This year brought moviegoers an array of music that ranged from uplifting (About Time “How Long Will I Love You”) to depressing (The Great Gatsby‘s “Young and Beautiful”) to catchy (Inside Llewyn Davis‘ “Please Mr. Kennedy”) to nostalgic (Saving Mr. Banks‘ “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”) to just plain out there (Spring Breakers‘ “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”). Whether it was a film about throwing (or attending) the best party of your life or one about intense family drama, the music pushed stories to new heights, whether it was an Alien rapping on the beach or two mothers pushing their children to the breaking point.
Film music is no longer just orchestration and catchy pop songs – it is dubstep and bands you would normally hear on the radio taking to the conductor’s stand. Simply put – it is an exciting time for music in film because there are no rules.
Now it’s time to relive some of the best music moments from this past year with scores from composers new to the scene and those continuing to churn out groundbreaking music, as well as soundtracks that featured songs from bands and artists who discovered new talents while collaborating.
13. Saving Mr. Banks
As is standard with any Disney film, Mary Poppins is full of music you can sing along to, and anyone who grew up with this Disney classic should be taken right back to their childhood when these songs strike up. Saving Mr. Banks takes audiences behind the scenes of the making of Mary Poppins, but it is the scenes featuring Mary Poppins‘ author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and composers Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak) creating this music that shine, giving these iconic songs even more meaning.
Composer Thomas Newman rounds things out with a score that helps tie together these catchy tunes with the conflicted emotions Travers had bringing her story to the big screen to create a nostalgia driven compilation that should also stand the test of time.
12. About Time
Richard Curtis knows how to put together a great soundtrack, and he proves that fact once again with the soundtrack for About Time. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a man who can bounce around the timeline of his life and Curtis wisely uses recognizable music to help subtly place the time period he has landed in. But the music is not merely a story device, it rounds out the narrative to make Tim and Mary (Rachel McAdams) feel like real people who listen to the radio and comment about music in every day conversation.
The soundtrack itself is a great mix of artists from Ben Folds to The Cure to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds that never feel forced within the context of the film and work together as a fantastic playlist when listening to the soundtrack on its own.
10. The Great Gatsby
9. Pain & Gain
8. Sound City
Dave Grohl is known for making good music so it’s no surprise his directorial debut, Sound City, features a rocking soundtrack. The film celebrates the famed studio by filling the narrative with the famous songs that were recorded there and having renowned artists come back together to record new ones. From Rick Springfield to Fleetwood Mac to Grohl’s other famous band (Nirvana), Sound City gives their hits new life by explaining how the studio helped launch their careers and creates an electric journey through this period in music history. But the soundtrack is more than just a tribute album, it is proof that while the studio may be gone, the Neve board and the sound it created lives on.
7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Of Monsters and Men‘s “Dirty Paws” introduced the world of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in the film’s trailer and the film’s full soundtrack continues that uplifting feeling with songs from José González and Rouge Wave. Walter (Ben Stiller) lives in a fantasy world and that feeling of being connected to reality while still being slightly removed from it is reflected in the soundtrack with artists like Jack Johnson singing “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” Bahamas with The Weather Station singing a stripped down version of “You Don’t Want Me,” and Grace Mitchell singing “Maneater” plus David Bowie singing “Space Oddity” along with Kristin Wiig.
These new versions are fun and quirky, much like Walter himself (or at least the version he fancies himself to be), and they create a soundtrack that is emotionally connective without being too serious. Most importantly, it is a compilation that you will have no problem leaving on a loop.
6. Dallas Buyers Club
Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is a character who is larger than life (even when life tries to take him down a notch) and the music to accompany the story of such a man also has to sound large. While Dallas Buyers Club is set in 1985, the soundtrack is full of current artists such as The Airborne Toxic Event, The Naked and Famous, AWOLNATION, and Thirty Seconds to Mars that bring a palpable energy that will have you tapping your feet as you cheer Ron on. Capital Cities brings an ’80s vibe to the Bee Gee‘s ’70s tune “Stayin’ Alive” which grounds the song in the time period of Dallas Buyers Club while working as a sly nod to exactly what Ron is trying to do (and help others do) – stay alive.
5. Spring Breakers
When Cliff Martinez teamed up with Skrillex you knew you were going to get something insane, and Spring Breakers needed something insane. The story of a group of bored college students looking to have the best spring break of their lives quickly devolved into madness when the girls hook up with local thug, Alien (James Franco). From the opening track, you are brought into a heightened world that is equal parts mindless party and timeless trance. Where Skrillex delivers the beats, Martinez scales things back a bit to create a tranquil sound that perfectly sets you up for the next downbeat. Alien may be charming enough to make you forget your inhibitions and the Spring Breakers soundtrack is the perfect mix to have you dive into a world of pure escapism.
Creating music for the future is never an easy task, but M83 rose to the occasion by composing a score that sounds like it was created sixty-four years from now while still having the emotional resonance to make you want to fight for humanity alongside Jack (Tom Cruise). Veteran composer Joseph Trapanese (who also worked with Daft Punk on Tron: Legacy and Linkin Park‘s Mike Shinoda on The Raid: Redemption) helps give the score a cinematic feel without losing M83’s signature sound. M83’s understanding of how to layer electronic elements keeps Oblivion feeling fresh and draws you into this off-putting world that has familiar elements, but never feels quite right.
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
When you combine Joel and Ethan Cohen with T-Bone Burnett, you are pretty much guaranteed fantastic music and the three deliver once again with the soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis. The music is endlessly singable (as folk music should be) while still reflecting the pain Llewyn (Oscar Issac) is going through as he struggles to create a place for himself within the gig scene of the time and come to terms with the loss of his collaborator.
Inside Llewyn Davis celebrates this music by allowing the performances to play without interruption and the soundtrack gives you all that music in one place on a compilation you will be playing (and singing along to) well into the new year.
1. Only God Forgives
Cliff Martinez described his score for Only God Forgives as an accidental “horror score,” and he is not wrong. Nicolas Winding Refn‘s long-time collaborator follows the director to Bangkok and creates a score that delivers his signature electronic elements, but infuses them with the sounds of Thailand. But the most memorable element is the terrifying undercurrent of vibrating tones that run throughout the entire score, never letting up and never letting you (the listener) relax.
The local singers featured on the soundtrack have beautiful voices, but that tranquility is ironically juxtaposed with intense violence on screen. And even though you cannot see those images when listening to the soundtrack on its own, Martinez reflects that fear throughout his score, and did in fact end up creating his own brand of unforgettable, unrelenting “horror.”