2008 is still on the brain. Everyone always says (whines): why don't you talk about music in films anymore!? Why don't you talk about music anymore?!
We say: give us a good film with good music and you've got yourself a deal (and talking about it simply for the sake of talking about it is lame), but that was harder to come by in 2008 than you'd expect. Example, one of the best soundtracks released in 2008, "Sunshine" by Underworld and John Murphy was an after-thought and was actually from the Danny Boyle movie released in 2007.
Moreover, soundtracks started going the way of the Burger King movie tie-in, with one label shoehorning all their acts to monopolize the entire film. Or conflict of interest music supervisors we won't mention by name, were taking on movie gigs and then conveniently hosting songs from her boutique label in the movie (see "Twilight" and its soundtrack) and filling the rest of the soundtrack from, oh the parent label (Atlantic). Fraudulent, phony moves like that were discouraging for our business (movies and music) and frankly made us never want to cover the field again. But sometimes this tactic actually worked. Domino records in the U.K. soundtracked all of the winsome "Mister Foe" and the soundtrack was one of the years best (it helps that the label are quite the discerning tastemakers and the fact the director was a fan of bands on the label and it grew from there - that's genuine), but the tactic was still eyebrow-raising and we're sure we'll see more of this unfortunate maneuvering...
Another example was "American Teen," whose soundtrack was mostly dominated by Sony/Almost Gold artists. In fact, Nanette Burnstein must have been artistically (monetarily?) swayed in some way cause when 'Teen' first appeared at Sundance originally, it didn't have half this "hipster-lite" music tracks (ironically, the best track on the soundtrack disc was one by Patrick Watson, one exception to the the Sony/Almost Gold rule). Some call it smart synergy. We call it a disingenuous wet fart that shouldn't be tolerated (or at least should be looked at closely).
The story should inform the music, not the other way around. See "The Wrestler" for example that had a '80s hair metal soundtrack. We don't particularly like much of that music, but the character is from that era, so it totally works. Wait, but those songs are hard to license and now there's no accompanying CD! Who gives a shit, do what's right for your movie and we applaud the filmmakers for that choice.
Following pop/rock music so closely we've come to understand once again what we've always known since film school, but needed to reminded of: pop music when used poorly in film can be a cheap shortcut for directors to dial up a mood (happy, sad, somber) when their scene isn't up to snuff. At its best, its fucking magical and it's the reason we started this blog, but in lesser hands - as it was in 2008 - it can be horrible, or at least totally disposable (see some of "Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist"). It's essentially a crutch, an emotional stolen base, so really, only the finest should employ it (too bad there wasn't a law enforced or more discerning filmmakers).
Usually, we have a ton of music to discuss that's been off everyone's radar, but this year there wasn't that much to discuss so you'll find a lot of the usual suspects, but hopefully some off-the-radar moments you may have missed.
Best Score Of The Year That Wasn't Actually A Score
Michael Nyman's classical music in "Man On Wire" acted as a score to the winning and remarkable documentary, but in fact the music was more of a greatest hits of pre-existing Nyman music. Nonetheless, the wonder, the poetry, the sheer beauty and joy of such an insane, absurd and magnificent accomplishment depicted in the film fits beautifully with Nyman's music that creates a nervous but celebratory tension and then just keeps building and building to such a awe-inspiring crescendo (we swear that moment when Petit smiles while walking between the WTC made us shed a tear). A perfect marriage of existing music and new visuals. Much of the music was taken from old Peter Greenway films, which is fine with us, but it upset this guy so much he upped and left. Too bad he missed out on one of the year's best films.
Best Song From A Crappy Mainstream Movie That Went On To Become An Unexpected Hit
"21" was dogshit and this song might be played out now, but back in January this song was an anthemic emotional savior and we don't forget those moments.
Best Electro-Acoustic Score of the Year
David Wingo is always making extremely pretty music for David Gordon Green's plaintive and lyrical films and with his new musical partner Jeff McIlwain (aka IDM/electronic artist Lusine), they succeeded in doing the same for his wintry drama, "Snow Angels."
Shout Out: "Mister Lonely"
J. Spaceman of Spiritualized and Sun City Girls composed the score to Harmony Korine's soft, tender and naturally weird, "Mister Lonely," that starred Diego Luna as an introspective Michael Jackson impersonator who falls in love with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) on a Scottish island full of sheep and a commune of other celebrity facsimiles. One would have expected the experimental Girls to turn in something very strange and perhaps atonal, but in fact, their hopeful (and slightly kooky) tunes are very straightforward and pretty. J. Spacemen went for restrained minimalism and all and all, this was a very pastoral and fittingly gentle score to Korine's new movie which thankfully didn't feel like it needed to provoke you with a stick.
