Music at the Movies: Best Use of Music in Films of 2014

I love a great hook, a moment where the song in the background and the storyline mesh in such a way that it elevates what’s happening onscreen. Almost Famous is my favorite movie and it’s helped by the film’s astounding usage of music from Joni Mitchell’s “River” when Penny Lane and Russell reunite to one my favorite scenes in any movie ever where the band, band aids and friends sing to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”. Today filmmakers such as Xavier Dolan know how music enhances the movie experience. Music and film are both looking to target emotions and draw forth emotional responses so when they’re combined, they create something captivating. So, now that I’ve been self-indulgent, here are my Top 12 moments in film where music helped aid the narrative or, maybe, was just a bit of fun. (I already feel like I’m forgetting something great, let me know in the comments which moments you would have chose.)

Whiplash – Ending Scene

Teacher and student, abuser and victim, master and pupil: however you want to see it, the dynamic between the two leads played by J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller is frightening due to its intensity and the dynamic is never as apparent as it is in the last few moments. Teller’s character has been shot down again but takes his seat one last time to prove to his abuser that he has what it takes and screw him if he doesn’t think so. It has all of the elements of a great thriller and the composed jazz music amps up the tension to edge of your seat proportions.

The Lego Movie-“ Everything is Awesome”

This movie was a lot more enjoyable than it had any right to be. It was a vibrant, dizzying mess of fun and it’s the catchy tune “Everything Is Awesome” that brings us in. It’s kind of ridiculous, ear catching and just full of all of the contradictions that the movie is going to end up running with.


Pride- “Shame Shame Shame”

Dominic West isn’t an actor I typically associate with song and dance numbers, but he certainly is convincing when he’s given the opportunity to let loose. Pride is about as feel good as you can get with movies about miners strikes and LGBTQ rights and it starts to really hit it’s crescendo when West’s character Jonathan takes to the dance floor at a community mixer to try and liven up the towns downtrodden spirits and it succeeds in spades. His old school charm mixed with his energetic dancing to “Shame Shame Shame” allows for the film to pick up momentum and bring the two opposing groups together.



Begin Again- “A Step You Can’t Take Back”

We got to see this song performed a number of times from the opening sequence, to Dan’s (Mark Ruffalo) point of view where everything came alive as he composed orchestration to go along with her singer songwriter vibe, to Gretta’s (Keira Knightley) point of view where her performance was nothing but a sign of her bleak predicament. And then he found her in the crowd and they decided to make music together. The song is sweet and soulful and who knew Knightley could sing so well but the real take away is how the song signified the moment when two kindred spirits were about to meet.


Obvious Child-“Obvious Child”

Two young people, plastered, having fun and about to have sex. Of course this ultimately leads to an unwanted pregnancy for Donna (Jenny Slate) but it’s a lively and fun moment while it lasts, allowing two goof ball characters some moments to be young and silly. The movie allows more emotions than one would expect and it moments like this one where the two dance around in their living room, half dressed and with beers in hand that the film gets its levity.

God Help the Girl- “I’ll Have to Dance With Cassie”

I fell for this film harder than I thought I would before I started it and, while there are other songs to choose from that showcase the characters growth, pain or hidden longing, few of them were as fun as “I’ll Have to Dance With Cassie”. Emily Browning seems to be criminally and continuously underrated and she gets to show off her pipes and in this scene is particular her charming dance moves. Dressed in semi-vintage get up and rocking out to pop-songs rarely looked as fun.

Boyhood – “Hero”

There are a lot of moments where music influenced the overall atmosphere in Boyhood, oftentimes I’d imagine, purposefully. Boyhood is a series of moments marked by small nods to time such as them reading Harry Potter books or playing Game Boys but music takes a precedence from the very beginning, creating an overall bottled time feeling. However, it’s the utilization of the song “Hero” by Family of the Year that left its mark because it’s when we really, truly realize how far this kid has come from when we first met him. Sure it’s not quite the end of the film, but it certainly feels like a goodbye to this character we’ve come to know so well.

Frank –“I Love You All”

Frank isn’t an easily digestible film and I can see how it could be divisive. Not much happens in this film and the lead played by Domnhall Gleeson is mildly infuriating but even the naysayers have to admit some nudge of emotion in the closing scene as Frank (played wonderfully by Michael Fassbender) joins up with his band again, finding his home and sense of security with his gang of misfits. It’s a crooning, lovely song that spells out all of Franks closed off feelings.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Opening sequence “Where No One Goes”

I think I can say without a doubt that How to Train Your Dragon 2 wins the year in terms of character introduction, or re-introduction I guess. Bringing Hiccup and Toothless back to life through a gorgeous sequence of the two flying over the ocean was already great, but add the Jonsi song “Where No One Goes” and you’ve got something magical. It was a true cinematic moment, allowing audiences to instantly be sucked back into a familiar world. The fact that the song seemed damn near choreographed with the characters motions made it even better.

Guardians of the Galaxy – “Come and Get Your Love”

Guardians of the Galaxy thrived on its mix of tunes, helping propel the film away from being any form of standard superhero fanfare. Introducing us to the mixed-genre craziness is “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone which Star Lord dances to throughout a grim looking cave, allowing us a wonderful juxtaposition of the wild hilarity of the film and ramped up energy as well as the Indiana Jones styled sense of adventure. There was no better way of introducing our lead character all grown up.

Only Lovers Left Alive – “Trapped By A Thing Called Love”

Music is a huge, underlying theme in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive due to the characters Adam (Tom Hiddleson) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) and their adoration of all things art and expression. They get a quiet, retrospective moment to reflect on both their love of music, dancing and each other with the song “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” by Denise Lasalle. It’s not quite as in your face meditative or eerie as the rest of the movie, it’s actually quite sweet, and it brings these two vampires to life in a manner in which we hadn’t yet seen in the movie.

The Skeleton Twins – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”

This could be my favorite scene from any movie this year, period. It’s a culmination of Milo and Maggie getting to know one another again after years of not speaking; it’s the two finally coming to the same page and letting loose. It’s a moment of bonding and if you say you weren’t wearing a face splitting grin while watching I’m inclined to believe you’re a big fat liar. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s chemistry is off the charts here and it’s all done through song. It doesn’t feel contrived or forced in to allow Wiig and Hader more broad comedy, instead it feels like a requisite moment of understanding and sibling connection where these two get to see each other as they used to be.


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