There’s sort of a threefold genius to Chris Pratt’s Spanish-language cover song in this year’s “The Five Year Engagement.” For one, it’s a randomly hilarious cover of a Caetano Veloso song featured both in Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk To Her” and Wong Kar-Wai’s “Happy Together” -- the former version being one of the most heartrending music/movie moments of 2002 -- which makes it some strange/awesome/sly cinephile reference from writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. Secondly, it’s just rather hilarious and even moving -- Pratt, the dumb oaf in the film, all of a sudden rendering everyone mute with his beautiful, gentle and heartfelt rendition of this song to his gobsmacked bride (Alison Brie). Then of course, it’s used one more time in the end of the film, a sort of electro-pop rendering of the song sung at the conclusion of the wedding between Emily Blunt and Segel’s characters that is just so joyously funny and sweet it’ll just make you cry with happiness. We laughed with tears in both moments, and for that alone you shouldn’t totally forget about “Five Year Engagement.” (There's no embed, but watch it here)
Not to spoil two chief surprises in a film chock full of them, but Leos Carax’s wonderful whatsit was distinctly punctuated by a pair of musical sequences: one, the film's entracte, an impromptu mid-movie accordion cover of R.L. Burnside’s “Let My Baby Ride”; the other, an original song (penned by The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon) suddenly and wistfully performed by star Kylie Minogue as she ascends the mannequin-strewn levels of a vacant Paris department store. They are two sublime moments for entirely different reasons, and taken together, they’re a grand example of the wide-ranging capacity of movies to move us in ways both exhilarating and emotional. It's about time Carax did a full-blown movie musical, right?
By now you’ve likely read that Anne Hathaway is a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars this year. Some are so confident they are already calling her an ironclad lock. We won’t argue with that assessment, though it’s somewhat strange because the actress is only onscreen for all of maybe 10-15 minutes maximum in Tom Hooper’s Broadway adaptation of the iconic musical. But then you see the film and you know she’s pretty much getting nominated (and yes, likely winning), simply for her showstopping performance of “I Dreamed A Dream” and nothing else. That’s not to say she’s not great in the rest of the picture, but the song she sings is extraordinarily arresting. The brilliant thing about “Les Miserables” is that instead of singing to playback of your already-recorded song (which is the norm in musicals), Hooper instead had his cast sing live and in the moment with ear pieces piping in the music (it’s explained rather brilliantly here). It allows the actors the freedom to sing with profound emotion, pauses, and capturing every moment of spontaneity in the performances rather than being locked into a song that was recorded months prior. For Hathaway it works like an atom bomb going off. Boughs break, seas churn and hairs stand up on your neck in what is one of the most heartstopping and genuinely electric four or five minutes of cinema seen all year long. You can imagine that a pin drop could be heard the day that take was recorded and if recent screenings are any indication, the cast and crew likely broke into a thunderous applause afterwards.
For a movie that is Steven Soderbergh's ode to the stripper incubation period of the creature we know as Channing Tatum, there sure were a lot of serious cultural and economic issues packed in tighter than a grip of singles in Joe Manganiello's bikini briefs. Stop talking about stock equity and take your damn pants off, dudes! But Tatum more than made up for it in his signature solo to that classic grinding anthem, "Pony" by Ginuwine. This was Tatum's moment to prove himself not as a dancer, but as a professional. He demonstrated his stripper chops, and then some (we're talking about his butt). And like we said in our review, "He dances like he is trying to earn the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Pelvic Thrusting. Newsflash: it’s won. He wins it. No one can match his rate of thrusts per minute"). Yes, it's pretty much the Cadillac of "Dancing Alone To Pony" numbers, but equipped with little more than a pair of dangerously loose sweatpants, a red thong, a few "WOOs," and a scowl, the scene manages to communicate quite a bit. Most importantly, that yes, Tatum knows what he's doing, in a way that could only come from experience (he's the genuine article, pun intended). And while some may have been turned off by Cody Horn's perpetual scowl, in this scene, it works to perfection, as it shows her discomfort with her ownership of the lascivious gaze that is thrust upon her, but maybe, also her enjoyment of this gaze? A little bit? Plus, it's just the best song selection to convey the sleaze and grime of a Central Florida strip club, while still being an absolute jam. Channing Tatum has "Pony" to thank for that Sexiest Man Alive title, hands down.
Not to be overshadowed by the starry cast of Les Mis, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest wraps up with the most inexplicably magnetic musical rendition of the year. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd and Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell, less men than forces of nature bound to one another even as they clash over and over again, meet for the last time. Dodd makes a final, incisive grasp for Freddie, the hard-drinking over-sexed animal he’s attempted to reform via The Cause, the philosophical concoction that rallies ardent followers behind Dodd. The way he does it is unforgettable – he says a few words, likely vital but not especially memorable and then…Dodd sings, a hushed and haunting cover of Frank Loesser's “On A Slow Boat To China.” Anderson holds on their faces, Phoenix’s especially, whose intensity falls away and reveals something that approaches heartbreak. This is goodbye and Dodd expresses what is perhaps a form of love, strange and captivating and impossible to look away from. Phoenix got a lion’s share of praise for his work but it’s Hoffman who manages to subdue Freddie with a song.
While the film itself is terrific, there are a number of annoying things about the music in "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower." For one, we really have to declare a moratorium on people bonding over The Smiths in indie movies. For another, the film seems to be set in a strange alternate universe where hip, smart indie kids have never heard of David Bowie. But while that's a bit irritating and precious, and some of the song choices verge on obvious, that doesn't negate their effectiveness. First, there's the scene where the lead trio (Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson) happen across "Heroes" on the radio as they drive into a tunnel. It's simple stuff, but swooningly romantic, evoking those adolescent moments when anything in the world was possible, with it, and doubly so when director/author Stephen Chbosky reprises it at the film's finale. Almost as memorable is the high school dance sequence, where Watson uses the pub-chant charms of Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen" to start to coax Lerman's wallflower out of his shell. They might both be wedding DJ staples, but sometimes the iconic is needed over the obscure.