This week’s user-submitted Top 10 comes from a guy I know very well. Cameron Hawk, from Lawrence, KS, is a singer/guitarist in The Dead Girls. It’s only appropriate then that he rings in on the ongoing debate in our Top 10s about music in movies. If you have a Top 10 idea you’d like to submit, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know the sitegoers here are movie-obsessed freaks because I’ve seen the comments we get on these Top 10s and we’ve had lots of great user-submitted Top 10s recently. Now it’s your turn to weigh in. If you have a Halloween-themed list, I’d be especially interested. We’ve already done overlooked scary movies, movie monsters, and movie-inspired Halloween costumes, but anything else is up for grabs! meanwhile, here’s Cameron’s fantastic list:
I know Eric and J.D. both did their Top 10 favorite soundtracks, and both of those lists were stellar. This is not what I’m doing here, however. I took 10 movie moments that stick out in my mind specifically because of the songs used in those moments. I had only had one rule in making this list—NO MUSICALS. I wanted to focus on non-musical motion pictures that have the ability to make us take more from a song than we originally would. In short, films that make the most of their music—films that use their music well.
10. “Super Freak” by Rick James, as used in Little Miss Sunshine
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So maybe this movie was a little cutesy for some people … that is, until the scene in which this song is used. Not only do we finally get to see Olive (Abigail Breslin) perform the routine that she and her “open-minded” grandfather (Alan Arkin, in an Oscar-winning role) spend much of the movie preparing for the Little Miss Sunshine youth beauty pageant, but it ends up being a striptease to this song, which Rick James wrote as an ode to sadomasochism. Appropriately, the reaction of the bearded audience member in the biker jacket who obviously doesn’t have a daughter in the competition (if you know what I mean) is priceless.
9. “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes, as used in Goodfellas
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I’ve never been a fan of Eric Clapton, but I will say that director Martin Scorsese’s classic mob epic actually helped me to appreciate him a little. It’s one of the many situations in several Scorsese movies where he takes an extremely well-known classic rock tune and gives us a new way to imagine it (he’s still doing it today—they are all over the place in “The Departed”). As bodies are discovered in some of the most unlikely of places—a garbage truck, a meat locker, etc.—during one of the best montages in film, the second half of “Layla,” with its beautiful piano melody and soaring slide guitar, becomes the perfect eulogy for these dead mobsters. Though no words are sung, the section of the song captures a beauty that can’t be verbally described. Granted, Scorsese uses the half that Clapton didn’t write. What can I say, the man has taste.
8. “Wise Up” by Aimee Mann, as used in Magnolia
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It is not unknown that much of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s inspiration for “Magnolia” came from Aimee Mann’s music, and though it is my least favorite PT Anderson picture, there is much to fall in love with—some stellar performances, truly original moments, and (as usual) an amazing soundtrack. But probably the most memorable thing about “Magnolia” is this scene in particular, where the film’s central characters stop to participate in a little sing-along to one of Mann’s best songs. “It’s not going to stop until you wise up/It’s not going to stop, so just give up.” In studying all of these characters—two dying celebrities with crippling regret, a kid genius under pressure, a former kid genius trying to regain happiness, a male nurse trying to fulfill a dying wish, a chauvinist motivational speaker with daddy issues, a young woman who drowns her pain in drugs, and a buffoon cop who strives to be a badass one—this line seems to offer not the answer they are looking for, but the only one they can find.
7. “Stuck In The Middle” by Stealers Wheel, as used in Reservoir Dogs
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Thanks to this scene, Michael Madsen will always creep me out. Anyone who can turn a moment with a happy-go-lucky song like “Stuck In The Middle” into an utter nightmare ought to have that effect. As Madsen assures a bound and gagged police officer of his imminent death, he prepares his tools of torture and, as many would do while they are working, flips on the radio. “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,” Madsen sings, as he dances mockingly in front of the pleading policeman. This scene is brilliantly directed—Tarantino makes sure that Madsen makes every word and every motion count, building squeamishly to that first moment of contact, and it’s all set to the backdrop of one of America’s favorite cruising tunes. Did I mention the word “ear” yet?
6. “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger, as used in Boogie Nights
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After Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and his buddy Chest Rockwell (John C. Rielly) quit the porn industry, they quickly spiral downward into an abyss of drug abuse and nostalgia. At the suggestion of a friend, they visit the home of big-time coke dealer Rahad Jackson with the intention of robbing him. Jackson (a hilarious Alfred Molina) snorts cocaine, plays “Sister Christian” repeatedly as he geeks out about the drum fills, and is followed around by a younger-looking boy who hops around, setting off firecrackers. Night Ranger’s classic power ballad about a good girl gone bad is perfect for heightening tension in this scene, thanks to the famous drum buildup that helps the killer chorus to blast off. Of course, the Black Cats exploding every 15 seconds don’t necessarily ease things. As the song progresses, our heroes get to sweatin’ more and more until the inevitable coke-fueled gunfight ensues. Another memorable Paul Thomas Anderson moment.
