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« ACE Editing: Big Little Lies, Best Picture Hopefuls and More... | Main | Criterion hints at 2018 »
Wednesday
Jan032018

Soundtracking: The Best Musical Moments of 2017

Chris here. This past summer I started a series here at The Film Experience called Soundtracking that takes a deeper look at music in the movies. I hope you've loved reading (and listening) along!

2017 proved an appropriate year to start this musical exploration as brilliantly used tracks kept showing up in movies and television shows. Even some things that I didn't care for (Baby Driver, sorry) or missed entirely (Twin Peaks, sorry) proved that music is another storytelling tool that can define a narrative in interesting ways. Even films like The Florida Project and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gave us memorable needle drops! Before Soundtracking brings a close to its first film year with full pieces on I, Tonya and Call Me By Your Name in the next two weeks, let's take a look at the best musical moments of TV and Film of the past year...

Top 5 TV Musical Moments...

5. Difficult People - "Julie Julie"
It was inevitable that the dearly departed and short-lived Difficult People would give us a major musical sequence at some point. But the result was a surprising Aimee Mann-penned melodic dive into our heroine's depression and delusion - revealing the sad-sweet core buried beneath the show's punchlines.

4. Big Little Lies - "Cold Little Heart"
Never underestimate the power of a perfect theme song. Like the rest of the mood-setting on the series' soundtrack, the sound cuts right to the gorgeous longing within Monterey - and if the song's opening electric cooing doesn't place you right on its beaches, you probably watched the show on mute or skipped the credits.

3. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - "The First Penis I Saw"
This season of The CW's cult show was as musically delightful as ever, including the viral hilarity of "Let's Generalize About Men". But the reasons for this ode to sexual memory making the cut are twofold: this pairing of casual intensity and whimsy is where Crazy Ex-Girlfriend always excels. And second, Donna Lynn Champlin remains the most underrated dynamo on television.

2. Girls - "Desperado"
Speaking of penises we've seen - Girls may have had a patchy final season, but "American Bitch" was an all-timer for the controversial series. Hannah faced off against a prominant writer after writing about his sexual coercion of admiring young women, ending with him exposing himself to her and Hannah being the one forced to contemplate his humanity. Underscored with Rihanna's catclysmic tidal rage, a sea of women flooded the frame for one chilling, timely conclusion.

1. RuPaul's Drag Race - "So Emotional"
Did you think there was another option? Even for a show where this season also brought us Peppermint doing The Village People and Valentina stopping gay time by not knowing the lyrics to Ariana Grande? The crowning this season provided a new sudden death lipsync challenge, and eventual victor Sasha Velour used it as an opportunity to show a side of herself that her successful run never revealed. Her competitor Shea Couleé actually performed expertly, but this was still a bloodbath. How many of Ru's queens can say they redefined a song by such a legend as Whitney?

Honorable TV Mentions: Transparent's season 4 fascination with Jesus Christ Superstar, the power ballads of Glow, and Big Mouth's crass original tracks.

Top 10 Film Musical Moments:

10. Nocturama - "My Way"
Strange and ominous, this moment feels like an exhale from the film's tense and expressively sparse proceedings. As if the film wasn't already morally complicated enough, how exactly are we supposed to feel about this particular track being a bomber's manner of self-actualization? And yet it's queer, oddly cathartic, and Shirley freaking Bassey.

9. A Fantastic Woman - "Ombra mai fu"
It's not particularly spoilery to note that A Fantastic Woman closes on Daniela Vega's gorgeous voice (yes, that's really her singing), but the punctuation of her final aria in the film's final moments in simply captivating. We've already heard her singing, but here she really finds her voice - and the film makes that feel less literal and obvious than it sounds. Brava!

8. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - "Genius Girl"
This musical family gives some laughs with the Oscar-eligible "Byron/Myron", but this father/daughter moment is the one that speaks volumes. In one melancholy sit at the piano, you see their lifelong duet morphing before your eyes - happier past, shaky present, and uncertain future all in one performance.

7. The Shape of Water - "You'll Never Know"
I hesitate to describe this moment in case some readers have yet to see the film, and this passage is one of its most special and organically revealed. It's a graceful slip into the heart of Water's heroine and the film itself, and its grandest flourish.

6. Happy End - "Chandelier"
A Sia song in a movie and it's not the end credits, for once? Look, we've all had a sloppy karaoke night, but we should be thankful it likely wasn't as deeply sad and unfortunately funny as what occurs in Happy End. *handstand*

5. Coco - the final "Remember Me"
Another moment that dare not be spoiled, even though you can safely predict everything about this moment from the first time of many that the song features in the film. However, the emotional payoff cannot be denied no matter when this very moment is projected in your mind. It's that good.

4. Call Me By Your Name - "Love My Way"
A moment to inspire a million memes and "an army on the dancefloor" jokes. But aside from Luca Guadagnino's sharp sense of what makes rock and roll cinematic, the catharsis of Oliver's dancing and Elio's watchful longing quickly establishes the dichotomy of their courtship before any moves are made - with the glorious new wave sound filling the space between them.

3. Atomic Blonde - "Father Figure"
You simply can't convince me that the image of Charlize Theron beating the shit out of a bunch of dudes with a rubber hose while George Michael plays in the background isn't one of the gayest things we saw onscreen in 2017. Or perhaps anything more badass. It was like a musical dance sequence, but with punches substituting for a tap routine.

