SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for some of the movies featured on this list. If you have not seen one of the titles on this list, we recommend making a mental note, but then scroll on!
The power of music in film can never be understated. There are many classic sequences that wouldn’t be what they are without the proper soundtrack — either the sounds of an original score, or the application of a pre-existing tune. Every year we see tons of movies with scenes that go from great to phenomenal with employment of the right song and the perfect cue. The past 12 months have been no exception, as audiences enjoyed an abundance of brilliant movie music moments — but here we are ready to highlight the best of the best.
Truth be told, 2018 was an exceptional year in this category, and it was tremendously hard putting this list together and deleting titles. As much as I wanted to include “A Place Called Slaughter Race” from Ralph Breaks The Internet, and “Dick’s Heart Is Heathier Than Ever” from Vice, I could only pick 10, and they are the 10 you will find below (in no particular order). Read on to discover the choices and our argument for them, and hit the comments section at the bottom with your own thoughts and opinions in this arena.
“Little Joe The Wrangler (Surly Joe)” in The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
All the different shades and tones of the Coen brothers are on full display in the anthology The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, and it’s the first segment that showcases them at their comedic best. Tim Blake Nelson is absolutely genius as a Looney Tunes-esque minstrel cowboy, and there are multiple moments that are hilarious enough to knock you out of your seat. This includes all of the musical sequences (there are three), but we’re giving special attention to “Little Joe the Wrangler (Surly Joe).”
It all begins with Buster Scruggs (Nelson) entering a saloon full of seedy individuals, and ultimately executing one of the most incredible and surprising executions in recent memory when in a showdown with a man named Surly Joe (Clancy Brown). At first all of the patrons are absolutely horrified by this turn of events, but Scruggs is able to quickly get them on his side by singing a jaunty tune about how terrible his victim really was. It’s a bit that’s as dark as it is hilarious, but that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Joel and Ethan Coen.
“Olga’s Destruction (Volk Tape)” in Suspiria
Thom Yorke has been making incredible music for decades now, but only this year did he make his debut as a film composer. And what a remarkable debut it is. Yorke’s work on the score for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is haunting, mysterious, disturbing, and excellent — as you would wholly expect from a film about a ballet academy that serves as a cover for a coven of witches. The music enhances every scene in which it’s featured, and is particularly glorious in one of the movie’s most horrific sequences.
Olga (Elena Fokina) has reached a breaking point, and is unable to cope with the fact that nothing has been done about the disappearance of fellow dancer Patricia (Chloe Moretz). She cries and curses the instructors, calling them witches, and it’s a rebellious act that cannot be tolerated. Without her knowing, Susie (Dakota Johnson) is enchanted to essentially control Olga’s body, and during an intercut montage is shown to contort and kill her. The music is simple, all played on a piano, but the escalation is remarkable and has you leaving fingernail imprints in the armrest as you watch it play out.
“Rubberband Man” in Avengers: Infinity War
Thanks to the soundtracks known as Awesome Mix Vol. 1 and Awesome Mix Vol. 2, the Guardians of the Galaxy are closely associated with the music that accompanies their outer space antics — but it wasn’t entirely clear how that would translate for Avengers: Infinity War prior to the film’s release. After all, the songs were a specific touch added to the Guardians aesthetic by writer/director James Gunn, and the team-up blockbuster didn’t have him at the helm. Fortunately, directors Joe and Anthony Russo did very well by Gunn’s legacy and gave his characters an epic intro track to bring them into the blockbuster’s action.
James Gunn apparently gave the Russo brothers a list of songs to potentially use in Avengers: Infinity War, and all together they wound up making an absolutely brilliant choice with “Rubberband Man” by The Spinners. Not only does the staccato beat at the start pair perfectly with the wonderfully bland title card (“Space”) that shows before the Guardians arrival on the scene, but the singalong that we then see performed impeccably captures the energy of the group — even for audiences who have never seen them before.
“Nautilus” in Eighth Grade
As Kayla (Elsie Fisher) approaches the sliding glass door, you can tell that she is absolutely petrified. She’s not exactly the most confident person in the world — in fact, quite the opposite — and she is mentally preparing to enter one of the most awkward scenes of adolescence: a pool party. It’s a moment that comes across perfectly in Bo Burnham’s direction in Eighth Grade, but what really brings it home is Anna Meredith’s “Nautilus” effortlessly raising the drama.
The track is one that sneaks up on you, starting soft but getting louder and more intense with the addition of more and more trumpets — and it’s perfectly matched by Burnham’s camera slowly pulling out further and further, capturing all of the other self-assured kids having the time of their lives running around the pool and diving in. The chaos in her mind, as well as the music, concludes when Kayla takes a deep breath and opens the door, but in the span of two minutes you are living right inside her mind thanks to the Anna Meredith song.
Colin Freestyles in Blindspotting
Since breaking out with his Tony and Grammy Award-winning work on Hamilton, Daveed Diggs has emerged as a remarkable and special talent — which makes it terribly sad that his most recent film, Blindspotting, hasn’t received more recognition. Directed by Carlos López Estrada and based on a script by Diggs and co-star Rafael Casal, the film not only has an incredibly powerful message and magnificently complex tone, but it reaches a spectacular climax when Diggs’ character, Colin, finds himself freestyle rapping at a man he’s holding at gunpoint.
