- The Life Aquatic
Two reasons this is my top choice, Seu Jorge and David Bowie. Seu Jorge’s take on Bowie tracks perfectly complemented the film. Standouts for me include his versions of ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Space Oddity and ‘Rebel Rebel’. Oh, and ‘Changes’, it’s beautiful.
- Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino)
It’s hard to select just one Tarantino film soundtrack, most of his films have outstanding music to set the scene. If pushed for an alternative I’d probably say Kill Bill 1, then Reservoir Dogs. Pulp Fiction takes this one though, with use of Al Green, Dusty Springfield, Kool and the Gang, and many more.
- Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese)
There’s detail here about how Scorsese only used songs that commented on the scene in question in some way. From Tony Bennett’s ‘Rags to Riches’ in the opening credits, the main character’s story is introduced. An absolute favourite scene is where Jimmy is considering whacking Morrie and Cream’s ‘Sunshine of your Love’ kicks in. Impossibly cool.
- Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie)
When this film appeared in 1998, the soundtrack was key to its appeal. ‘Spooky’ by Dusty Springfield, ‘Police and Thieves’ by Junior Murvin, ‘Walk this Land’ by EZ-Rollers, ‘Why did you do it’ by Stretch, ‘The Payback’ by James Brown, ‘Fools Gold’ by Stone Roses. Outstanding.
- Empire Records (Allan Moyle)
A mid 90s film about a group of slackers who work in a record store. It’s a really sweet film, never fails to perk me up if I’m down. There’s so many songs in it too, from the Gin Blossoms and Cranberries, through to Coyote Shivers and Better than Ezra. Check the playlist here.
- Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)
Killer soundtrack, kicked off with Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ and never let up. Raw, gritty and very 1990s, with Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ for the sexy nightclub scene, and Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ overdose scene; tracks selected helped key scenes pack a massive punch.
- Juno (Jason Reitman)
Super sweet indie film with lovely little songs throughout. Watch the opening credits theme song, with its quirky animation, it sums up the film. Actress Ellen Page – who played Juno – suggested to the Director her character would listen to The Moldy Peaches.
- Garden State (Zach Braff)
Another sweet indie film, powered along by the warm little centre that is Natalie Portman’s character. It also included lovely, quirky music by The Shins. If you don’t like this band then you have a heart of stone.
- The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
Despite his body of work, this is the first film to win Scorsese an Oscar. I think the phenomenal soundtrack throughout might have helped. The Dropkick Murphys ‘Shipping out to Boston’ fits perfectly. There’s also the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, for good measure.
- Snatch (Guy Ritchie)
I’m going with another Guy Ritchie film. Along with The Stranglers ‘Golden Brown’ and ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ by 10cc, this had Madonna, The Specials, The Herbaliser, Oasis and – most impressively – ‘Angel’ by Massive Attack. Watch this scene, powerful stuff.
Looking back through this, I’ve realised it’s a mostly a mix of gangster and quirky, indie films. I’m comfortable with that. It reflects my film tastes, in terms of how music has influenced my love of a particular film at least. There was a lot of films that didn’t make the cut, but it’s a top 10 list, you have to be ruthless.
Use of music in film
I think there’s two routes you can go when using music to complement your film. Either have the music interwoven with the whole theme and tone of the film (think Wes Anderson, Jason Reitman). Or use individual songs to give particular scenes an emotional wallop (Martin Scorsese, Guy Ritchie).
Tarantino the wildcard
An interesting exception to the rule – for me – is Tarantino. Mostly I think he follows the Scorsese approach. However, if you take Kill Bill 1, he uses RZA from Wu-Tang Clan to produce the soundtrack, which weaves perfectly through the film.
‘The Lonely Shepherd’ by Gheorghe Zamfir is such a perfect song for this film. East meets West, pan pipes moving into spaghetti western. RZA heard this eating in a Thai restaurant. Not hard to believe. Similarly Tarantino heard ‘Woo hoo’ by the 18.104.22.168’s just as he was about to leave a shop in Tokyo. He persuaded the shop to sell him the CD and then got the band to appear in the film.
Anyway, I’m going off topic. This probably just proves Kill Bill should really be in my top 10 list. The Hattori Hanzo scene is a true classic and really should have convinced me of this. I humbly beg your forgiveness and ask that it be included as a wildcard.