Celluloid Sounds: 10 of Our Favorite Movie Soundtrack Moments
  • TUESDAY, AUGUST 26, 2014

  • Posted by: Don Saas

A piece that I wrote yesterday on Passenger doing a cover of "The Only Living Boy in New York" got me thinking about Garden State and the way that track plays such an integral role. Any movie fans can tell you that a perfectly chosen soundtrack at just the right moments in a film can turn a good film into a great one or a great one into a masterpiece. So, I thought it would be fun to honor 10 of my favorite/the most inspired soundtrack choices in the movies. Grab some popcorn, folks.


(500) Days of Summer - "Hero" by Regina Spektor

I could populate this entire list with exquisitely soundtracked moments from (500) Days of Summer. It was the Annie Hall of the aughts and for good reason. But one moment always stood out from the rest. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is visiting his ex, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), and a split-screen of what he wishes will happen versus the shocking tragedy of what does play out while Regina Spektor's tear-jerker "Hero" slowly charts the emotional disintegration of the scene. Perfect stuff.




The Perks of Being a Wallflower - "Heroes" by David Bowie

I didn't intend to pick two "Hero" songs in a row, but A) David Bowie's "Heroes" is one of the greatest songs ever written and B) this moment in the Fort Pitt tunnel with Sam (Emma Watson), Charlie (Logan Lerman), and Patrick (Ezra Miller) is the moment that ties the binds between these misfits and outcasts for good, and there's nothing quite like seeing Emma Watson in the bed of a truck, speeding through the tunnel with her arms in the air, as a stoned Logan Lerman turns and says "I feel infinite." It's a timeless movie moment.




Garden State - "In the Waiting Line" by Zero 7

I know it's become hip to look down on Garden State ten years after its release, but I think that film's aged better than people give it credit for. And maybe part of it is that the film's soundtrack choices are spot on from beginning to end, but I also think there's a sincerity that was missing in a lot of Braff's later works. One of the many themes of the film was the overmedicated nature of today's society, and in a drug-fueled party scene, Zero 7's "In the Waiting Line" captures the loneliness and disconnect that drugs can bring just as readily as any of their recreational attributes. If this film were made today (and by a different director), some bass-heavy EDM song would drop her, but the subtler choice was the right one.




Inglourious Basterds - "Cat People" by David Bowie

It's rare that I'll stand up and clap while a movie is still playing, but that's what I did the second I realized that Quentin Tarantino was using David Bowie's "Cat People" in his hyper-violent revisionist history World War II picture, Inglourious Basterds. There's an unwritten rule that period pieces have to get the period details right, but if you've seen the film, you know that Tarantino could give a rat's ass about historical accuracy, and watching Shoshanna prepare to burn down her own theater with the entire Third Reich inside set to a 1980s synth-driven melody is one of the greatest soundtrack decisions Tarantino's ever made (and he's spent his whole career making great soundtrack decisions).




Rushmore - "A Quick One (While He's Away)" by The Who

But if there's one director who's managed to be even better at picking what songs to put in his movies and at just the right time, it's Wes Anderson. Rushmore is his masterpiece, and for my money, it has the best movie soundtrack of all time. And no one who's seen the film can forget the battle of wills between Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman as they try to constantly one up each other's plans for revenge while The Who rock away with "A Quick One."




The Departed - "Comfortably Numb" as performed by Van Morrison

Movie soundtracks as they exist today would not be a thing were it not for Martin Scorsese. Thanks to early films like Mean Streets, Scorsese popularized using diegtic, period-appropriate rock songs in movie backgrounds, and hip cinema was never the same. The Departed isn't particularly one of my favorite Scorsese films, and it bothers me to no end that it's the only film he's ever won Best Director at the Oscars for, but his use of the Van Morrison cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" amped the raw emotional vulnerability of a pivotal love scene to new heights. Bravo, Marty.




The Big Lebowski - "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" as performed by The First Edition

Kenny Roger and The First Edition's cover of Mickey Newbury's "Just Dropped In" is meant to be a warning to all the Timothy Leary acolytes out there about what happens when you drop too much Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Inadvertently, it became the unofficial anthem of the greatest stoner comedy ever written, The Big Lebowski. Set to a bowling themed dream that only the Coens could create (and that David Lynch would be proud of), the song anchors one of the most wildly inventive scenes of arguably the best comedy of the 90s.




Blue Velvet - "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison

Speaking of David Lynch, boy, does that man know how to irreparably scar viewers for life when it comes to Roy Orbison songs. It's a throwaway moment in the film that ups the surrealistic horror of Kyle MacLachlan's waking nightmare once he's thrust into the masochist, psychosexual violence of Frank Booth (the late, great Dennis Hopper). There's something about the nearly sexual yearning in Frank's eyes as he watches Dean Stockwell lip-synch Roy Orbison's classic "In Dreams" that still unnerves me to this day.




American Psycho - "It's Hip to Be Square" by Huey Lewis & the News/"Sussudio" by Phil Collins/"Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston

I'm cheating here in a couple ways. Mostly, it's cause I've picked three songs for this one slot, but Patrick Bateman's (Christan Bale) pre-homicidal monologues in American Psycho are easily some of the most memorables in one of horror's greatest comedic deconstructions. Also, these songs are terrible, plastic signs of 80s corporate excess, but that's what Patrick Bateman is, and only a narcissistic psychopath like him could actually like "Sussudio."




The Rules of Attraction - "Faith" by George Michael

I guess we're ending on an unintentional Bret Easton Ellis kick, but that's okay. The Rules of Attraction the movie isn't half as good as The Rules of Attraction the book, but there's a scene in the film not present in the book where bisexual Paul (Ian Somerhalder) dances in his underwear with his childhood friend (and past lover) Dick (Russell Sams) on a hotel bed while "Faith" by George Michael inspires their boogying down. It's a riotously funny (and sexy if you're a woman or a gay/bisexual man) scene that instantly cheers me up every time I see it.

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