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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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Only God Forgives

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.

Touchy Feely Scoot McNairy Ellen Page

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.

Frances Ha Modern Love

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?

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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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