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The 10 Best Music Moments In Danny Boyle's Movies

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 3, 2013 at 1:31PM

When Danny Boyle first started out in England, his movies were often criticized for their sleek MTV-era construction with accusations that the films weren’t films at all, but rather just music videos stitched together by flashy editing at a breakneck pace. Boyle's reaction wasn't what the British press was expecting. "I was quite proud of that," he said at a recent 92Y conversation in New York, addressing the use of music in his films. Boyle didn't mind the criticism for several reasons (for one, he thought it was a compliment at first), but chief among them, Boyle thinks music is integral to every part of our lives.
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127 Hours, James Franco

07. Sigur Ros "Festival" from "127 Hours"
With "127 Hours," Boyle literally crammed himself into a canyon and asked the audience to watch as a man (James Franco playing real-life amateur adventurer Aron Ralston) grappled with his own mortality before ultimately deciding to slice his own arm off with a dull pocketknife. Somehow, though, Boyle manages to make this a compelling drama that hums with its own brand of low-wattage electricity. He also manages some pretty amazing musical moments while having his one and only character shoved in that gorge, such as when Franco fantasizes about fizzy soda pop, which results in a soda commercial montage scored to Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" that made everyone in the audience lick their lips or slurp from their giant concession-stand beverages. But the truly triumphant moment, both musically and in terms of the film, is when Franco finally frees himself. He stumbles out of the canyon as Sigur Ros' "Festival" soars. If you weren't already choking back tears, then this did the trick. It's a gorgeous song (filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Cameron Crowe are also deeply fond of the band) and fits with the images perfectly – he is freed, finally, and he couldn't be happier.

And while Boyle kept connected to the true story narrative, that didn't carry over to the sounddtrack. Not included anywhere in the movie or soundtrack is Phish, Ralston's favorite band and undoubtedly his soundtrack for that fateful day. “I tried with Phish," Boyle laughed during the 92Y chat. "I bought everything and listened to it multiple times, but I found it very, very difficult." He did however, throw Ralston a bone and included a Trey Anastasio song ("Sleeping Monkey") in the film briefly.


James McAvoy, Trance

08. Art & Doddy Todd "Song Of Love" from "Trance"
Boyle's latest, "Trance," is a hallucinogenic mind-bender that concerns a stolen painting, a love triangle, and the dark heart beating inside even the most seemingly ordinary of men (a favorite theme of his) - a return to the bleak terrain that made him famous after spending a couple of movies examining relatively sunny scenarios (Aron might have cut his arm off but at least he got out of the damn canyon). The movie centers around an unscrupulous auction house security guard (James McAvoy), who after being knocked unconscious during a robbery (a robbery, it should be noted, he helped engineer), forgets the particulars of the crime (something his confederates, led by Vincent Cassel, are none-too-thrilled with). The gangsters enlist the help of an unnaturally beautiful hypnotist (Rosario Dawson), who tries to unlock his secrets subconsciously. Part of how she does that is by asking him to imagine a day with a beautiful young woman with "an old song" playing on the radio – the old song being this obscure gem, Art & Doddy Todd's "Song of Love." It's a beautiful little pop song, one that plays during one of the gauzy dream sequences. Once again, the reason it works so well is that it not only contrasts so strongly with the rest of the inky-hued movie, which includes fingernail-extracting torture and nudity, but that it also sharply contrasts with the score by Rick Smith, which is mostly droning electronic propulsion (he cowrites a pop song for the end credits that features Emilie Sande that is gorgeous, but talking about the ending of this movie is downright treasonous). Like the fantasy sequences themselves, the song lulls you into a false sense of tranquility and when you're ripped out of that world, things are even grittier and more violent.

