I don’t know about you, but oftentimes I find myself analyzing the music behind a movie just as much as the film itself. It’s difficult to determine to what extent a soundtrack influences my opinion of a movie’s quality…technically it shouldn’t, but I always favor movies with indie-geared soundtracks (500 Days of Summer, Garden State) all the same. It’s something that annoys the hell out of my friends, which is why I’m not sure if this is common or if there is just something really wrong with me. But anyway, I glanced through my library and pulled out notable soundtracks (some good, others very bad) and decided to evaluate them for their contributions to the movie and their overall quality. Since it’s Halloween today, let’s begin with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas:
This is one of those movies with a cult following, and I totally get why. It’s stunningly original, visually appealing for its time, and it features a thoroughly enjoyable plot. For music enthusiasts, the soundtrack has to be another reason. It follows the storyline extremely closely, sometimes even narrating through song or spoken word (via Danny Elfman). It has been remade, but nothing touches the original which, if you ask me, is a classic.
Sample: “This Is Halloween” by Danny Elfman
Now this one I never understood the hype for. I was a sophomore in college when I first watched this, and I couldn’t see for the life of me what my girlfriend saw in it. The cliched love story was probably the culprit, but then again I never thought the characters were all that interesting either. Anyway, for as much as I have always loved the Beatles, I couldn’t get into a soundtrack with so little variation stylistically. And even though I just got done telling you how much music means to me in a movie, I still can’t enjoy a film that forces the musical aspect on you as much as this does (maybe it’s an elaborate metaphor for how the Beatles are shoved down our throats as kids growing up in this society…but I doubt it). I know, I know, it it pretty much a musical so maybe I’m in the wrong here but anyway I give this a C, because I hated it but you can’t deny the genius behind the Beatles’ songwriting.
“All My Loving” – Originally by the Beatles
This is one of my favorite films of all time, and I promise you it doesn’t have everything to do with Zooey Deschanel’s leading role in the cast (it still has a lot to do with it, though). It’s very unique in its method of presentation, and even though many people seem to have unfairly assigned it the “chick flick” tag, it is not a love story. Well, at least that’s what the narrator wants you to think during the opening credits. To be honest, it is pretty much the epitome of what you would call a “love story”, only it is much more realistic. Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is, like many women, fickle. Furthermore, she is strong willed, independent, and (contrary to Hollywood stereotypes) utterly against relationships. In what is essentially a chick flick from a male’s perspective, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has his heart shattered…and it became, at least for myself and many friends who endured similar hardships, a representation of every girl who ever cheated us out of happiness for reasons we couldn’t comprehend. If you pay attention to the movie closely, however, you will realize that Zooey’s character isn’t malicious and that perhaps, after all, every girl has a reason for making her decisions.
Oh yeah, and the soundtrack rules. Has a few weak songs I guess but the good tracks really grab your attention. Here’s one:
“Hero” by Regina Spektor
I was tricked! I don’t even remember what movie we were supposed to be seeing that night, but my college friend of the female persuasion somehow coerced me into watching this once we got to the theater (presumably I didn’t get anything truly worthwhile out of it) and it was every bit the nightmare I expected it to be. Even a nine year old girl turned around and snickered at the sight of me in the theater. Anyway, Hannah Montana sucks and so does this soundtrack, minus this one by Taylor Swift – which you can stream below!
“Crazier” by Taylor Swift
Between this “movie” and the one that preceded it, I will no longer hold you accountable for accusing me of bad taste. But if it makes you feel any better, I hated this film just as much as the last one – the only difference is that I actually like the soundtrack. It barely contributes to the actual movie itself, but as a separate entity it isn’t so bad. Some of the instrumental tracks are pretty cool, and as a whole it is nice to relax to during my morning commute. My personal favorite is Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ performance of “This Time”, a song that I’m sure will make an appearance on somebody’s mixed tape for a girl at some point. It’s just too romantic not to induce googly eyes.
“This Time” by Jonathan Rhys Meyers
The previews led me to believe that this would be a pretty dumb movie, so I avoided it altogether until a couple weeks ago when it came on television. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong about this. The film more than exceeded its hype, and the soundtrack, headed by N.E.R.D. mastermind Pharrell Williams, is equally as brilliant. The bouncy, hip-hop vibe lends Despicable Me a sense of youthfulness and, more importantly, separates it from the run of the mill “Disney sing-along” approach that every kids movie seems to adopt. Consider me hooked, both on the movie and its super fun soundtrack.
“Prettiest Girls” by Pharrell
All the trailers and previews the media had to offer didn’t prepare me for the sheer brilliance of director Darren Aranofsky’s masterpiece, one that was made even grander by Portman’s dedicated preparation (she trained extensively in ballet dancing and lost a considerable amount of weight) and utterly believable portrayal of someone suffering from schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. The storyline is plenty elaborate, complex enough to deceive you, and packed with enough palpable suspense to leave you feeling a mixed bag of emotions ranging from alienation to empathy. But throughout the whole thing, there is a nagging feeling that something else is behind the steering wheel…taking each turn in the plot with frightening instability and recklessness. That subtle push comes from Clint Mansell’s haunting soundtrack – one that introduces the movie with magisterial elegance and sees it all the way through to its terrifying end. Allow yourself to be enchanted, transported, and devastated.
“Perfection” by Clint Mansell
Saving the best for last.
The Garden State soundtrack swells with an even-keeled spontaneity; a sort of modesty brought about by its unequivocal beauty and effortlessly fluid progression. The album could be seen as a blend of several indie subgenres, each one surfacing with unique temptations designed to rope you in. There is the way that the sinister undertones of ‘In the Waiting Line’ invite you to further explore all of Zero 7’s ethereal creations, the way that Colin Hay’s ‘I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You’ introduces a heart-on-your-sleeve acoustic style of balladry – and least we forget, the spiritually uplifting nature of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Only Living Boy In New York.’ With songs spanning nearly four decades, Garden State truly feels like the definitive retrospective of alternative and indie music – a timeline, if you will, of the genre leading up to its present glory. Some of Garden State’s most breathtaking moments are made so by the accompanying musical backdrop. At its most poignant, Remy Zero’s raw and emotionally profound ‘Fair’ leads the way. Iron & Wine’s cover of ‘Such Great Heights’ lends itself to the film’s soft-spoken sense of sophistication. The Shins, making two contributions, highlight the slowly unraveling plot with their brand of chilled, atmospheric mid-tempo rock. Upon hearing those tracks now, it is hard not to be taken back to the scene where Natalie Portman introduces Zach Braff to their song ‘New Slang’, stating “You gotta hear this one song. It will change your life, I swear.” In a way, that’s how Garden State’s soundtrack works. If you have never gotten into indie before, all bets are that you will find something stunningly you in here.
“Fair” by Remy Zero