Any year that features films from music-oriented directors Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino is going to be a good year for soundtracks. Many of the films' soundtracks this year were highly anticipated, with indie rock star power attached early on to films like The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Thom Yorke, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver) and Where the Wild Things Are (Karen O. of Yeah Yeah Yeahs), but not all delivered on that promise when the visuals were married in the final product.
The commonality of most the soundtracks on this list is nostalgia, whether it be for old cinema classics or for our own childhood. It's a tricky business, tickling that ache for the past, but for the films below, business is mostly good. (As an added bonus, several of the entries below have 'reassembled' playlists incorporating all the songs used in the film -- enjoy!)
10. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
New Moon makes this list almost purely because of the inclusion of new material from the likes of Grizzly Bear ("Slow Life"), Thom Yorke ("Hearing Damage") and pairing Bon Iver with St. Vincent ("Roslyn"). Whether it's the best music for Taylor Lautner to remove his shirt to is probably up for debate.
"Hello biceps. You know, anabolic steroids are really bad for you."
9. Whip It
The final tally on the soundtrack for Drew Barrymore's debut ran up to over 50 songs, making room for such diverse artists as Sugar Hill Gang, .38 Special, Radiohead and, serving as the soundtrack's heart, Sweden's pop maestro Jens Lekman. Extra points for cleverly referencing other films through the borrowing of Jon Brion score (themes to I Heart Huckabees and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Nearly makes up for trying to squeeze too much music into the proceedings.
"Yeah, let's celebrate mediocrity! That's fantastic."
8. Sin Nombre
Every year, there's one album I include that's purely for the score, and this year Marcelo Zarvos's brilliant work on Sin Nombre should (but likely won't) win him a nomination. A harrowing look at the plight of Central American immigrants who put their lives in the hands of a coyote trying to make it to the United States.
"Get off the train, Smiley!"
7. (500) Days of Summer
In looking at 2009's prospects, I had assumed this would make my list when I saw who was involved, and I'm only slightly disappointed by the final product. Before this film, Marc Webb was known as a music video director (Regina Spector, Fergie, Miley Cyrus) and it's possible that experience helped dilute the final product. Hard, though, to resist the charms of how Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams" is used.
"Either she's an evil, emotionless, miserable human being, or... she's a robot."
6. Observe & Report
Easily one of my favorite soundtracks of 2009, but conversely, also one of my least favorite movies on this list. Too bad all the magic dust used to bring back forgotten gems from The Action and Patto couldn't have been sprinkled on the screenplay. McLusky, Dwarves, Bob Dylan and even Flash Gordon-era Queen rule the day.
"The world has no use for another scared man. Right now, the world needs a f*cking hero."
5. The Limits of Control
I was blown away by this Jim Jarmusch thriller, and the feedback-laden soundtrack was a big part of it. Boris, Sunn 0))), Earth and The Black Angels all contributed to the psychological noir, even leaving room for some fun with LCD Soundsystem and some flamenco tracks as well.
"Sometimes for me, the reflection is far more present than the thing being reflected."
4. Inglourious Basterds
Tarantino originally had Ennio Morricone tentatively signed on to do the score, but the legendary composer's prior commitments prevented him from contributing. Instead, we get eight classic Morricone songs, which worked out OK for Tarantino, seeing how he loves referencing other films anyway. The result is stunning, even if a part of me wishes the planets would've aligned for a real Tarantino/Morricone joint.
"You know somethin', Utivich? I think this might just be my masterpiece."
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson films have always had an 'out-of-time' quality to them, and while the time and place appears to be an English countryside around 1970 (the year Roald Dahl published the children's book the film is based upon), the real setting is nostalgia. Robin Hood parallels are abound, and the soundtrack contributes to it leading off with "The Ballad of Davy Crocket" (used in the early TV series,) and even sneaking in a ballad from the 1972 film from Disney (Nancy Adams' "Love"). Fun 1950s-era Burl Ives folk songs are sprinkled throughout and more 'modern' classics from The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones (who have a song in every Anderson film). Don't forget to leave room for Jarvis Cocker, who voices Petey and sings a Davy Crockett-like ballad ("Fantastic Mr Fox AKA Petey's Song").
"I don't know what you're talking about, but it sounds illegal."
It could be I just have a soft spot for movies that look back fondly at the year 1987, but the music used and general feeling in this coming of age movie transcends simple nostalgia. Sandwiched between songs from The Replacements is The Velvet Underground ("Pale Blue Eyes" serves as a sort of theme for Kristen Stewart's Emily) and everything from Animotion to Judas Priest. And, of course, several playings of Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus," dampened only by the sweet, sweet dancing of Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva).
"Oh, but I'm an atheist, maybe more of a pragmatic nihilist I guess or an existential pagan if you will... "
1. Where the Wild Things Are
Karen O. continues the great tradition of artist curated soundtracks, taking a break from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to create a more Arcade Fire-ish score for this fantastical adaptation. Karen easily taps into the primal nature of a troubled boy, and with help from an indie rock orchestra featuring Deerhunter, Liars and The Dead Weather, has made an album that could even outlast the film. It doesn't hurt that Karen O.'s voice nearly matches Max's voice, from whisper to growl to scream.
"It's going to be a place where only the things you want to happen, would happen."
Also worth mentioning:
Away We Go, Crazy Heart, Funny People, I Love You Man, Watchmen and The Hangover.
Previously: Top Movie Soundtracks of 2007, Top Movie Soundtracks of 2008