gloria reluctantly shuffles around on the floor, part moping, still disgruntled by her recent misfortunes, but slowly, the song somehow keep ascending to beautiful crescendos of pop splendor. And as it builds and slinks around Gloria, it disarms her disaffection, enchants her and soon lifts her up until she’s back, dancing like no one exists in the whole world. It’s a glorious moment of small triumph that wonderfully captures Lelio’s small, modest story about an otherwise undervalued human being. And on screen, it’s something quite magical. Scorsese uses the resplendent song too, but of course transforms it into a deeply comical and simultaneously awe-inspiring moment when “The Wolf Of Wall Street” suddenly becomes “All Is Lost” meets Wolfgang Petersen’s “The Perfect Storm.” It’s almost too difficult to articulate, given that you likely haven’t seen the film yet, but trust us when we say it is so absurd, it hovers close to being something utterly sublime.