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Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Favorite Use of Music in Movies and TV Shows

This post was inspired by an article on Paste Magazine's site about 15 fictional music buffs they wish would make them a mix cd. It got me thinking about how I have a soft spot for any movie or TV show that effectively integrates music into the storyline or just uses it really well. What's effective to me is pretty subjective just based on artists I like and whatnot, but oh well, I thought a list of my own would be fun. So, without further ado...

Top 10 Favorite Uses of Music in Movies and TV Shows

10) I Am Sam (movie)
The soundtrack to this movie is entirely made up of covers of Beatles songs by other artists. Some of the songs hit and miss to different degrees, but the movie does a wonderful job of letting them provide the background to the film as well as discussing the Beatles within the movie.

9) The Life Aquatic (movie)
It's been quite a while since I've seen the movie. I don't remember actually liking the movie all that much, but I love the way they had Seu Jorge play a character in the movie who could simultaneously provide a soundtrack by singing and playing his guitar. In this case, all of his songs were Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs, which sounds strange, but it definitely works. Looking ahead on this list, cover songs seem to be a common theme to the bottom four entries.

8) The Blues Brothers (movie)
This movie makes it just for having so many great musicians all present in the movie. Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, and plenty of other amazing artists all make appearances in the film. Some of the songs are classics performed by the "The Blues Brothers," while others feature some of the aforementioned musicians. I saw this after taking an African American Music History class in undergrad which made me appreciate the music in the film even more.

7) Weeds (TV show)
And here's the first TV show on the list. This show would make the list solely for its use of the theme song. The song by itself is a quirky little ditty performed by an artist named Malvina Reynolds. That version grew on me as I watched the show, but the real genius was in the fact that for seasons 2 and 3, the show had a different artist cover the song every week for the opening credits. I've never known another show to do that, but it was really cool hearing all sorts of artists like Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie, The Decemberists, Regina Spektor, and even Randy Newman cover the theme. Beyond that, the show also did a really good job of using music during the show, and it introduced me to a couple new artists and tracks I had missed by artists I already knew.

6) The Go-Getter (movie)
This one may seem like a stretch for most people, but the soundtrack was done by M. Ward, and the movie stars Zooey Deschanel. Anyone who knows me knows that they couldn't have come up with a combination I would have liked more. The movie was good but not great, but anytime an M. Ward song came on during the movie I could care less how the rest of it was. Bonus points are in order for this movie leading to the formation of She & Him. Zooey and M. Ward recorded a cover of "When I Get To The Border" for the end credits, which led to them discussing music and eventually forming She & Him. Frankly, I'm surprising myself a bit by not putting this movie even higher.

5) Friday Night Lights (TV show)
I actually discussed this show before on the blog when I talked about Explosions in the Sky. The fact that their music scores the show is a huge reason for its appearance here. Their music just fits perfectly in there, and hopefully it has led to more exposure for them. Beyond just that though, the show surprisingly (to me anyway for some reason) does a really good job with other soundtrack songs. Songs by Iron & Wine/Calexico, The Black Keys, Camera Obscura, Jose Gonzalez, and more (those were just from early season 1) all add to my enjoyment of an otherwise wonderful show anyway.

4) Flight of the Conchords (TV show)
I wasn't too sure where to put this show because it isn't like the others. All of the songs in the show are original songs written and performed by the lead actors (and I believe writers). The fact is that Flight of the Conchords have somehow found the perfect formula for making a funny, yet catchy, and just plain old good song. It's a shame that it all added up to just way too much work for the band and that the show ended after two seasons, but they were a phenomenal two seasons.

This is the first song from the show that I fell in love with. It is just so lyrically perfect.

3) (500) Days of Summer (movie)
If I was just picking favorite soundtrack album, this movie would win for sure. It's a really good mix of artists I knew with artists I didn't know but learned I liked. On top of that, I love hearing Summer (Zooey Deschanel) tell Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt) about how she loves The Smiths and discussing why Ringo is her favorite Beatle. Additionally, Tom dancing through the streets while Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True" plays is one of my favorite movie scenes ever.

2) Garden State (movie)
This was one of the first times I really noticed music in movies. It set the bar for the type of movie/music integration I looked for. Sam (Natalie Portman) telling Andrew (Zach Braff) to listen to The Shins because they will change his life is just pure gold. This film introduced me to The Shins through that scene (as I'm sure it did thousands of others), and came at a perfect time when I was really starting to expand my musical tastes. As I've gotten older, Zach Braff has started to annoy me a bit. I think it's mostly due to his character on Scrubs being way too self-centered (it's probably not a real rational annoyance), but I can't deny that between that show and this movie, he has a heck of an ear for good music.

1) High Fidelity (movie)
I toyed around with the idea of putting something else here, but if we're talking about how music is integrated into movies, what's better than a movie where everything is filtered through a lens that relates it to music. There is talk of making the perfect mixtape, there are live performances, there is a band trying to make it, there are guys hanging out in a record store talking music. The actual songs in the movie aren't my favorite by far. That's not to say I don't like them, but I enjoy the music from spots 2 through at least 6 better. But something about just hearing other people talk about how much they love music is comforting to me, and even if I don't connect with that same music the way they do, I connect with their connection to it (I can't decide if that's more or less confusing than it looks typed out).

(There is way more swearing in this scene than I remembered, but there are just so many things to love in there)


Honorable Mention
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (book)
This one didn't really fit in the list since it was a book, but the main character makes a mixtape during the book. I don't remember much of what was on it anymore, but I recall that the first and last song he put on it was "Asleep" by The Smiths. I didn't know The Smiths at all when I first read the book, but this led to me checking them out, and they are a favorite band of mine now, 8 or so years after first reading the book.

Veronica Mars (TV show)
I just finished watching this show recently, and I really enjoyed how they would throw band posters into the background of scenes in characters rooms and around school and stuff. Also, as I posted a while back, as soon as they played "Poison Cup" by M. Ward they had me.

Juno (Movie)
This is another movie with a large focus on music. I wasn't familiar with Kimya Dawson or The Moldy Peaches before seeing the movie, and I'm still not a huge fan, but I can't help enjoy the songs during the movie due to the character's love of them.


Alright, this post got way too long, and that's all I've got in me for tonight. For anyone that actually made it to the end, what did I miss? Anything you would have put on your own list?

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