6. “Leum mai long (Can’t Forget)” - “Only God Forgives”
Inarguably handsome to look at, Nicolas Winding Refn’s wildly divisive “Only God Forgives” (which has shown up on as many “worst of 2013” lists as it has “best of 2013” lists), is also a treat to listen to, usually due to Cliff Martinez’s excellent score. But, as Refn himself told us in Cannes, Martinez also had crucial input, even at script stage, over one of the film’s most defining and distinctive moments that has nothing whatever to do with his score: the karaoke scenes—Martinez, apparently, already “knew a lot about [Thai karaoke]” which is in itself pretty amazing. The first, and therefore most memorable of these scenes features, as a seeming non-sequitur, the frightening, morally ambiguous yet extreme figure of Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), who may either be the titular God or the Devil (or neither or both, but let’s not get into that), singing the Thai song “Leum mai long” in the world’s most decorous, respectful and sumptuously appointed karaoke club. Now, “karaoke” and “terrifying” are kind of mutually exclusive concepts (except for the more musical among us), yet Chang loses none of his rigid, enigmatic dignity, nor his aura of controlled violence throughout the scene, which plays out so somberly and so minutely (we occasionally cut to stiff-backed, unsmiling spectators) that it almost achieves what we think Refn was going for throughout a lot of the film: it becomes an abstraction, a dream of a karaoke session, something not just from another culture, but almost from another world. The layers of sincerity and seriousness and poise that Refn lavishes onto something as ersatz and would-be kitschy as a karaoke session make this scene, whatever one may think of the film that surrounds it, one of the more sublime musically-inflected moments of the year.
5. “Horses” - “Touchy Feely”
Director Lynn Shelton’s “Touchy Feely” was simultaneously her best film to date and a somewhat uneven affair, but the picture boasts terrific repeat-viewing value (kudos to Katie for shouting it out in her Most Underrated Movie Of 2013 picks). The movie is essentially about human connection via the the two passing ships of connectedness that are siblings. One is a uptight dentist who comes to discover he has a healing touch (a brilliant Josh Pais, whom we gave plaudits to in our “For Your Consideration: Actors" piece), the other a relaxed masseuse (Rosemarie DeWitt), who suddenly becomes averse to all physical contact. And there’s a world of loved ones around them all struggling for understanding once the two main leads’ lives (and spiritual centers) have gone out of synch: Ellen Page as Pais’ stagnating daughter, Scoot McNairy, the bemused boyfriend of DeWitt wondering what the hell happened to his lady, Allison Janney, the wacky Reiki healer and spiritual center of the movie, Ron Livingston as DeWitt’s ex-boyfriend and Tomo Nakayama, the shy musician who’s got a thing for Ellen Page. There’s a cause and effect to the lack of order in this once-interconnected, now chaotic microcosm of family and it leaves most of the characters bewildered, yearning for something more. As the movie crescendos towards its peak and even suggests (if only for a moment) that all the partners are with the wrong people, it is soundtracked to Nakayama’s deeply empathetic "Horses," a gorgeous ballad about our desire to be loved and understood. Some characters find themselves entrenched in sadness about their situations—the missed connections they’ll never really have—some say goodbye to old connections and others come to epiphanies about what they need in life. On top of it all Nakayama just crushes it all emotionally with his gorgeously soaring song. We literally felt the hair on the back of our neck stand up when we first saw this striking and deeply human moment, that’s fantastic musically and otherwise.
4. "Modern Love" - "Frances Ha"
As we said in the soundtrack piece, "Frances Ha" has a glorious, ragtag collection of music, from classical cuts to the entirely unexpected, and totally effective, use of disco-soul novelties Hot Chocolate. But most memorable and iconic of them all is David Bowie's "Modern Love," which soundtracked both the film's trailer and a idiotically joyous moment as Greta Gerwig's title character dances through the streets of NYC oblivious to anything but the sheer fucking joy of doing it. Like Frances herself, it's awkward and graceful at the same time, and one of Bowie's most upbeat numbers is a perfect match for it musically, while lyrically backing up a movie that, like the 'undateable' Frances, Don't Believe In Modern Love. All good little cinephiles will now say that the scene is an homage to a similar moment in "Holy Motors" director Leos Carax's "Mauvais Sang," in which a very young Denis Lavant performs a similar dance through the streets of near-future Paris. It's a curious reference point for a film that otherwise nods to Truffaut and "Manhattan," but it's entirely plausible; Frances seems like the kind of person who'd walk out of a retrospective screening of the Carax film at FilmLinc and dance all the way from home, Bowie blaring in iPhone earbuds (though Frances also seems like the kind of person who's constantly breaking her phone, so maybe not). And who minds a bit of borrowing when it makes the heart soar like this scene?