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the best movie soundtracks
April 20, 2021
I know with this blog I’m branding myself as a music obsessed person, but I have to admit that before quarantine, I was strictly a movie girl. But quarantine has done something different to my psyche: I can barely watch a new movie or TV show without really really being in the mood. Thus, making way for my music obsession. It makes sense: longer hours of crying in quarantine, unemployment, long walks and drives – it all leads to more music consumption.
But I have to pay respect to movies, as they are what got me to this point. I’m certain that my 2000 – 2019 music taste has been defined by the movies I watch and love. That is why today, I really want to crack down on the best movie soundtracks that use music to their ultimate advantage, and maybe find the best movie soundtrack overall (in the most biased way). At the end of this article, I’ve linked a playlist to what I believe are the best songs to come from movies.
** Let me address that movie musicals such as Mamma Mia, La La Land, and Hairspray will not be included on this list, even though they are my favorite genre of movie and have incredible soundtracks. However, movies like A Star Is Born (2018), will be included, because although they may be “movie musicals,” the difference is that the characters don’t burst into song in a fantastical way. Rather, the music of A Star Is Born (2018) and others are performed in realistic ways. **
Ok, now let’s break down some of the best movie soundtracks:
I have to start with one of my favorites, and one of the most iconic for our generation: Shrek 2. The Shrek franchise took the world by storm back in the day, and the films still hold up today (at least the first two). Seriously, watch the second Shrek movie if you haven’t in a while and notice how well the dialogue is written, not to mention that the jokes are actually funny. Anyway, the soundtrack is absolutely incredible. My personal favorite moment is when the fanfare of Far Far Away transitions into “Funkytown.” But you can’t mention Shrek 2 without mentioning “I Need a Hero,” the high-energy performance that the Fairy Godmother delivers during the most climactic part. There’s also “Accidentally in Love,” “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” “Changes,” and if you’re a super fan like me, you get even more of a great soundtrack in the DVD bonus feature: Far Far Away Idol.
Ok enough of Shrek, especially because this article is going to be really long if I gush about every movie soundtrack I love. Next, I want to talk about movie soundtracks with original songs (again, not movie musicals). I have to start this category with the movie that does it best, A Star Is Born (2018). There is no more iconic soundtrack than this film. From the chart-topping “Shallow”, to the bop that is “Why Did You Do That?,” to the country ballads performed by Bradley Cooper, these songs are genuinely good. Inside Llewyn Davis, a Coen Brothers film about an aspiring folk musician, has amazing songs performed by the utterly talented Oscar Isaac. The smaller indie films Band Aid and Patti Cake$ are both about musicians (although with almost opposite vibes) and have given amazing original songs like “Love and Lies” and “PBNJ.” Of course, there’s the iconic “Mystery of Love” and “Visions of Gideon” from Call Me By Your Name, which singlehandedly started my Sufjan Stevens phase of 2018. There’s “The Moon Song” from Her and “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I feel like I could drone on about the original songs out there, but we have to move on.
There’s a certain specific genre of movie I love, which is the type that is about music. For example, Cameron Crowe’s movie Almost Famous is an iconic film about an aspiring music journalist where the music is almost a character of its own. This is one of my favorite films of all time, and it sparked my love for Simon and Garfunkel. After all, the song “America” was what made Zooey Deschanel’s character want to quit home and become a stewardess to see the world. There’s Baby Driver, where the music is so brilliantly woven into the plot. The main character is constantly listening to music in his headphones, and the director brings us in his world through amazingly timed music moments. The opening scene featuring the song “Bellbottoms” should have won an Oscar all on its own. Then there’s School of Rock, Jack Black’s finest work, about him forming a band of 4th graders, and has a soundtrack composing of classic rock. This one also features an original song that I used to perform when I was 10, alone in my room, thinking I was the keyboardist of my own band. And finally, Perks of Being A Wallflower bonds its characters together through the music they listen to. This movie has one of the most iconic scenes of all time, which is where they listen to “Heroes” by David Bowie while driving through a tunnel in Pittsburgh and sticking their heads out of the car.
Some of my favorite movies are my favorites because of the music. Let me shout some of those out now quickly: Lady Bird, Whip It, 500 Days of Summer, Hustlers, and most recently, Promising Young Woman (do not get me started on the string version of “Toxic”). My favorite documentaries are also my favorite documentaries because of the music they use, which are Dont Look Back (featuring the iconic scene of Bob Dylan holding up the lyric cards to “Subterranean Homesick Blues”) and Paris Is Burning (“Got to Be Real” is really so iconic).
There are also movies with original scores, which includes every Disney and Pixar film, as well as Little Women (2019), Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Amèlie. And of course, I have to mention films that have that one iconic scene that you always think of when you hear that song. Think Napoleon Dynamite’s dance scene to “Canned Heart.” Or the iconic dance to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” in Dirty Dancing. There’s “Anyone Else But You” from Juno, “Super Freak” from Little Miss Sunshine, and “I Put A Spell On You” from Hocus Pocus.
As you can probably tell, I could go on and on and on and on about my favorite movie soundtracks. But I have to end this conversation by pointing out my all-time favorite soundtrack, which is from the 2018 movie Booksmart. Booksmart was revolutionary by being a high school party comedy, except this time it was written by women, directed by women, and starring women. It subverted classic high school stereotypes and tropes that have been overdone in Hollywood and it has the BEST fucking soundtrack. The songs are eclectic, yet classic. They match the quirky nature and high energy of the film so well and move the story along in such interesting ways. Every single song is unique and sets such a cool tone to the film. My personal favorite moment is the scene that plays “Slip Away” by Perfume Genius where Amy swims in the pool, feeling a perfectly content and in love with the moment. I’m in awe of that scene every time – they couldn’t have picked a better song to soundtrack it.
Alright. I’d be surprised if anyone is still reading this, but at least I had my own opportunity to shell out some of my favorite songs in some of my favorite movies. There’s still so many more iconic soundtracks that I didn’t touch on, but we can save that discussion for another day. Please let me know your favorites that I didn’t mention. DM me, email me, whatever. I’m open to discuss some favs any day. And check out the Spotify playlist I made that features all of these songs + others from the movies I love.
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