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The Best Movie Music Moments Of 2013

by The Playlist Staff
December 24, 2013 9:04 AM
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The Best Movie Music Moments Of 2013

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.

I Used To Be Darker

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.

Top Of The Lake, Holly Hunter

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.

Gloria header

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.

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  • prue | June 23, 2014 5:25 AMReply

    If I could buy the soundtrack I certainly would!

  • mary | February 19, 2014 11:32 AMReply

    Will the film "Gloria" have a soundtrack of its own?

  • vreqrose | January 15, 2014 4:53 AMReply

    very nice...

  • 90fm | January 12, 2014 6:51 PMReply

    Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" was used in the opening scene of "Behind The Candleabra" as well.

  • munakuu | January 9, 2014 1:25 PMReply

    I've watched this film for free, and this film is very good,

  • Joe Coffee | December 24, 2013 12:57 AMReply

    Anyone who's half-listened to 'Gimme Shelter' HAS to be aware of Merry Clayton's vocal contribution. She wails so hard that her voice seems to blow out in one note, but she's right back in control the next second. She also kicks butt on a duet with Harry Nilsson on 'What's Your Sign?' and is part of an eerie choir on a couple tracks on Neil Young's first album. Worth checking out. And I believe that Little Feat's conga player, Sam Clayton, is her brother. That's all for now.

  • WHY? | December 20, 2013 10:24 PMReply

    I wish you would explain your obsession with "Gloria"... nothing more than an OK film, yet you have raved about it every chance (and list) you get.

  • Q_Q | December 20, 2013 1:54 PMReply

    The music from Breathe In is beautiful, but the scene when Felicity Jones's character plays Chopin on the piano is easily better than 3/4 of this list

  • sarcastic racist | December 20, 2013 3:51 AMReply

    paul dano was the best part of the 12 YEARS A SLAVE soundtrack

    ha ha ha

  • Heather | December 19, 2013 9:29 PMReply

    The Battery definitely belongs here! Rock Plaza Central's "Anthem for the Already Defeated"

  • cirkusfolk | December 18, 2013 8:17 PMReply

    I haven't seen the movies yet but are you telling me American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street don't have a single music moment worth mentioning?

  • Read | December 18, 2013 8:49 PM

    Can you not read? See above on page 1.

  • Anya | December 18, 2013 6:52 PMReply

    I hated Only God Forgives but that scene was fantastic. Vithaya Pansringarm (and Kristin Scott Thomas) were so great in that movie. I didn't like Spring Breakers much either but I could've watched it again just for that scene too.

    The end of This is the End with the Backstreet Boys was the most I laughed in a movie this year (not counting the times I laughed during The Host, because I'm not sure it was their intention), so it'd definitely make my list.

  • Alex | December 18, 2013 4:41 PMReply

    Your take on "Run, Jordan, Run" in 12 Years a Slave is interesting.. to me it showed the point when Solomon's reserved and stoic demeanor has finally been broken.. I remember his face looking tormented, he was letting the burden finally eek through his skin.. he's seeking solace through this song.. the song being necessary to save his soul. I don't see it as proof of the resiliency of the human spirit, but as just how bone crushingly devastating things were.. and how the only solace was a shared song and tears.

  • Jamie T D | December 18, 2013 9:21 PM

    I agree with your view. The scene where Solomon joins in with the singing was after Patsey had been whipped and Solomon had reached the limit of what he could stand. That's my interpretation anyway.

  • Caleb | December 18, 2013 3:34 PMReply

    I'm wondering why The Great Beauty is nowhere to be found on this list....

  • RP | December 18, 2013 3:39 PM

    Look for it in a more appropriate, but similar place tmw.

  • NewYorker | December 18, 2013 3:31 PMReply

    my 10 favorite 2013 movies with music moments are defently
    1-Filly Brown
    2-Spring Breakers
    3-Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
    4-Battle Of The Year: The Dream Team
    6-Black Nativity
    8-The Great Gatsby
    9-The Best Man Holiday
    10-One Direction: This Is Us

  • oogle monster | December 18, 2013 3:20 PMReply

    Lol not one mention of The Great Gatsby. Really? You didn't love the use of LDR "Young and Beautiful"?? I mean... overused, sure. But it's great!

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