2. Lady Bird - "Crash Into Me"
Greta Gerwig's adoration for all of Lady Bird's moving parts extends to even its music, with glowing Sondheim sequences and Alanis references throughout. The DMB track is the most rooted in its central themes of affection and adoration, with its hero's proclamation that she loves it providing the film one of its many turning points. Gerwig gets that sometimes the best love songs are shared in the mutual longing (and silliness) of friendship rather than in romantic relationships, making for a full circle moment for Christine and Julie that also beautifully closes their chapter. Admit it, Lady Bird made you love this song again too.

1. Get Out - "(I've Had) The Time of My Life"
A lesser film would have cut this brief scene or at least omitted the music in Allison William's headphones all together. It's something of a microcosm of the film itself: ruefully hilarious and utterly unnerving, with easily accessed but unexpected observations. Borrowed from Dirty Dancing, it's the white girl-est song from the white girl-est movie, and here that kind of bland, empty affection turns into something humorously sinister. Creepy and keenly observed in equal measure, the Fruit Loop scene is one of the film's best moments taken to a whole other level of specificity by the song choice that underscores it.

Honorable Movie Mentions: BPM channeling Bronski Beat, Elton John subtly christening a queer moment in Battle of the Sexes, and forgotten 90s jams in The Disaster Artist.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (23)

Feldstein and Ronan singing in the car through heartbroken tears is 1 of my 2017 Movie Moments.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

It's not a movie that got a lot of love, but I've gotta nominate these musical numbers from My Little Pony the Movie:

-Captain Celaeno (Zoe Saldana)'s duet with Rainbow Dash in the "Time to Be Awesome" number.
-Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt)'s rousing "Open Up Your Eyes" where she criticizes Princess Twilight Sparkle for her belief in the power of friendship and gives viewers a glimpse at her past.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

How could you miss Baby Driver?????
I know Greatest Showman is seen by some poeople as saccharine and forgettable but it had some great musical numbers

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterOrrin

Orrin - simply not a fan, both of the film and what it's doing musically

January 3, 2018 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Sharp choices. I would only add the use of John Denver in Logan Lucky.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

AHEM.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTHE STAR

Michael C. - SO MUCH John Denver this year! Also in Okja and Free Fire and probably more. (Okja would've been closest to this list for me)

January 3, 2018 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Um. The ominous use of Ellie Goulding in Killing of the Sacred Deer?

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAB

Yes, Sasha Velour's So Emotional is great. I just hate how all the year end TV music lists I've seen omit Peppermint's execution of Cynthia Lee Fontaine to Madonna's Music. Aside from using an unending arsenal of amazingly terrible 80s dance moves, Peppermint pulled out an imaginary shot gun and blasted CuCu (who was conveniently thrashing on the floor) before skipping away from the mimed crime scene. Iconic.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

The musical sequence in " The Shape of Water" was a real surprise and proves that Guillermo Del Toro is a true master of cinematic fantasy.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Chris, as you know, I love everything Meyerowitz! Glad to see that included. Father Figure and Crash Into Me were essential musical moments, too. First Penis I Saw is great, but my favorite CExG song from this year is Let's Generalize About Men, especially the kicker of the last line.

Two other moments I would include are I Get Overwhelmed from A Ghost Story (the song is just so beautiful and it fit the otherworldly mood of the film so well) and So Far Away from Halt and Catch Fire (I'll never hear the song again without thinking of that moment).

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Great list. Nocturama is in my list too - and not least because it makes such indelible use of Whip My Hair too.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterben1283

For TV I keep going back to The Flash episode Duet, specifically Grant Gustin singing "Runnin' Home to You". I'm not going to ask why you didn't include The Greatest Showman because you aren't a fan, but my list would include "Rewrite the Stars" from the film.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

What a fun read. So many great moments in the movies where music became the telling force. You'll Never Know is one of the all-time great standards, and how Guillermo employed it in his masterpiece just game me chills.

My No. 1 TV musical moment has to be The Doors' The End, as the score to Joan Crawford's emotional demise toward the climax of Feud: Bette and Joan. The daring Jessica Lange brought new life to yet another iconic rock song, even as Joan's twilight was lurking in the shadows. Goosebumps all over the damn place.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Robert G - probably a "spread the wealth" thing. Had I done multiple mentions for one show/movie, "Let's Generalize About Men" and Lady Bird's audition sequence would totally be there - not to mention Valentina's fall from grace

January 3, 2018 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I am not a fan of Baby Driver (started strong, then quickly fizzled out), but to leave it off this list seems so wrong.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

No mention of Titus's Lemonade moment on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? He should've won the Emmy for that episode alone.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterteppo2

Eumir Deodato's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" in "Wonderstruck".

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

What about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 where Yondu used his arrow to kill Ravagers to the song "Come a Little Bit Closer" with Baby Groot going apeshit on one of them?

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

What about "Heart of Glass" in The Handmaid's Tale (ep. 3)?
Is devastating the scene of the protest.

January 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEdgar Apanco

To each his own, but I need Saoirse Ronan to belt the whole song of Everybody Says Don't! Sondheim will be proud.

January 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Tituss Burgess's "Lemonade" spoof song is an egregious omission!

January 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

I cried during "The Star" when that song came on. Melted my damn Grinch heart.

FOLLOW THAT STARRRR ABOVE YOUUUUUUUUUU

January 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

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