A trio of caveats before we crown my favorite uses of music in 2019 movies, the subject of this chapter in our recap of the past year in film.
A subject not to be confused with movie music (and yes, we’re already inside the first caveat); those original scores and songs will be saved for The Stevens (my picks for the Academy Awards’ official categories), so none were eligible for inclusion in the lists below.
One final exclusion: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. I mean, it’s just not fair to pit archival footage of peak Tambourine Man against, well, anything.
Special citation: Climax
None of the characters sing on screen — my technical definition of a musical — but they perform (to) the music, often through overt choreography, sometimes in cinematic relation to it; the unceasing songs inform each of their gestures in every moment. Since they, the movie, and thus us are always aware of the music’s pervasive presence coursing through the proceedings, Climax can be considered a musical of a different (depraved) color.
Speaking of characters being aware of songs, that’s my classification for a scene to be eligible for this category; the music cannot be merely a soundtrack for the audience’s benefit. Rather, the song(s) being played must exist in the world of the movie, with the characters visually hearing and reacting to them, usually through singing and/or dancing.
- Company Dual Juxtaposition (“You Could Drive a Person Crazy” and “Being Alive”) — Marriage Story
- Dance-Circle Raves — Climax
- “GLORIA!!!” — Gloria Bell
- “Heaven” — Her Smell
- “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” — The Last Black Man in San Francisco
- “Peace in This House” — Wild Rose
- “Space Age Love Song” — End of the Century
- “Pump Up the Jam” — Synonyms
- “They Don’t Really Care About Us” — Midnight Traveler
- Nightclub —> Orgy — Aniara
- MDMA / “King of My Castle” — Loro
- Colonial Ballad — The Nightingale
- “You Oughta Know” — Booksmart
- “Crocodile Rock” — Rocketman
- DIANE FUCKING KEATON — Poms
- “Shake It Off” — Little Monsters
- “Dancing on My Own” — Teen Spirit
- Music Video — Perfect
- “Honky Cat” — Rocketman
- “Thunder Road” — Blinded by the Light
- Recording Steamroll — Yesterday
- “Ocean (Where Feet May Fail)” — Breakthrough
USE OF PREEXISTING SONG
The flip-side to the prior category: these are my favorite uses of preexisting songs — AKA songs not original to the movies (again, I reserve those for the impending Stevens) — that act more like conventional soundtracks, unaccompanied by singing and dancing.
In Movie Proper
- “Out of Time” / “California Dreamin'” — Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
- “In the Still of the Night” — The Irishman
- “Come Healing” — The Farewell
- Michael Bay’s Fuck Playlist — 6 Underground
- “Dancing Queen” — The Two Popes
- “Oops!… I Did It Again” Jazz Standard — Ruben Brandt, Collector
- “Hells Bells” — Pig
- “Somebody to Love” — The Last Black Man in San Francisco
- A Score to Settle
- “Road to Nowhere” — Transit
- “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” — Midsommar
- “Here Come the Martian Martians” — Non-Fiction
- “Doodle Let Me Go (Yaller Girls)” — The Lighthouse
- “Sweet Virginia ” — Knives Out
- “L’Amour Tojours” — Uncut Gems
- “Shotgun Safari” — Dragged Across Concrete
- Lizzo’s Remix of “Stayin’ Alive” — Happy Death Day 2U
- “See You Later, Alligator” — Crawl
- “Wish Someone Would Care” — Chained for Life
- “KHJ Batman Promotion” — Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
- Knock Down the House
This category boils down to more than just the quality of the collected songs evaluated in a vacuum. How the songs are used, what they add to the movies — more than the usual emphatic underscoring of obvious emotions and/or tones, with lyrics that are on-the-nose relevant — and the creativity of the choices should all be factors in our judgements.
Oh, and single-artist catalogues by masters and preexisting musicals don’t count; my apologies to Blinded by the Light, Yesterday, Rocketman, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, other music documentaries, and Cats!
- Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
- 6 Underground
- Gloria Bell
- The Beach Bum
- Wild Rose
- The Souvenir
- The Image Book
- Hail Satan?
- In the Aisles
- Ash Is Purest White
- A Dog’s Way Home
- Adult Life Skills
MOST OVERUSED SONG