I Might Be Wrong: Film's top 5 musical moments - Reverb

I Might Be Wrong: Film’s top 5 musical moments

More in common than you think. Courtesy of Gannett Photo Network.

More in common than you think. Courtesy of Gannett Photo Network.

The Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song have hit an all-time low. Not only are there only two nods this year, but, last year, perennial nominee Randy Newman won for a so-so tune. (Newman is a tremendous songwriter and his voice is to Pixar what light-sabers are to Lucasfilm. Still, enough already: He might deserve the lion’s share of the nominations he’s received but, sheesh, nobody save Meryl Streep should have auto win on lockdown.)

(This article originally stated Randy Newman was nominated this year. My bad. — Colin St. John)

The truth of the matter is that original songs composed specifically for film are rarely solid on their own. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” from 2002’s “8 Mile” might be the last stand-out. (Besides the sheer glee of seeing Three 6 Mafia take the stage for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” that is. At the Academy Awards.)

Given all this not being worth much more than a shoulder shrug and, also, in honor of not only the recently fallen Whitney “I Will Always Love You” Houston and the airing of the 84th Oscars this Sunday, I choose to shift my focus to the best moments for pop music in film, period. These are all, unsurprisingly, songs that were written for use outside of movies but found their way onto the big screen. Since Martin Scorsese began popularizing, well, popular music on celluloid — see: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in “Mean Streets” — the tunes of our times have served the cinema well. (For my favorite placements from 2011, see “Drive.”) Here, submitted for your approval and surely your disagreements, is a completely subjective list of the best of the best (with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel).

5. Roy Orbison, “In Dreams” in “Blue Velvet”

Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper get so utterly weird in this scene from David Lynch’s masterpiece that it, quite simply, had to make the cut. Runner-up for off-the-wall eccentricity? Buffalo Bill’s dance to Q Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses” in “Silence of the Lambs.”

4. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Just Like Honey” in “Lost in Translation”

Some technology nerds think they know what Bill Murray’s character whispers in this scene, but they’re wrong. He’s really telling ScarJo, “That Colin St. John will treat you better than Ryan Reynolds ever did.”

3. Lou Reed, “Perfect Day” in “Trainspotting”

An almost perfect song for an almost perfect scene is an almost perfect choice. Lou Reed’s blissful build is, on the surface, evocative of heroin’s euphoria, but as the scene develops, becomes more and more ironic. As the protagonist, Mark, is revived in the hospital, Reed, on cue, lays out a pseudo narration: “You’re going to reap just what you sow.”

2. Night Ranger, “Sister Christian”; Rick Springfield, “Jessie’s Girl” and Nena, “99 Luftballons” in “Boogie Nights” a.k.a. “My Awesome Mix Tape #6”

When I was learning about music usage in a film class in college, my professor played this scene as an example of a conflicting choice. The songs are all very positive (and cheesy), which works against the negative tensity of the film’s action. The most famous example of this is “Singin’ in the Rain” in “A Clockwork Orange” (not Huey Lewis in “American Psycho,” kids), but Paul Thomas Anderson’s homage to Stanley Kubrick, here, is my main joint. Feel my heat.

1. Pixies, “Where Is My Mind?” in “Fight Club”

I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise. What better song for a movie about multiple personality disorder than this one? There isn’t one. And, there might not be better song usage in movie history. I, also, might be wrong.

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Colin St. John is a Denver-based writer and merrymaker. Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog.

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  • Ken Beegle

    And there’s the Stones’ “Monkey Man” in “Goodfellas.”

  • Ken Beegle

    Jarring use of Donovan songs: “Atlantis” during Billy Batts’ bar beating in “Goodfellas,” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man” during a murder early in “Zodiac.”

  • Susan

    You MIGHT be wrong? You’re definitely wrong. Randy Newman is not nominated this year. I don’t know what gave you that idea, especially as there was lots of press about there only being two songs (Bret McKenzie’s “Man or Muppet”, and Sérgio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, and Siedah Garrettthe’s “Real in Rio,”). Newman didn’t even have an eligible song this year.

    • http://www.denvereverb.com Ricardo Baca

      Thanks for the catch, Susan. Colin was indeed wrong this time. We got it fixed.