Colin is shown demonstrating his incredible rhyme skills all throughout Blindspotting, used by the character as a very specific way to vent, but by the time we reach the movie’s big third act twist he’s ready to boil over. This stress and emotional turmoil results in some absolutely devastating and amazing rapping that brilliantly illustrates the horrific and pressurized world for African Americans. It’s awesome in both its ideology and its delivery.
“Shallow” in A Star Is Born
Audiences were always expecting big things from Lady Gaga in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, and most walked away not only satisfied with the experience, but humming the movie’s most notable song. Much like it is in the world of the film, “Shallow” is immediately recognizable as a hit, and while there are a lot of great musical performances in the movie, it definitely is the top dog. And while we actually hear it quite a few times through the feature, it’s the first concert performance that gets placement on this list.
Jackson Maine (Cooper) has to practically drag Ally Maine (Lady Gaga) on stage with him, singing her song for a while without her – but eventually she screws up enough courage to step in front of the crowd and perform her creation. It’s obviously a key scene for A Star Is Born, as the whole story collapses if she doesn’t become an instant sensation in that moment, but fortunately it holds strong and comes together as one of the best movie music moments of 2018.
“This Old Heart Of Mine” in Bad Times At The El Royale
It’s impossible to not love a long take. While filming a ton of footage and then chopping it all up is basic filmmaking, it’s always awesome to see a director challenge themselves by capturing an extended event all without a single cut. There are some legendary examples of this in cinematic history, with the opening of Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil springing to mind, but this year Drew Goddard added his own spin on the idea in Bad Times At The El Royale, pairing the effort with the incredible pipes of Cynthia Erivo and the music of the Isley Brothers.
The cinematography in the sequence by itself is exceptional, following Laramie Seymour Sullivan a.k.a. Dwight Broadbeck (Jon Hamm) as he paces the secret observation hallway of the El Royale Hotel, but it’s the performance by Cynthia Erivo that takes the whole thing to the next level. That voice you hear is not one produced in a recording studio, but instead is Erivo singing “This Old Heart Of Mine” live on set — which is a fact made only more impressive when you learn that she had to repeat the work 27 times. It’s all around magnificent filmmaking, and one of the best cinematic moments of the year.
“The Shape Hunts Allyson” in Halloween
There are many arguments to be made about all of the ways in which John Carpenter’s presence behind the scenes of the new Halloween helped to make it the best in the franchise since the original, but unquestionably at the top of the list is the soundtrack he created along with his son, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. The filmmaker’s background as a composer is practically as long and impressive as his history as a director, and his music is the perfect accent to one of the best moments in David Gordon Green’s movie.
Titled “The Shape Hunts Allyson” on the Halloween OST, the track isn’t long, but its impact is epic. The cue arrives as Michael Myers is taking the body of Oscar (Drew Scheid) and impaling him on a fence, leading Allyson (Andi Matichak) to sprint for her life, and it’s an instant pulse-raiser. It has the flavor of the iconic theme from the 1977 original, but plays on a much higher scale, and much quicker — and most importantly is accompanied with blasting and unsettling power chords off an electric guitar. It’s a brilliant track that epically ushers in the amazing third act and fully pumps the audience for a wild ride.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” in Bohemian Rhapsody
What a shocker that the performance of a song that is used for a film’s title is on this movie music moments list, right? In all seriousness, however, there is some magical stuff happening when Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury takes the stage at Live Aid in Bohemian Rhapsody. Sure, the story isn’t exactly historically accurate, as key details were flipped around for dramatic effect, but that really does nothing to undercut the sheer big screen power on display.
There is no debating that Rami Malek’s performance is dynamite all throughout Bohemian Rhapsody, but the Live Aid concert is a sequence that straight-up pushes you into the back of your seat. A lot of it is movie magic, from the CGI crowds to the synced music, but you’re not thinking about that at all as Freddie takes the stage and belts the most iconic Queen hit of all time. All told, the mere existence of the film as a whole is worth it for this scene.
“Eros” in If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk is certainly not what anyone would call a happy film, as its central subjects live as targets of racial prejudice and victims of an unjust system, but it what does beautifully balance out the melancholy is the uplifting love in the relationship between KiKi Layne’s Tish and Stephen James’ Fonny. The purity and intensity of their bond is what powers them through a harsh and unfair world, and it makes the movie something special. There are a number of examples of this throughout the film, but the one we will highlight is their post-coital chat, gorgeously highlighted by composer Nicholas Britell’s “Eros.”
We see Fonny take Tish’s virginity, an act that she later learns results in a pregnancy, and it’s an experience that draws them together closer than they’ve ever been before. The scene is intercut with shots of the pair riding the subway, their love clear but unspoken, and while in bed they discuss the weight of what they have done, and what it means to them (all captured in stunning and intimate close-up). The music swells as they stare into each other’s eyes on the public transport, and all too soon it cuts to black and silence — an amazing representation of how their lives together are interrupted by Fonny’s wrongful imprisonment.
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