Music for motion pictures
I re-watched “Fantastic Mr. Fox” the other night with friends who hadn’t seen it. This is a great film, for a number of reasons: the sly sense of humor, the richly detailed stop-motion animation, the impressive voice work by stars such as Meryl Streep and George Clooney. But “Fantastic Mr. Fox” also has a terrific soundtrack that includes classics such as The Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains” and the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” as well as a beguiling score by French composer Alexandre Desplat. “We should get this soundtrack,” my friend’s daughter said.
I’m probably not going to run out and buy the soundtrack to “Fantastic Mr. Fox” anytime soon, but I can understand the impulse to do so. I happen to own 27 soundtracks, and I’m not even including my old taped copies of the “Dirty Dancing” or “Cocktail” soundtracks in that count. A good soundtrack can enhance even the greatest of films. What would “Psycho” be without its eerie score? Or “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” without the distinctive music by Ennio Morricone? And then there are films that owe their existence to music: “Saturday Night Fever,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” Anyway, here are my favorite soundtracks:
1. “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” Quentin Tarantino also has a gift for creating great soundtracks. Off “Dogs,” a soundtrack that sounds like it was culled from a 1950s jukebox, I really like “Little Green Bag” by the George Baker Selection and “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel. Off “Pulp Fiction,” which features a great mix of surf rock and iconic rock and soul, I really like “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield and “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill, although Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” did supply the theme music for my first summer working at camp.
2. “Requiem for a Dream” This Darren Aronofsky film is a downbeat look at drug addiction, and the music, which was composed by Clint Mansell and performed by world-renowned string quartet the Kronos Quartet, is eerie, hypnotic and disorienting. Mansell’s score combines classical music with electronica, with impressive results.
3. “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights” Director Paul Thomas Anderson has created some of the best soundtracks of the past 20 years. “Boogie Nights” features a great mix of music from the seventies and early eights: “Brand New Key” by Melanie, “Best of My Love” by the Emotions, “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon. While “Boogie Nights” is perfect for a party, “Magnolia” is introspective and melancholy, featuring original music by singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, two Supertramp songs and the great song “Dreams” by Gabrielle.
4. “Rushmore” Long before Wes Anderson directed “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” he made this bittersweet film with Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, who both lent their voice talents to “Mr. Fox.” Anderson’s musical choices are always impeccable, and his “Rushmore” soundtrack showcases his taste for classic rock rarities, particularly early British rock. There are great tunes by the Kinks (“Nothing in This World Can Stop Me Worrin’ Bout That Girl”), Cat Stevens (“Here Comes My Baby”) and The Who (“A Quick One, While He’s Away”); my favorite tune is “Ooh La La” by the Faces. I don’t own it, but Anderson’s soundtrack for “The Life Aquatic” is also pretty amazing, mainly because it features Brazilian musician Seu Jorge performing David Bowie songs in Portuguese on the acoustic guitar.
5. “Superfly” I’ve never actually seen this movie, but the pioneering soul and funk music by Curtis Mayfield is amazing, and worth owning regardless of whether you ever see this film. Exploitation films such as “Superfly” were often amateurish and poorly funded, but usually featured outstanding soundtracks. “Shaft,” for instance, was recorded by Isaac Hayes, while the music in Melvin Van Peebles’ seminal 1971 film “Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song” was performed by Earth, Wind and Fire.
6. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” T. Bone Burnett produced the music for this Coen Brothers film. A vibrant mix of folk, bluegrass and country, the soundtrack’s highlights include several versions of “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow”, “I am Weary, Let Me Rest” by the Cox Family and Ralph Stanley singing “O Death.”
7. “The Full Monty” We got really into “The Full Monty” my senior year of college, mainly because my friend Melissa had just spent a semester in the town of Sheffield, England, where the film is set. In any case, I think this is the only film I’ve seen three times in the theater. The soundtrack, which features “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” by Tom Jones, is fun, too. (“The bulk of the score, though, consists of songs that are more or less real-world stripper classics,” Amazon.com informs me.) We even loved the instrumental pieces composed for the film; my friend Dave used to walk around campus listening to them and imagining that he was a character in the film.
8. “Purple Rain” How can you go wrong with a soundtrack comprised entirely of Prince songs? The movie isn’t very good, but when it features “When Doves Cry” and “I Would Die 4 You” it doesn’t need to be.
9. “Singles” This 1992 film showcased some of the best bands of the Seattle grunge scene — Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, the Screaming Trees, Soundgarden — but also contained two songs from the man for whom my cat is named, Paul Westerberg, as well as a sad, swirling and beautiful song from Chicagoans the Smashing Pumpkins. Cameron Crowe, who cut his teeth writing for Rolling Stone while still in his teens, is another director who really knows his music: his film “Almost Famous” features one of my favorite music moments, that scene where the band listens to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” on the tour bus.
10. “Say Anything” Another soundtrack to a Cameron Crowe movie. This soundtrack features The Song All Girls Love, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” some great tunes by Fishbone, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and my favorite song of all time, The Replacements’ “Within Your Reach.” There are some duds on it (“All For Love” by Nancy Wilson, “One Big Rush” by Joe Satriani), but the good stuff outweighs the bad.
Honorable mention: “Trainspotting” A pounding compilation of rock (Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life,” and New Order’s “Temptation”), dance music and electronica (Underworld’s “Born Slippy” and ambient music (Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Day”)
I also like, in no particular order, the soundtracks for: “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,” “He Got Game,” “Kids,” “Once,” “The Red Violin,” “The Commitments,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Into the Wild,” “Taxi Driver,” “Dancer in the Dark,” “The Wedding Singer,” “Pump Up the Volume” and “Stand By Me.”
Got a comment? A favorite soundtrack? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.