August is, generally speaking, not such a great month. It’s the dead zone between blockbuster season and Oscar season, and the moment before TV’s fall schedule kicks off. So then, this month my favorite soundtrack moments came from all over — from one glorious blockbuster to end the summer, to good-but-not-amazing movies I happened to stumble upon, to snippets pointing toward the future.
5. Gone Girl Trailer
The pairing of David Fincher’s movies and scores from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross has turned out to be an inspired one — both Fincher and Reznor, after all, have made careers off ruthlessly diving into the darker corners of human nature. It makes sense that their collaborations would continue on after their first go-round with The Social Network, considering how well Reznor and Ross created a claustrophobic anxiety for that film, and also, you know, won an Oscar for its score. The forthcoming Gone Girl is their third collaboration (the second having been The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), and Reznor’s called it a “nasty film,” so one can only imagine how dark this will get musically, too. Normally, I wouldn’t count scores in this column, but I’ll make an exception here because these scores from Reznor and Ross are (a) not entirely dissimilar from Nine Inch Nails material, especially the instrumental stuff on Ghosts I-IV, and (b) awesome. This most recent trailer is short and relatively simple musically, but those haunting trademark bits of Reznor fuzz and queasy melody are there, and it’s something to get excited for in the remaining months of 2014.
4. The One I Love — The Mamas And The Papas, “Dedicated To The One I Love”
It’s hard to talk about The One I Love without essentially giving the entire film away, but what I’ll say is, it’s a clever, striking look at a relationship on the rocks that veers into creepier, more unsettling territory as it goes on. Through much of the film, the music mainly comes in the form of a horror score defanged with bits of indie drama touches. But after the final act unravels and the movie gives away its one last reveal, its final moments and credits sequence are soundtracked by the Mamas And The Papas’ “Dedicated To The One I Love.” The sunniness of a ’60s pop gem is one last gut punch, one last twist of the knife, in a film that’s got plenty of moments that can hit you at your core. It’s one of those films that feels eerily real even after its surprising twist early on. Using “Dedicated To The One I Love” at the end kind of feels like a sick joke, but it’s one that works so well. I left the theater actually feeling ill.
3. The Hateful Eight Teaser — The Stooges, “Gimme Danger”
There’s already been a will-he-or-won’t-he saga preceding Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming The Hateful Eight. After the script leaked, Tarantino called the whole project off, then filed and withdrew a lawsuit against Gawker. His interest was rekindled after, one supposes, cooling off, and holding a live read in LA. Now, ahead of the new Sin City, there’s a teaser (with no actual footage) for The Hateful Eight, promising a release next year. And it’s soundtracked by the Stooges’ “Gimme Danger,” which is never a bad decision. It’s a small moment this month, but this is new Tarantino, always a good bet for soundtrack brilliance, and this is the Stooges. It’s a good reason to get excited.
2. Get On Up — James Brown, “Get Up Offa That Thing”
There is, of course, a ton of music in Get On Up. And because it’s about James Brown, it’s a lot of great music. But most of it is in the form of performances, which is not something I usually consider for inclusion in this column because it’s not really a music cue, per se — if you’re making a biopic of a legendary musician, having music is a given, and showing performances is a given. The expressionistic chronological jumps in Get On Up mean that some of those performances have a little more impact and resonance than they might in a more linear biopic, though, and the combination of the fact that the movie features Brown’s actual vocals piped in over Chadwick Boseman’s incredible interpretation of Brown’s physicality mean that these sequences are a lot more fun to watch (and listen to) than they might’ve been otherwise.
However, there’s also an early moment in the movie, during its first full scene, that’s soundtracked by Brown, but not a performance. It depicts a partially fictionalized version of the events leading to Brown’s famous police chase in 1988. We’re starting with loopy, somewhat decrepit James Brown — lank perm, red tracksuit, drug problem. He enters his own business, in a strip mall storefront, and, upon discovering that someone has used his restroom, walks back outside to retrieve his shotgun. As he does, the camera lingers on a neon sign in the window spelling the movie’s title, and “Get Up Offa That Thing” begins. Though some other music critics disagreed with me, I thought Get On Up was a very good biopic, though not quite great. That opening sequence, though, is great, and should start a classic movie. Here’s one of the man’s last hits from his ’70s decline, and here it is soundtracking one of the more unfortunate and infamous moments of Brown’s life, a moment equal parts horrifying and visually striking when captured in a film.
1. Guardians Of The Galaxy
Guardians Of The Galaxy simply looks incredible. Compared to the dour palette of most contemporary superhero movies, its giddy spectrum of colors positively radiate, and director James Gunn knows how to use them, lingering at just right the moment — like when Ronan throws an unconscious Drax into a big vat of yellow liquid, and the camera pauses long enough to make you feel as if you’re looking at some sort of vivid abstract painting. Part of all this is the movie’s ability to go totally free-for-all in a relatively unknown sci-fi universe. (Guardians is based on a fairly obscure Marvel property, and while it’s interconnected with all the superhero stories that take place back here on Earth, it has more of a freedom to do whatever the hell it wants.) Part of it, though, is that it’s a relentlessly self-skewering, vibrant, infectious take on the space opera genre transposed into a superhero idiom, allowing it to establish its own totally unique aesthetic.
Accordingly, Guardians doesn’t rely on generically cinematic or ominous orchestral scores in the way that most current superhero movies do. As it tipped us off way back in February, it favors a soundtrack of ’70s pop and rock — some lost to time, some immortal — that’s as quirky and, just by showing up to this party, irreverent as the film’s characters and dialogue. Like the film itself, the soundtrack has been successful to a surprising degree, hitting number one on the Billboard charts earlier this month, and there’s a way to look at it like it’s one part of Marvel’s seemingly unbeatable marketing strategies.
But it’s not shoehorned in randomly because Gunn has a thing for the ’70s or whatever — there is some important thematic relevance to all these (mostly) cheesy songs. The origin story of Peter Quill/Star Lord involves receiving a mixtape from his mother — simply titled “Awesome Mix Vol. 1″ — and these are the songs that soundtrack his adventures through space decades later. There’s the very serious sci-fi fakeout intro of Quill landing on a ruined planet, only to enter a cavern, crank up Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love” and proceed to dance around the cave kicking little alien lizards, periodically grabbing one and using it as a mic for good measure, just before the movie’s title comes up above him. There’s a prison break sequence involving Quill flying through space solo to that godawful “(Escape) The Pina Colada Song” by Rupert Holmes that feels downright triumphant. Now and then, there’s a nod to a hipper reference — Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” blares as the crew enters Knowhere, a mining colony in the giant severed head of a long-dead celestial deity, and Jackson 5′s “I Want You Back” plays over the feelgood first post-credits scene. My personal favorite occurs as the movie enters its final act, when the ragtag Guardians form their plan (all 12% of it), and march down a spaceship hallway to the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” as Gamora yawns and Rocket fixes his raccoon parts. It’s, obviously, a pisstake on a trope, like so much of the rest of the movie, but something about the way Guardians deploys its music makes you get wrapped up in these moments. It sells them. Guardians has some of the more striking mainstream film images of the year, and its pseudo-justified but still sort of absurd reliance on these ’70s songs makes it zanier, funnier, and even more heartwarming. It makes it more of everything in general — it makes it a movie you can get drunk on.