We’re at a time in the year where things are beginning to change. This fall doesn’t bring a whole lot of exciting prospects on TV, whether returning shows or new shows. And, of course, all the Oscar season extravaganzas are about to start up. Things do have a way of leveling out — where earlier in the year I directed most of my attention toward prestige (or aspiring-to-be prestige) shows with inventive uses of music, we’re now entering the part of year where there are a ton of movies worth seeing in New York, big and small, with their own broad range of music moments.
By virtue of its 1984/1985 setting and handful of gay club scenes, Pride has plenty of ’80s pop classics littered amongst a score that’s otherwise a bit too insistent on tugging at your heartstrings. You’ve got Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax,” and you’ve got Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Right Round,” among others. That’s all a good time, but my favorite moment came when the middle- to old-aged small town Welsh women find themselves in a leather bar, chatting with the bartender and bathed in green light, with Yaz’s “Situation” blasting overhead. That’s a slightly lesser known ’80s classic, the sort that shows up on Sirius’ First Wave station often but not on your local “’80s At 8″ kind of radio situation. It’s one of my favorite songs from that decade, and it was a welcome inclusion in Pride.
4. The Guest
The Guest plays out like a knowing take on the sort of ’80s relic I would’ve once stumbled upon on TV, really late at night. It takes cues from schlocky, b-movie thrills and horror motifs. It culminates in a showdown between two teenagers and super soldier in a high school rec center decorated for Halloween and clogged with fake smoke set to big glistening synthesizers, and, yeah, that’s not a sentence I figured I’d be writing anytime soon. The poster’s ’80s-ness is a bit of a feint, suggesting The Guest is something in the mold of Drive — a movie that goes surprisingly (yet inevitably) and brutally violent but gives you this romantic, synth-pop sheen all around it. Instead, The Guest relies heavily on goth and darkwave tracks courtesy of Sisters Of Mercy and Love And Rockets and Clan Of Xymox. Those are uncommon songs to see on a soundtrack in 2014, but this is an uncommon film as well — a tense, unnerving genre exercise whose rapid shifts between dark comedy and horror are accompanied perfectly by these bands, considering they’re the sorts of artists who always sounded like they were making horror movie music anyway.
3. The Skeleton Twins — Blondie, “Denis”
A lot of the marketing for The Skeleton Twins was half-misleading — sure, this is a family drama that eventually boils down to estranged siblings rebuilding their bond, but where trailers emphasized the comedic or sentimental elements of the movie, it also has a good amount of darkness. That starts in the movie’s earliest moments, when Milo (Bill Hader) chugs vodka from the bottle and tries and fails to commit suicide while blasting Blondie’s “Denis” throughout his apartment. It’s a twisted scene, using one of Blondie’s most candy-colored hits for a near-suicide, but once you get to know the character there is also a slight comedic resonance to it. (His suicide letter, written on an opened envelope, is shortly revealed to have said “To whom it may concern: See ya later :).”) The whole scene plays out as a fitting intro to the movie: The Skeleton Twins works well because it deals with heavy, dark material with the right balance of comedy and humanity and gravity, and Milo’s opening scene with “Denis” holds a bit of all of that at once.
2. The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby
Much of the music in The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby is ambient score courtesy of Son Lux. When the movie does tilt towards pop songs, the moments are crucial and straight up leveling emotionally. What’s great about the contrast is how the use of pop songs sets markers in the relationship between Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and Connor (James McAvoy). Perhaps what’s most striking is how the movie is bracketed by radically different scenes, both taking place in the East Village in Manhattan. In the beginning, it’s earlier in their relationship, they skip out on the bill at dinner, and run to the tune of Guards’ “Don’t Wake The Dead.” In the movie’s final moments, it’s instead a protracted, pseudo-solitary walk to Son Lux’s M83-ish “No Fate Awaits Me.” After you’ve seen the story of this couple unfold, from the early good days to the revelations of how they got this way to the tearful reconciliation (preceded by Cat Power’s cover of “Wild Is The Wind”), those final moments are stunning. The song comes off a bit treacly in the trailer below, but in the movie it’s a spacey meditation, as simultaneously intangible and unexplainable and wholly affecting as relationships are to begin with. These pop moments translate to representations of these people weaving in and out of wonder in their lives. I’m up in the air about whether it’s that final Son Lux song that’s the most moving, or whether it’s an earlier flashback scene that takes that distinction. It’s a scene where Eleanor and Connor have driven somewhere out in the country, and OMD’s “So In Love” plays on the radio before bubbling up and consuming the end of the scene as they dance outside the car. On paper, I realize that probably sounds insufferable, and in a lesser movie it probably would be — but here, in comparison to all that surrounds it, it’s a moment that’s equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking. There are a lot of those in The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, and they are all entirely worth it.
1. Inherent Vice Trailer — Sly & The Family Stone, “I Want To Take You Higher”
Well, this one’s simple. Suddenly, last night, we got our first trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. And as it turns out, it’s soundtracked primarily by Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher” — aka, one of the best Sly & The Family Stone songs — which is a perfect choice for getting the whole unraveling/spinning off the face of the planet vibe of this story down. And hey, here’s Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” for the last bits of the trailer, as well. Everything here is something to be psyched about.