Film Score That Was Actually Better Than The Movie
We didn't particularly care for David Fincher's laboriously overwrought 'Ben Button' tale of a man aging backwards and the score wasn't used that effectively in the film, but on its own, Alexandre Desplat's 'Button' score is gorgeous, luminous and Oscar-worthy (though he got snubbed by the music guilds, he could still sneak in there).
Best Tastefully Curated Indie-Rock Soundtrack To A Film
Yes, "Mister Foe" was a soundtrack all composed of Domino Records bands and yes and we don't approve of labels monopolizing a film's music like that, but 1) the director came to the label because he loved the band U.N.P.O.C. and the song "Here On My Own" which he wanted for the film (and then it all grew from there) and 2) all of these movie music moments worked in spades and didn't feel shoehorned in there like 90% of the usual suspects. The soundtrack, which featured a new Franz Ferdinand song and some quite superb Psapp tracks, was great in itself, but the music used in the movie and not on the disc -- excellent and underappreciated classic U.K. bands like The Pastels and Quickspace, and post-rocky/experimental bands like Ganger, Hood, Four Tet and Pram -- was even better. Plus the use of Psapp's "Eating Spiders" was probably the best "moving on" emo teen ending to a film that felt genuine and touching.
Best Atonal Score To A Gigantically Budgeted Superhero Blockbuster
Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard outdid themselves on the score to Christopher Nolan's remarkable crime saga and especially Zimmer (who handled all the Joker music), who may written the most experimental and atonal soundtrack to a mainstream picture in the history of film. The score was thrilling, dramatic, tension-raising and quivering with a pitch of anarchy and menace - exactly what the doctor ordered and fantastically fitting to the action onscreen. They raised the bar this year. More like this, please!
Best Confused Sounds - "The Wackness"
This coming of age story might not have known if it was a teen pot comedy or an emo unrequited love story, but we got some good music out of it. The hip-hop in the film is carefully chosen and not overdone within and David Torn's gorgeous, atmospheric score was straight out of a Sofia Coppola/Brian Eno collaboration. A fine mix of music. Too bad the score never came out on disc.
Best Score Not Released In 2008
Similar to "The Wackness,"
David Torn did another sun-stroked and beautiful ambient score to "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" and it's yet another tool that helps elevate this film beyond a funny and goofy depiction of hoser metal Canadian dudes that never grew up (Note: We originally erroneously reported that Torn composed the score here when in fact, L.A. composer David Norland wrote the bulk of the score and Torn did a few cues). In fact, it goes way beyond that and helps take the doc to a wonderfully emotional place of triumph.
Best Minimalist Moody Guitar Score Not Released
Why the Clint Mansell composed, Slash-performed music for "The Wrestler" of course. You've got to love the atmospheric feedback touches too.
Best Music-Movie Not Released In 2008
Music films suck frankly. Yes, we have a whole blog supposedly dedicated to the place where music and movies meet, but frankly a lot of "movie music" films are getting increasingly cornier (and our tolerance for twee-indie-rock bullshit like "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" is evaporating like open water in the Sahara) and or so corporately tied in (see our opening graph) that it's a total turn off. But then along comes a film that is so earnest, so incredible and so awe-inspiring it destroys your cynicism in one fell swoop and a makes you fall in love with the whole "genre" all over again. The documentary "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" was that film and kudos to director Sacha Gervasi for making a picture about a '80s metal band that no one in their right mind should give a shit about. But it's so affecting it makes you want to go out and buy all their music if only to support them and their dogged years of perseverance. Here's the trailer, do not miss this one when it hits in the Spring of this year.
Best Song From "American Teen" That Ironically Wasn't Even On The Sony/Almost Gold Record Label That Bought Up Most Of the Soundtrack
Why Canadian singer Patrick Watson's "The Great Escape" of course.
Most Fun Pre-Existing Song Used In A Movie
Even pontificating jackass snobs like us couldn't resist Tom Cruise in a fat suit dancing around to Flo Rida's "Low" while trying to coerce Matthew McConaughey's character into selling out Ben Stiller. Playa, playa! Hell of a lot funnier than anything Robert Downey Jr. attempted in the film too.
Worst Music-Movie Released In 2008
Sometimes it feels that certain movies are made to simply market, endorse or propagate a lifestyle or way of living. Was "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" and its budget subsidized by Pitchforkmedia, Stereogum and American Apparel in a joint and clandestine effort to put indie-rockness on big screens and get their product and brand out to a larger audience? Could be, cause it sure fucking felt like it. Any time a film tries to market "cool," it inevitably fails because you cannot bottle cool and try and sell it. "Cool" is inherent. You either have it or you don't (why do you think people went ape-shit for "Pulp Fiction" at the time; it exuded this air). The only tolerable thing about it was the cute (or cutesy?) electronic-like score by Mark Mothersbaugh which was even a bit too twee and too much for us.
