Say it with muzak…

Cameron Crowe is a filmmaker who knows a thing or two about creating inspired musical moments on film, whether it’s the use of Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ in 2000’s Almost Famous, or, even more indelible, Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’ playing on the boombox that Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) holds aloft to woo his beloved Diane (Ione Skye) in 1989’s Say Anything. So it’s only fitting that Crowe would be invited by leading movie magazine Empire to make a list of his favourite music moments from the movies. That list can be found on the mag’s website, but meanwhile here’s my top 5 in no particular order. Full-blown movie musicals are not included because that would a, mean an endless list, and b, I guess the idea is really to see how the cinema reflects the significance of music in ‘straight’, everyday, hum-drum lives; how the blending of melody, image and subtext is harmonized to the point of cinematic perfection, so much so that the combo becomes imprinted on the minds of generations of moviegoers. So without further ado…

 Stuck In The Middle With You (Stealer’s Wheel) – Reservoir Dogs (1992)

If music be the food of love, play on. But what if it’s also the soundtrack to a psychopath’s dance of delirium? As employed in Quentin Tarantino’s audacious directorial debut, Gerry Rafferty and co.’s infectious little 70’s tune takes on gleefully grisly proportions, as stark-raving bonkers criminal Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) jacks up the volume while torturing a hapless cop. Ask yourselves, can you ever hear the song without thinking of the sliced-off ear of the law?

 Falling Slowly / If You Want Me (Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova) – Once (2006)

When Hansard and Irglova collected their Oscar for Best Original Song, many must have turned to each other and asked ‘who?’ The little-known musicians and their little-known film sort of just sneaked under the radar, and made it to the podium past other, bigger nominees. But it’s not hard to see why. Okay, so this choice flouts the no-musical rule of this list a little, but Once is no conventional musical. It’s a film that feels like real life, and its musical moments have a raw emotional quality that have as much to do with the soulful music as with the realness of its protagonists. So when the two enter a music shop and start to harmonise on guitar and piano to ‘Falling Slowly’ (the Oscar winning song), it’s as if we’re witnessing a fly-on-the-wall moment of two people falling in love in real time. Just as sublime is the long-take sequence of ‘If You Want Me’, which has Irglova singing along to the track on her primitive walkman as she walks back home at night after having bought batteries for the gadget – in her nightclothes.  

 Canned Heat (Jamiroquai) – Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Quirky Brit outfit Jamiroquai’s retro disco/funk anthem is the perfect accompaniment to the rocked-out dance moves of shock-haired nerd extraordinaire Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder). The lowly put-upon high-schooler with the glorious overbite and dysfunctional family and social life has been keeping the thunder of his nimble toes under wraps, but when his loser Chicano best friend needs his support in his run for class president (‘Vote for Pedro!’), the Napster unleashes his own canned heat on the school stage. The result? A moment crystallized when every ugly duckling can become a sweet badass, even if only for 3 minutes and 48 seconds.

 Danke Schoen (Wayne Newton) / Twist and Shout (The Beatles) – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

23 years on and this cult classic is still probably the best, classiest, most spot-on teen comedy there is out there. While the Porkys and the American Pies reduced teenagers largely to slobbering mush-heads in enslavement to their raging hormones and piddling grey matter, Ferris Bueller showed the young ‘uns as smart, thoughtful and individualistic beings who had more than creaking bedsprings on the brain. When Bueller (Matthew Broderick) and friends ditch school, they don’t go on hormonal rampages or tear up the town in a hot car. No, they hang out amidst great works of art, eat a posh meal, give each other emotional ammo to face impending adulthood, and, perhaps most memorably, crash a town parade as the last hurrah to a perfect day. First Bueller warms them up with Wayne Newton’s kooky ditty (‘I recall / Central Park in fall / when you tore your dress / what a mess/ I confess’) and then brings the house down with an uproarious lip-synch to The Beatles’ rock ‘n roller – and voila! An immortal movie moment is born.

 Wise Up (Aimee Mann) – Magnolia (1999)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson is one fearless filmmaker, having peppered his films with some of the most oft-quoted, bold sequences ever seen in movies, whether it’s Mark Wahlberg making you say hello to his, uh, little ‘friend’ in 1997’s Boogie Nights, or Daniel Day Lewis rasping “I …drink… your… milkshake!” in 2007’s There Will Be Blood, or the sky raining down a plague of frogs in Magnolia. But perhaps his bravest move comes in the form of the sequence in the latter where all the major characters in this multi-thread narrative – damaged and fractured souls seeking comfort and redemption – all tune into the radio at the exact same moment Mann strikes up her affecting lament. ‘It won’t stop till you wise up’, she sings, and they all start to sing along. Cheesy or transcendent? You decide. But Cameron too was deeply moved by its stripped-down, unabashed emotionality.


Honourable mention:

(What a) Wonderful World (Greg Chapman) – Witness (1985)

Harrison Ford dances!

My Funny Valentine (Matt Damon) – The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Jason Bourne sings!

Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees) – Saturday Night Fever (1977)

John Travolta struts!

Across 110th Street (Bobby Womack) – Jackie Brown (1997)

Pam Grier drives!

Somebody To Love (Jim Carrey) – The Cable Guy (1996)

Rubber-face rocks!

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