Too often, a film's soundtrack is an inessential, forgettable backdrop to what is a primarily visual experience. At their best, though, soundtracks are much more than that. More than an accessory, they're able to heighten and color a film's narrative. Sometimes, a movie's sound is its biggest takeaway. We've compiled a list of five directors who put together incredible soundtracks, from contemporary compilations to original scores.
1. Sofia Coppola
Since her 1999 film adaption of Jeffree Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides, director Sofia Coppola has steadily put together a filmography of deeply personal narratives rendered in her signature muted aesthetic. And the music in her films plays no small part in creating that aesthetic experience — Coppola has worked closely with her music supervisor, musician Brian Reitzell, on three of her four features to create silken, tailored soundtracks with selections cherry-picked from multiple, sometimes incongruous genres. In Coppola's latest, The Bling Ring, Kanye West shares space with the atmospheric sounds of Oneohtrix Point Never. It's this sort of combination that makes her films' soundtracks both memorable and effective storytelling devices.
2. Wes Anderson
The director of such films as The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom is perhaps just as notable for his highly stylized story-telling as he is for the music he sets it to. A racoon-eyed Gwyneth Paltrow emerging from the stairwell of a Greenline bus to Nico's cover of "These Days" is one of the more sublime moments in film from the last 15 years. The weird, perpetually-sixties-yet-contemporary setting of his movies pairs perfectly with the often temporally-mixed bag of (great) songs Anderson uses. Original classical scores provided by composers Alexandre Desplat and Mark Mothersbaugh add even more character to the director's already vibrant, distinctive narratives.
3. Quentin Tarantino
Although a nearly 20-minute sequence of Uma Thurman wildly dismembering yakuzas in a Tokyo jazz bar might suggest otherwise, Quentin Tarantino isn't all about indulgence: he takes his movie-making quite seriously, score included. That same sequence from Kill Bill: Vol. 1 might have just been ridiculous if in those same 20-minutes we weren't treated to a range of songs that variously dye the carnage thrilling, tense, and hilarious. Tarantino's love and knowledge of film (and film music) is reflected in the fact that his soundtracks often consist largely of cuts plucked from other cult movie scores. The eponymous theme of his 2012 spaghetti western, Django Unchained, to which Jamie Foxx drags himself across the American wasteland in the film's opening scene, comes from a 1966 western movie of the same name.
4. David Fincher
Before he started directing features, David Fincher began his career filming commercials and shooting music videos for the likes of Paula Abdul, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. Having directed the video for Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," Fincher had a preexisting relationship with Trent Reznor when he partnered with the musician as well as his bandmate Atticus Ross to score 2010's The Social Network. The score produced both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Score, and Reznor and Ross returned to record the perfectly eerie, more sinsister atmospheric electronic score for 2011's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. That soundtrack met critical acclaim, too — and with the pair due to return again to score Fincher's adaption of the thriller novel Gone Girl, the award-amassing creative partnership has hopefully become long term.
5. Zach Braff
Actor and director Zach Braff felt that the soundtrack to his film Garden State was so essential to its script that, when he was seeking licensing for the songs on the mix CD he'd put together, he sent a copy of it to every artist he requested music from. The labor of love bore fruit, and Garden State's soundtrack won Braff a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack in a Motion Picture. With selections from The Shins, Thievery Corporation, Iron & Wine, and Frou Frou, Garden State's soundtrack introduced audiences to "indie music" just a few years before it entered its golden age. Hopefully, Braff will flex his musical tastes again with the soundtrack for his sophomore directorial effort, Wish I Was Here, due out July 18.