Recently, my lovely friend has been blogging lists from an awesome book I wish someone would buy for me. Given the backlog of posts around here, I’ve tried to resist the urge to jump in, but she finally broke me.
One of the things that usually shifts a film into my favourites list is a great soundtrack. Music matters so much. It’s why my novels have soundtracks: it sets a scene in a way that nothing else can. In this first post for the Listography series, I take you through 30 scenes where songs were used exquisitely well. Some melted my heart; some made me laugh hard; some left me speechless. Some of my favourites didn’t make this list simply because I couldn’t find a clip online, while some films hurt to narrow down to a single musical moment. All the preamble aside, let’s dig into the list, which is in no specific order, because it took so long to even narrow down to 30, I fear ranking will induce an aneurysm.
Special note: I’ve excluded film versions of musicals from this list, simply because all moments in those films are musical moments. Please give the page time to load all videos.
LISTOGRAPHY: 30 GREAT MUSIC MOMENTS IN MOVIES
Empire Records: “Sugarhigh”
You knew my favourite film of all time would handily make this list, so why not kick off with this moment, right? There are so many beautiful, brilliant moments set to music in the film, and for a while, I remained torn between this moment and the very closing of the film on the roof. In the end, however, I selected this scene because of the way it brings plot lines to their conclusion, while also stylistically reflecting its kinship to Dazed and Confused. Every character is, in one way or another, visited upon; every subgroup represented. Every time I hit this part of the film, I want to dance and sing. I feel hopeful. I feel free.
Donnie Darko: “Mad World”
Gary Jules’ take on this classic tune is brilliant, and remains a five-star track in my library. What really makes this moment is the revelation, the “a-ha” moment and the way Richard Kelly lets us glimpse into the psyche of our cast of characters. Perfect song selection; beautiful direction.
The Breakfast Club: “We Are Not Alone”
Would you believe I could not find a clip of the entire end scene and its Simple Minds accompaniment? At least it made my decision easier. By far my favourite John Hughes film, I love this scene so much. It’s where everything finally, completely comes together for this group of teens. It’s also again, that moment of freedom that always gets me in a great film.
Shaun Of The Dead: “Don’t Stop Me Now”
In the best use of music for comedic purposes category comes a loving celebration of all things zombie/horror flick, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Queen in a Brit flick? But of course! The ludicrous contrast of a happy, bouncy song as zombies smash their way into the pub and are beaten in time with pool cues makes this a classic scene that will be remembered for decades to come.
Dawn Of The Dead: “Down With The Sickness”
Richard Cheese’s lounge take on the Disturbed hit is already amusing. Using it for a montage sequence in a zombie film just elevates it to a whole new level. Locked away within a mall with little to do, absurdity befits the soundtrack.
downwiththesicknessdotd from Amber Waving on Vimeo.
American Psycho: “Hip To Be Square”
The many pop culture musings of Patrick Bateman (aptly played by Christian Bale) are what give this film that little something extra. This sequence is my favourite. It is not only a jarring juxtaposition of mood between song and action, it essentially sums up everything that Bateman loathes about his world.
500 Days Of Summer: “You Make My Dreams”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is such a talent, and this film is but one demonstration of his gift. This sequence works so well because it is so very different from the majority of the film. In the midst of a dissection of a love affair gone wretched, it’s a bubbly moment that feels very wink-wink and fun.
The Wedding Singer: “Grow Old With You”
Again, a film so loaded with musical moments that choosing was hard (the “Love Stinks” scene was a close second), but ultimately, this is the best moment. It’s an original song penned for the film, true, but it’s all of the action around the song (and Billy Idol) that makes it so grin-inducing.
Adventures In Babysitting: “Babysitting Blues”
Filmed in Toronto and featuring the future star of Rent, Anthony Rapp, this is the scene that anyone who knows the film remembers best. “Nobody gets out of this place without singing the blues.”
Girl, Interrupted: “Downtown”
I debated which moment to choose: a terribly sad one, or a happier one. In the end, I chose happiness. In a place filled with souls in pain, music becomes a beacon, a tether to sanity. It is a gift that can save a life.
High Fidelity: “You’re Gonna Miss Me Baby”
In the epic introductory speech, this song spins behind John Cusack’s sage dialogue, emphasizing his point. In a film that is all about music and how it relates to our lives – how it frames scenes – this song gets things off to a perfect start. My apologies for not being able to find the full scene, but if you haven’t seen it, just rent the movie already.
Almost Famous: “Tiny Dancer”
In a film fraught with drama and harsh truths via coming of age on the road with a band, this moment exemplifies that magic that draws people into the world of live music. As someone who’s followed concert tours and sang at the top of my lungs in a car with others, this moment gets it right, and takes me back to fond memories.
School Of Rock: “School Of Rock”
It was tempting to go with Joan Cusack singing Stevie Nicks, but let’s face it: the pinnacle of this film is the moment where the kids hit the stage and demonstrate the power of music to transform lives. Parents and audience are floored, and we, the viewers, feel satisfied and proud of how far Horace Green has come.
Coyote Ugly: “Can’t Fight The Moonlight”
Pardon the random translation voiceover on the dialogue; this was the best I could do and I was adamant. I adore Piper Perabo, and this finale, where she makes her dreams come true… It’s just the best. It’s almost cheesy, but I really don’t care. Piper wins at life, and I grin.