A Life Less Ordinary
09. Bobby Darin “Beyond the Sea” from “A Life Less Ordinary”
Nobody is going to mistake "A Life Less Ordinary," Boyle's big-budget, Americanized follow-up to his breakthrough "Trainspotting," as anything less than a weird misstep on his resume. It's far too silly and its energy levels are oddly hampered by the bizarre setup – it's a Danny Boyle romantic comedy so, of course, it involves kidnappings, guns, robots and a pair of murderous angels (wait, what?). There is a moment of fun, however, about an hour into the film, when a musical number between the lowlife criminal (Ewan McGregor) and his hostage (Cameron Diaz, sporting truly atrocious late-nineties hair), erupts in a seedy roadside bar. It's ostensibly a karaoke number set to crooner Bobby Darin's classic "Beyond the Sea" (McGregor is clearly a more gifted singer than Diaz), but Boyle embellishes it, turning into a fantasy-tinged musical sequence, complete with wardrobe changes, dramatic lighting, and sparkles. For a moment there, a glimpse of the gonzo euphoria that Boyle and the rest of his collaborators (including producer Andrew Macdonald and writer John Hodge) were going for can be seen and felt. It's truly uplifting and, unlike the rest of the movie, not terribly off-putting. A rare Boyle dud, this sequence proves that even in a movie as wildly uneven as "A Life Less Ordinary," there are still shining examples of his unparalleled genius (especially when it comes to music).


Sunshine

10. Underworld "Peggy Sussed" from "Sunshine" & “Sunshine (Adagio In D Minor)” by John Murphy
Late in the game of post-production on “Sunshine,” Boyle’s ambitious space epic about an attempt to “restart” the sun, led by a team of winningly multi-culti scientist, engineers, and astronauts, the director decided to have his composer, John Murphy, team up with Underworld, to create something wholly new. The result is an invigorating mixture of the classical and the technological, and we thought we’d single out a moment from each. Firstly, there’s “Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor),” a piece of music that is either ceaselessly sampled or shamelessly ripped off by pretty much every composer since. It shares a melodic throughline with some of the pieces Murphy did for “28 Days Later” but has a grander, more spacey pallor, fitting well with the melancholic characters who are adrift both literally and spiritually in “Sunshine.”

The other piece of music is a new Underworld song, which plays over the closing credits of “Sunshine.” Boyle often uses the closing credits music to create a mood that he wants the audience to walk out on, sometimes quite different than the film they had spent the previous couple of hours sitting through. Or, in the case of “Sunshine,” Boyle wanted to continue the relentlessly intense sensation that the last act provided, weaving that through the credits with a pounding, propulsive, what-I-can’t-even-catch-my-breath-for-five seconds sensation amongst those in the audience. It’s absolutely one of the most balls-to-the-walls pieces Underworld has ever done for Boyle and it’s not as hopeful or optimistic as the last moments of the movie lead you to believe, but that ambiguity adds even more weight and pizzazz to the piece. “Peggy Sussed” could easily be the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic wasteland or the theme song to a sunshine-y new beginning.


And of course there are countless more examples of brilliant Danny Boyle musical moments. We haven’t even talked about two of his more profound musical projects in recent years -- his staging of “Frankenstein” in London and the great Olympics Opening Ceremony from last year, both of which featured new music from Underworld and were pretty brilliant all around. We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge a certain fondness for the All Saints song “Pure Shores” that cheekily closes out the otherwise grim “The Beach;” there’s a great Beck song called “Deadweight” that was written specifically for “A Life Less Ordinary” that’s sort of clumsily utilized for the movie, but remains one of his most killer tracks; the Emile Sande song that brings “Trance” to a close that, as we said before, totally rules; there are a handful of Bollywood composer A. R. Rahman tracks on both “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours” that are truly exceptional; and who could forget the use of the Iggy Pop/David Bowie wonder “Lust for Life” at the beginning of “Trainspotting?” Not us. And probably not you. Tell us your faves below. - Drew Taylor, Rodrigo Perez


This article is related to: Danny Boyle, Features, Feature, Trance, Trainspotting


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