Last week saw the limited release of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, and the director is currently receiving the type of media love reserved for those who rarely misstep and whose work is hailed as classic the moment it's released. What's always interested me about Anderson is his ability to perfectly place music in his films, whether it's having the cast of Magnolia perform an Aimee Mann song, or using the ominous scores provided by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.
Anderson isn't the only director with this talent. Here are ten scenes from films made better by the inclusion of a simple song.
See also: 35 Songs Hollywood Needs to Stop Using
Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," The Hunter Early in the 2011 Australian film The Hunter, Willem Dafoe's mercenary character has a conversation with his boarder's daughter about classical music, in which the young lass dutifully informs him she only likes "The Boss," like her missing father. This moment becomes poignant later in the film as Dafoe, fresh off a 12-day hunt, returns to family's home and sets about getting the house's generator running. As the electricity cranks, we're witness to a needle dropping on a record and Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" playing throughout the house, and we're treated to a starling bit of heartbreak. For the first time, we see the young girl's mother rise from her pill-aided slumber to wander outside in hopes of finding her husband returned. The look of shock on her face as she realizes she's mistaken is only multiplied by the haunting tone of the Boss' lyrics.
Justin Timberlake lip syncs The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done," Southland Tales Though his debut film Donnie Darko failed to light up the box office, Richard Kelly was able to secure the type of funding most sophomore directors rarely receive, due to the cult following Darko earned. What he did with that funding, while ambitious, turned out to be less than spectacular. Featuring an all-star cast (well, for 2006) that included Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Sean William Scott, Sarah Michelle Geller, Mandy Moore, Amy Poehler and Justin Timberlake, Southland Tales was Kelly's attempt at dystopian satire that ripped into the issues of a post-9/11 America. Unfortunately, what we got was convoluted plot holes and actors who seemed wildly out of place.
One scene from the film does stand out with its audacity: After selling drugs to his dentist's kid, Timberlake's soldier-narrator performs a lip sync to The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done" while wearing a blood-covered shirt, swinging around a full Budweiser and interacting with a team of dancers in nurse garb while walking through an arcade. It's easily the high point of the film. Well, that and the line, "Pimps don't commit suicide."
Glass Candy's "Digital Versicolor" soundtracks Charlie Bronson's bare-knuckle career, Bronson Nicolas Winding Refn's talent for mixing music and visceral imagery is unparalleled, which American audiences learned last year as he turned Ryan Gosling into a dark sex symbol with some help from Glass Candy keyboardist Johnny Jewel and composer Cliff Martinez. For those cinephiles who were early comers to Refn's work, 2008's Bronson may feature Refn's best use of a Jewel-produced song. During a montage chronicling Charles Bronson's bare-knuckle fighting career, Glass Candy's "Digital Versicolor" plays over the washed-out sex and violence. It's a striking few minutes that serve to drive home just how bleak the world is in Bronson.
Elliott Smith's "Needle in the Hay" soundtracks Richie Tenenbaum's suicide, The Royal Tenenbaums Wes Anderson's soundtracks are often as well-composed as his films. He's mined everything from '70s glam rock to the work of children's composer Benjamin Britten, but it's his use of artist Elliott Smith that might be his most powerful. Frustrated by learning his unrequited love has been seeing his best friend, Luke Wilson's Richie Tenenbaum retreats into a restroom to systematically remove each piece of the identity he had built for himself. While Smith's somber lyrics play, we see Richie shed hair, beard, and clothing until we are starkly met by the words "I'm going to kill myself tomorrow," and then just before the music hits a crescendo we see the image him removing a blade from a razor, followed by a scene of of blood running down his arms. The music hits its apex as we see a blood-covered Bill Murray running down the hall of a hospital, followed by inter-cut scenes of the rest of the Tenenbaum clan making their way to the hospital. It's a powerful moment, one that stops the movie in it's tracks, and one that helped sadly solidify Elliot Smith as the king of sad bastard music.
Kevin Smith parodies Silence of the Lambs in Clerks 2 Though no one was clamoring for it, filmmaker Kevin Smith decided to atone for the fiasco that was Jersey Girl by making a sequel to his debut, Clerks. While more of a love letter to his established fans, Clerks 2 was able to garner a few favorable reviews, mostly due to Smith's pop-culture jokes, including the rather great scene in this video.
After a stint in rehab, View Askew mascots and universal tethers Jay and Silent Bob are now devout Christians who no longer use the wares they sell, yet Smith side-steps this by relying on an obscure joke. The opening strains to Q Lazzarus' "Goodbye Horses" fill the air and Jay reacts by re-enacting Buffalo Bill's mannerisms from Silence of the Lambs.
Usher uses Fatboy Slim to turn "high schoolers" into professional dancers, She's All That Is there a weirder moment from a '90s teen comedy? If you set aside the fact that everyone in this film looks like they're in grad school, if you ignore the conceit that people considered Rachel Leigh Cook unattractive due to wearing glasses, and even if you accept the idea that Freddie Prinze Jr. had more charisma than the wooden log that plays his rival, this scene is still lunacy.
At the prom, Usher (who, it should be pointed out, is the school's DJ) tells the prom goers to "Do that dance I taught ya!," and the prom turns into a choreographed dance- off that famed musical director Stanley Donen would have been proud of. All of this while Fatboy Slim plays in the background.
Samantha Morton shops to Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, Morvern Callar Throughout Lynn Ramsey's dreamlike adaptation of Morvern Callar, Samantha Morton's titular character listens to a mixtape left to her by her shitty, recently deceased boyfriend. While coming to terms with her relationship and the selfishness of his suicide, Morvern finds herself walking through the sterile landscape that is the supermarket, where Lee Hazlewood's vocals provide a bleak backdrop to the trip.
Blade opens with a New Order remix, a rave and a fight New Order's "Confusion" was birthed in 1983, as the band collaborated with famed New York DJ Arthur Baker on their follow-up to "Blue Monday." "Confusion" was meant to be used in the club scene, as its b-sides consisted of an instrumental version, a rough mix and a track simply labeled "Confused Beats."
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Using this framework, the artist Pump Panel created an acid techno mix of the song in 1995, and just three years later the opening to the comic book vampire film Blade was set to the tones of the mix. After an unwitting guy in a backwards Kangol is led to a basement rave by ex-porn starlet Traci Lords, he finds himself coated in blood and surrounded by vampires as the bass hits its peak. Lucky for him, Wesley Snipes shows up and saves his ass. It should be noted that this scene led to the Pump Panel mix being sampled numerous times, with various artists breaking into the UK Top 10 singles charts, and claiming their songs were the "original Blade theme."
Tarantino explains who Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch are...sort of Tarantino may be the master of diegetic sound -- he announced his arrival as a filmmaker with Reservoir Dogs, a film that used sound and music as a plot point. He took this conceit even further with the opening half to Death Proof, his part of of the Grindhouse series, by writing a character who was a DJ, and who, much like Tarantino, has an encyclopedic knowledge of music.
After a night out in Austin, Jungle Julia and the other ladies in her group take to the hill country roads for a rocking ride home that's soundtracked to a request she called in just for their drive.
Hot Rod gets completely ridiculous The Lonely Island gang's ode to '80s films hits its nadir with this insanely silly use of John Farnham's "You're the Voice" that's proof these guys deserve to do as many movies as they want.