5. “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies, as used in Fight Club
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Perhaps at least partially responsible for The Pixies much-deserved resurgence, director David Fincher’s “Fight Club” uses the track in the most appropriate way possible—(SPOILER ALERT) after Tyler Durden (Edward Norton) shoots himself in the head just in time to kill his other personality (Brad Pitt) before it completely takes over his mind, but not in time to stop the destruction of several skyscrapers that house most of the major credit-card businesses. Thus, as the fire explodes into the night sky and the buildings come crashing down, the first few jarring guitar lines of “Where Is My Mind” ring out as if triggered by the bombs themselves. Durden watches the show in slow motion from several stories up with his girlfriend Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), and as the self-inflicted bullet hole on the side of his face oozes the dark blood of his former other self, The Pixies’ Black Francis sings “Your head’ll collapse/cuz there’s nothing in it/and you’ll ask yourself/where is my mind?” Yeah, I’d say that’s appropriate.
4. “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John, as used in Almost Famous
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Now time for a personal question: Have you ever taken a bunch of acid and told your friends to fuck off, only to be forgiven, taken in, and serenaded by them? Russell Hammond of Stillwater (Billy Crudup) has. Now a classic movie moment from writer/director Cameron Crowe, the sing-along to “Tiny Dancer” on Stillwater’s tour bus (kicked off by none other than Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon, who plays Stillwater’s bassist) feels so rooted in reality because—like much of “Almost Famous”—it actually happened. This whole movie is a testament to the healing power of music. The characters do some pretty messed up stuff to each other, but it seems that no matter what happens, they find some way back to rocking out and enjoying life. The real question is: Was it the drugs, or was it Elton John? One of them will save the world.
3. “The End” by The Doors, as used in Apocalypse Now
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Earlier I spoke of my dislike for Eric Clapton. Well, take that, multiply it by a thousand times, and you still wouldn’t have as much hatred as I reserve for The Doors. So if you’re going to get me to like something by these guys, it had better be one hell of a presentation—and that’s exactly what director Francis Ford Coppola gives us in the opening moments of “Apocalypse Now.” As the eerie guitar line begins to creep in, we are given a slow motion long shot of a rainforest in Vietnam. The chop of helicopter blades can be heard slightly, and we can see shadows of them flying overhead. All of a sudden, right as Jim Morrison sings the opening line, “This is the end,” the canopy explodes in flames. It’s one of the most amazing shots ever recorded on film, but the use of the 10-minute song doesn’t end there. As it progresses into a brain-quelling mash of organ, tambourine and tribal drums, we are treated to a few glimpses into the mental state of Captain Ben Willard (Martin Sheen). Based on what we see from him, it certainly feels like the end, but it’s really only the beginning.
2. “A Quick One, While He’s Away” by The Who, as used in Rushmore
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In a simple explanation, Pete Townshend’s mini-opera about a lonely wife who cheats on her husband while he is away for a long period does not seem that it would help to enhance this scene from “Rushmore,” where two friends do terrible things to each other in the name of love. However, writer/director Wes Anderson has a real talent for using music that helps moviegoers feel what they should feel instead of just telling them what they should know. That’s why it’s funny when Mr. Blume (Bill Murray) realizes Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) has disabled the brakes on his car. Though it is quite a serious situation, as Blume vainly stomps on the useless pedal and plows through the Rushmore campus with kids diving out of the way and people gasping in terror, every time I hear Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend sing “You are forgiven” over and over again with the Who’s legendary rhythm section wailing all the while, I cheer with laughter. It’s base-level irony, but it’s still a hoot!
1. “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy, as used in Do The Right Thing
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During the opening credits of “Do the Right Thing,” Rosie Perez can be found dancing her ass off to “Fight the Power” in front of brightly-colored red and orange buildings. Right off the bat, we get the feeling that this is not necessarily a “quiet” neighborhood. Writer/director Spike Lee uses Public Enemy’s classic anthem—abrasive yet relentlessly truthful—as more than a theme song to his movie. Sure, lyrically it matches the themes of the story, but it becomes more of a weapon. Throughout the film, Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) walks up and down his Brooklyn street playing “Fight the Power” from an enormous boom box. At one point, he brings it to Sal’s Famous Pizzeria and Italian owner Sal (Danny Aiello) does not appreciate it. “No music,” Sal explains. “No rap, no music, no music, no music!” As tensions mount in the neighborhood, Raheem’s boom box seems to get louder and louder. It may be hip-hop, but Public Enemy’s music is just like rock and roll—it gets LOUD. Before long, everyone is just screaming over it, as if they are trying to keep the message of the song out of their minds. In the end, this tactic, which real people utilize everyday, proves to be fatal. So what’s the lesson here? Shut the fuck up and listen, people!