Lost And Delirious: “Add It Up”
The sole reason I decided that this Violent Femmes track had to kick off my wedding reception was this scene in this film, again starring my girl Piper Perabo. Yes, I have a crush on her. And? Boarding school fun times!
10 Things I Hate About You: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”
Heath Ledger. Singing. With a marching band. How could any girl resist, seriously? Every time I watch this film, this moment make me smile and think, “That’s love. Awesome, fun love.”
Crazy/Beautiful: “This Year’s Love”
This film had several moments in the running, but in the end, I went with the one that best captures the beautiful relationship between Carlos and Nicole. The series of scenes shown, the laughter…. lovely. I love the way this entire film is shot.
Garden State: “Let Go”
It’s so hard not to choose the Infinite Abyss sequence, but I’ve duplicated so many of L’s choices that I went with an equally great scene. Zach Braff really nailed this soundtrack, and Frou Frou was no exception to his choice moments. I’m a sucker for a moment of hope, a light at the end of a tunnel.
Secretary: “Chariots Rise”
I was torn between this and the “I’m Your Man” sequence, but ultimately, the delicate loving care of James Spader won out. I apologize for the Italian dialogue, but it’s not necessary to appreciate the scene. It’s one of those “sums it up” moments in song that just works, with gorgeous visuals. *NSFW*
Reservoir Dogs: “Stuck In The Middle”
This scene was the first out of my fiance’s mouth when I brought up this topic, and it’s truly a cinematic masterpiece. I’ve even referenced it in a high school English project (we adapted a scene from Macbeth as a mobster piece, and killed Banquo to this tune). Michael Madsen is pure genius.
Pulp Fiction: “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”
Tarantino knows how to pick his soundtracks, without question. This moment in the film… it’s visually enthralling to me. It’s our big insight into Mia Wallace in a film that seldom delves deeper into a character’s psyche for longer than a few minutes. The little girl behind the bravado.
The Crow: “Burn”
Tons of fantastic music moments in this film, one of my favourites. This scene… the explosion of determined anger… It’s just the right choice of song. It sets the mood for the rest of the film and its bloody revenge.
Magnolia: “Wise Up”
I haven’t seen this film in years, but this scene is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of it. It’s more than a melancholy montage; by having the characters join in song, it elevates the film to a raw emotional place.
Soul Survivors: “The Goodbye Letter”
A lot of people panned this film, but it’s one of my favourites in the slasher/suspense genre. The collision of worlds and the mindfuck unraveling that takes place during this scene is what makes it special. I admittedly think a better actress could have been cast in the lead, but it’s still a great piece of film. Obviously, if you haven’t seen the movie, here there be spoilers.
Freaky Friday: “Take Me Away”
Still one of Lindsay Lohan’s best efforts. She and Jamie Lee Curtis work so well together and this scene is just golden. Close second choice from the film: Chad Michael Murray and Jamie Lee Curtis swooning over a over of “Baby One More Time”.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Twist And Shout”
You can think anything you want of Matthew Broderick, but you cannot slag this film, nor can you avoid thinking of this scene when it’s mentioned. Hijacking a parade float and leading the Chicago streets in dance and song? Best day off ever.
Clerks 2: “ABC”
In a playful homage to the video for Barenaked Ladies’ “Pinch Me”, Kevin Smith uses the Jackson Five classic to get a little groove going between all of his characters – and thus sets the mood so high, Rosario Dawson’s revelation is far more jarring. Brilliant and hilarious.
Center Stage: “The Way You Make Me Feel/If I Was The One/Canned Heat”
I love this movie. It’s one of my 90s faves that I can play anytime and slip immediately into a fluffy comfortable zone of joy. Another such film is Loser, a film I had to cut from this list for lack of the right clip. In any case, I love contemporary ballet and this finale sequence is so much fun. I would happily go see this ballet! Plus, it’s Jodie’s grand flip-off to the company and she’s my girl.
Dirty Dancing: “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life”
Sooooo many great music moments in this film… In the end, I defaulted to the final dance because I just couldn’t choose, and ultimately, it’s the most iconic scene of the film.
Finishing our list is, well, another given if you have any appreciation of music in film. It may not make your top scenes list, but no one would disagree that it’s a great moment on film set to music. The best clip I could find was a mash-up of the 1984 and 2011 versions, but in listing it here, I mean the 1984 Kevin Bacon flick.
There you have it! What scenes have I missed? I can think of several that I ran out of room for (Back To The Future, anyone?). Leave a comment with your additions and stay tuned for a future installment of Listography!
Gotcha! 🙂 Also, LOVE your list.
omgosh “Soul Survivors” also one of my fave movies!! <3!!
for "Clerks 2" i would have gone with the Soul Asylum song at the end cuz my eyes well up with tears at that scene/song but that one is great too. also, tear up at third eye blind song at end of "american pie"..i'm a weirdo. love you, lizzie!
Make your own list! It’s sooooo hard to restrict choices. L did 20, I had to do 30 and I still cut a lot of scenes… And OMG Soul Survivors love! I have never understood the hate for it. It’s so good.
oh also “another brick in the wall”/football game scene in “faculty”..oh fuck. i should make my own list music moments in movies are my favorite!! and usu why a lot of my favorite songs are my favorite songs..ooo..”coffee and tv”, selma/sarah kiss scene in cruel intentions and and and. YAY LOST AND DELIRIOUS add it up yay piper as paulie yay yay yay!!!
Amazing list! Great movies 😀