Best Score That Sounded Like Classic Classical Music
The Max Richter-composed music of "Waltz With Bashir" is sublime, moving and reminiscent of seminal pieces of classical work we can't put our finger on. Either it's cause Richter was giving nice homage nods or his compositions were just that classic. Either way, the music in the film is gorgeous and really elevates the film injecting it with a powerful tone of gravitas. Sure, the dark subject matter (the 1983 Beirut massacre) would have been somber anyhow, but Richter impresses without being dour, depressing or treacly.
Best Collaboration That Never Came Out And Whizzed By Too Fast
Not many people probably remember, but Jon Brion scored Will Ferrell's "Step Brothers" with the help Deerhoof and Wilco members playing the instruments. Essentially what they wrote was a flurry of manic music meant to convey the two dimwit brothers manic energy and anger, but if you had a chance to stop and listen to it (when you weren't laughing) you'd realize it was quite interesting and subversive for a mainstream comedy. Sadly, no disc was released.
Best Song From An Animated Film
Wait, Peter Gabriel didn't leave for Middle Earth to become a gnome? No? Cool, cause this. "Wall-E" song was grand.
Best Classic Revived For A Film
Nope it wasn't someone like Wes Anderson or Tarantino who dug up a a forgotten gem and dusted it off, it was "Wall-E" director Andrew Staunton who reminded us about how great "Hello Dolly" was (but honestly if you think this Pixar pic said anything deeper about the environment than lame thrash metal bands like Metallica that sang about the same topic in the late 80s, you're seriously deluded).
Best Soundtrack To A Shrill And Hysterical Film
We didn't love Jonathan Demme's emotionally fraudulent mess, "Rachel Getting Married," but who doesn't love new and old Robyn Hitchock songs?
Trailer Song of the Year:
Do you even half to ask? M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" in "Slumdog Millionaire" was THE trailer song of the year by leaps and bounds. Nevermind that the song wasn't actually in the film, who cares? It did what it was designed to do: build buzz and get people hyped for the David Gordon Green/Judd Apatow comedy, which it did. Too bad 'Pineapple' couldn't really live up to that hype and was slightly underwhelming and well, half baked.
Best Souful Ending To A Film/ The #2 Trailer Song
When Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler" was featured in the eponymous trailer in the late fall, we shuddered and thought, "wow, we've got to see that movie," and then we had to remind ourselves we already had heard the song and seen the film it was that fucking good and that movie. Frankly, we hope this song wins the Oscar.
Best Movie Music Moment #2
"Mister Lonely" - Werner Herzog narrates a ridiculous (and yet profound) monologue about who knows what as a trio of nuns fall out of an airplane in erratic clipped camera which zooms into abstraction slowly dissolving to Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton) enjoying wind flying up her skirt by a pond in slow motion set to the gloriously sad A Silver Mt. Zion song "13 Angels Standing Guard Round The Side Of Your Bed." Fucking genius and Harmony Korine proves he's a master of the profoundly absurd (absurdly profound?) and a direct descendant to Herzog. Stunning, stunning, stunning.
Movie Music Moment #3
A Michael Jackson (Diego Luna) impersonator rides a mini scooter with a monkey doll tied to it in gorgeous slo-mo to the ghostly and melancholy lament of Bobby Vinton in the opening of "Mister Lonely."
Most Rousing Song That Makes You Want To Take Up Arms
There's a minimal amount of music in "Che: The Argentine" (Part One) and then it ends with a war cry from Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez's folk laden protest song "Fusil Contra Fusil" and you've gotta love how a man and his acoustic guitar (Much like Dylan) can cut everything open wide with passion and conviction. The perfectly galvanizing way to end the film.
Likewise, Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa's "Balderrama," might be more melancholy, but the sad yet defiant tone of her track similarly is the perfect send-off to "Che" in Part Two, "The Guerilla."
Best Winning Wimpy Moment With Dignity
One of the reasons we loved "Forgetting Sarah Marshall' was that unlike other sad-sack emo flicks, Jason Segel's comedy was really self-deprecating and wry about its whining. It was acutely self-aware how wussy the character was and poked a lot of self-fun. Its nice to see that kind of recognition (unlike say "The Wackness" which reveled in its teen mope) and that moment at a random wedding when Segel's character finally gets back on his emotional two feet to the strains of Belle & Sebastian, a song and moment that acts as an exhale that says, "whoo, well, I'm going to be ok," well, that's a lovely, lovely thing (and godamnn it we nearly shed a tear it was such a genuine human moment).
Best Music Scene In A Bar
How great, genuine and very charismatically human is the scene in "The Wrestler" where Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke commiserate over '90s, whiny complaint-culture rock and then celebrate the virtues of 80s "real" music while performing ad-hoc karaoke to hairband Ratt's "Round and Round"? Awesome.
