By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 10, 2012 at 3:05PM
When it first began, many, many years ago, The Playlist covered film in general, but with a particular focus on the places where movies intersected with music -- scores, soundtracks, music videos et al. And while our remit has grown over time, it's still something we take a particular interest in. After all, it's hard to think of major movies in which music doesn't play a key part, from a piece of score elevating a key sequence to a pop song that becomes inextricably linked with a film until the end of time.
And 2012 has been no exception, with a host of movies that have used songs and music to hugely impressive effect, from grand-scale musicals to contained dance sequences to memorable montages to movie-stealing karaoke numbers. So, to kick-off our year-end coverage, we've picked out some of our favorite movie music moments of the year. The only rule was that they had to be intrinsic parts of the film -- closing credit numbers (like Arcade Fire's stomping "Abraham's Daughter" at the end of "The Hunger Games") or cuts-used-in-passing (like the cunning-but-brief use of The Walkmen's "Angela Surf City" in "Seven Psychopaths") didn't count. You can find, and watch/hear, our picks below, let us know your own favorites in the comments section below. For all The Playlist's year-end coverage make sure to follow all our Best Of 2012 features.
Yorgos Lanthimos' follow-up to the absurdist and dark “Dogtooth” is similarly bizarre. This askew look at human relationships centers on a secret society that sets out to ease the grieving process by creating a business wherein they impersonate the recently deceased in an effort to help soften the suffering of loved ones. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but one of the members of the “Alps” is a teenage gymnast, and one of the main points of contention in the film is that her coach won’t let her do her floor routines to pop music -- classical music only. It’s such a divisive issue, that the girl eventually attempts suicide. In the end however, the coach caves and she gets the opportunity to do her gymnastics floor routine to a cheerful and corny techno-version of Hot Butter’s '70s Music to Moog By hit “Popcorn.” It’s a celebratory moment and it’s likely not going to mean much to anyone who hasn’t seen the film, but for those that have, it’s a terrific cap to this odd little gem of a movie.
The ball scene is something of a staple of the costume drama world, and Joe Wright managed a couple of fairly definitive takes on the trope in his debut, "Pride & Prejudice," using a Steadicam to glide between participants in immaculately choreographed long takes (we discussed it in detail right here). Reteaming for the third time with Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina" he manages to top himself with the amazing centerpiece scene. Demonstrating the title character falling in love with the much younger Count Vronsky with barely a word being spoken between them, the pair head off to the tune of composer Dario Marianelli's lovely "Dance With Me," their waltzing accompanied by strange, beguiling hand movements courtesy of choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. As they move, the others dancers first freeze around them, then, in one bravura shot, disappear altogether. It's sexy and convincing stuff -- not least to Kitty, who loves Vronsky, and is helpless to watch her man being stolen away as she dances with another partner. The whole thing is one long, hugely accomplished set piece, but you can see a truncated glimpse of it below.
The combination of Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, composer and composer/director is a deadly one that should not be slept on. Their passionate, anthemic and melancholy-tinged scores are akin to the symphonic swells, childhood pains and bittersweet aches channeled by Arcade Fire. Romer and Zeitlin's compositions have the same heartrending trajectory of hope, sadness and fervent emotion, so much so that the Obama campaign used one of their songs from the director’s short “Glory At Sea” for one of their key commercials in the last week of their 2008 campaign. And so everything that is wonderful about their work is alive, magnetic and present in the magical and muddy fairytale “Beasts of The Southern Wild.” There’s plenty of score pieces in the film that are wistful, beautiful and filled with longing, but perhaps none is so great as the motif theme, perhaps represented well by “The Confrontation,” that reaches its stunning crescendo in the final moments of the film and the score piece “Once There Was A Hushpuppy.” The film’s precocious lead Hushpuppy’s father has sadly passed on and the young girl gives her little voice-over monologue about perseverance, survival, hope and community. The lugubrious music rises, your emotions tremble and much like the spirit of hopeful New Orleans funerals, this lament bursts into an apex of tremendous joy and celebration. Suffice to say it made many of us literally burst into tears the moment we experienced it.
This little seen indie film features some of the most charmingly quirky original tunes to be found in film in 2012, and they were played live by the actors live on set. Take THAT, “Les Mis”! Yes, they are playing that guitar and those toy keyboards driving in the car, which makes this winning scene even more remarkable. After the depressed Alex decides to go on the road with the unhinged Jim (for lack of anything else to do), these two misanthropes find a real creative connection in pairing Alex’s somber and sensitive lyrics and guitar with Jim’s mastery of a collection of toy instruments, resulting in a unique sound that manages to be not overly twee, but instead one of those chocolate and peanut butter combinations: it just goes right together. The scene in the too small car when they finally play together, just hours before their first gig, is the first of many truly inspired musical moments in the film, and their distinctive sound becomes an integral part of the film’s emotional and stylistic aesthetic. It’s also one of the first times we get to see Alex experience something like happiness, as he sets off on this unknown adventure with a possible lunatic, but a friendly one at that. Lead actors Ryan O’Nan and Michael Weston actually released an album of the self-described “The Shins meet Sesame Street” songs, written mostly by quadruple threat writer/director/star O’Nan, in addition to the film’s soundtrack, and played a few live shows promoting the film. Hopefully we'll see more from them soon.
Rick Alverson’s disturbing and hilarious mediation on the male psyche -- in the form of an aging hipster played by Tim Heidecker -- is an unflinching look at damaged manchilds. And the tasteful collection of mystical soul and bittersweet pop -- described as the "autumn of the American Era” by the filmmaker -- is a strange and wonderful elixir for this provocative picture. There’s two phenomenal sequences. The first is Donnie and Joe Emerson’s amateurishly sweet and soulful “Baby” which plays as the arrested 30-something in the picture are introduced in slow-motion-- drunkenly dancing half naked and wrestling in a tribal-like ritual. With sweaty guts keeling over and beer splashing the walls it’s an amazing/beautiful/ridiculous expression of their hyper and acute juvenalia. The second sequence, is these men, free of the obligations of jobs and responsibility pissing away the day drinking beers and playing wiffle ball in the park. The montage is cut to a forlorn ambient track by William Basinski and its stunning, wonderful genius, conveying both a carefree like wonder and an underbelly of sadness. Rarely is source music used very effectively in movies these days, let alone atypically and Alverson is one to keep an eye on, at the very least for his amazing and unusual command of picking the perfect left-of-center track.
While the music in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" is the best its been in years, there's not really a "music moment" per se like David Bowie's "Cat People" in "Inglourious Basterds" or "Stuck In The Middle With You" in "Reservoir Dogs," but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention there were a few pretty standouts. Aside from the excellent borrowed title theme (which is not really a moment, just a tremendous song), most of the memorable song moments are contemporary -- a first for Tarantino. He goes super anachronistic with Rick Ross' spaghetti-western flecked hip-hop song "1000 Corpses" and the song is terrific and while the scene is a brief transition moment, it's pretty badass and fitting. Meanwhile, a soulful John Legend ballad is great too, and Tupac rapping over James Brown in the action crescendo is kinda neat as well. And it looks like QT's selections outside his well worn vinyl collection of Ennio Morricone soundtracks has served him well this time out.