Shout Out: "The Reader" is essentially ice cold in terms of emotion, it's basically a dud and that's why the TWC film has generated almost zero awards talk outside the Golden Globes, but one of the reasons why it has any soul at all is because of young composer (27!) Nico Muhly's plaintive and elegant score.
Most Overrated Soundtrack
We love Jon Brion as much as the next guy, but his "quirky" scores are starting to get on our nerves. 'Synecdoche NY's score was seemingly gobbled up by bloggers who didn't know better (god, the wannabe-hipster dorks that never post about movies, but come out of the woodwork to ride his dick, do yourself a favor; stay home). Sheep will think of this as heresy, but the music to Charlie Kaufman's mindbender didn't fit the film like a glove like his past work. Most of the lugubrious torch songs in the film were too woe-is-me for us as well (god, the film was sad sack enough as it was), but the Deanne Storey song "Little Person" definitely grew on us.
The Most Spectacularly Retarded/Awesome Music Moment In A Movie
Will Ferrell passionately bellows "Por Ti Volare" in the amazingly climactic Catalina wine mixer scene of "Step Brothers." The Andrea Bocelli original makes an appearance in "Wanted," for a brief moment, but it can't hold a candle to Ferrell ridiculously bursting into song. We're pretty sure this is the part of the film where we became to weep profusely.
Best Movie We Loved With An Excellent Soundtrack We Hardly Mentioned:
Yes, the Norwegian film, "Reprise" was our favorite film of the year and the pop music soundtrack was excellent. We barely mentioned it outside our review, why? Because there was no official soundtrack disc released (not domestically anyhow), but the film featured excellent and subtle use of New Order, Joy Division, ambient noise rockers Serena Maneesh and an immensely entertaining moment to Le Tigre's "Deceptacon" (featured below).
Worst Song Written Explicitly For A Film
The eponymous Huey Lewis song for "Pineapple Express" was such a embarrassing shit sandwich the only thing more pathetic than the corny, tune-challenged wannabe anthem was watching herds of music blog retards high five each other in ironic enjoyment screaming, "yeah, duuuude, the News is back!" over this cringe-inducing number. Some people's blog accounts need to be revoked for such painful endorsements.
Best Indie-Rock Song For A Film That Was Totally Ignored By The Indie Rock Community That Normally Salivates Over Much Lesser Garbage
Broken Social Scene's songs for Bruce McDonald's "The Tracey Fragments" were better and moodier than any Clap Your Hands And Say Whatever songs used in a film.
Hey, That Movie Is Not Worthy Of That Song
- Radiohead's "Reckoner" in "Choke"
- The Pixies' "Hey" in "Zack And Miri Make A Porno."
- Iron & Wine's "Flightless Bird" in "Twilight"
- The Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You" in Ricky Gervasi's "Ghost Town" - How Wes Anderson is not allowed to include this same song in the end of "The Royal Tenenbaums" but this throw-away comedy is given the green light is a huge example of the changing music licensing landscape and how even stickler's like Yoko Ono are now changing their tune (maybe it's the economy).
- Bob Dylan's "It's Not Dark Yet" in the godawful "Henry Poole Is Here."
Worst Score Of The Year
"Zack And Miri Make A Porno" - James L. Venable. Holy shit that thing was awful. It kind of sounded like the theme song to "Seinfeld," only worse. What did we expect from the musical genius behind "Scary Movie 4."
Hey, That Bad Song Fits That Mediocre Movie Like A Glove
- Guns N' Roses' "The World" in "Body of Lies."
Top 10 Soundtracks/Scores Of the Year
1. "Waltz With Bashir" - Max Richter
2. "The Dark Knight" - Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
3. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" - Alexandre Desplat
4. "Mister Foe" - Various Artists
5. "Snow Angels" - David Wingo and Jeff McIlwain
6. "Anvil! The Story Of Anvil" - David Norland (unreleased)
7. "The Reader"- Nico Muhly
8. "Defiance" - James Newton Howard
9. "Mister Lonely" - J. Spaceman and Sun City Girls
10. "Slumdog Millionaire" - A.R. Rahman
"Che" - Alberto Iglesias, " "Let the Right One In" - Johan Söderqvist, "In Bruges," - Carter Burwell, "The Wackness" - David Torn, and probably a bunch we're forgetting, but honestly we weren't especially super moved by a lot of scores this year other than the ones already mentioned.
Worst Songs From A Film
- Ali Dee and the Deekompressors - "Go Speed Racer" - from "Speed Racer"
- Fergie -" Labels For Love" from "Sex & The City"
- The aforementioned shitty Huey Lewis song
- Everything in "Whatever Happened In Vegas," "27 Dresses" and "Made of Honor"; decent songs individually or not these films rendered them useless.
2008 is still on the brain. Everyone always says (whines): why don't you talk about music in films anymore!? Why don't you talk about music anymore?!