Perfect marriages: Top 10 song-film matches

10. “Beast of Burden” by the Rolling Stones in Basquiat

As movie soundtracks go, I really have to hand it to the Basquiat team for putting together a compilation that so perfectly captures the subject matter and era, heavy on classics from the eighties and nineties, covering everything from “White Lines” to Public Image Limited to the Pogues. But this quick cameo from Courtney Love gets me every time.

9. “Le Tourbillon De La Vie” sung by Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim

Staff member Irene gives props to this selection from the Truffaut gem.

8. “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding in Pretty in Pink

If Molly Ringwald needed any more evidence that Jon Cryer’s Ducky was the man for her.

7. “Get Up off at That Thing” by James Brown in Dr. Detroit

Staff computer whiz Benno says: “I like James Brown and I like Devo, and I just think it’s funny that they’re in the same film. I think that’s why I went to see it.”

6. “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John in Almost Famous

High schmaltz factor, and extremely catchy. Go ahead, sing along, no one’s watching.

5. “Everybody’s Talkin'” by Harry Nilsson in Midnight Cowboy

I had a legendary teacher at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts who taught the art of screenwriting through lengthy examination of Keats’s “negative capability” an exhaustive analysis of Midnight Cowboy, where the central conflict is never actually ever expressly stated in the film and very little actually happens. It affected me forever after, and what’s truly impressive is how well this song ties up the meadering, sidelong narrative.

4. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones in Mean Streets

This super cool slo-mo intro of a young Bob DeNiro as Johnny Boy was not only a perfect pairing of sound and image, it also helped set the tone for Scorcese’s inventive use of pop music to undercut his gripping mob dramas.

Bonus! You can see Mean Streets during our Manny Farber series later in the month!

3. “The Wrestler” by Bruce Springsteen in The Wrestler

Writing for the Vulture blog, Will Leitch said this bespoke creation is “straight from The Ghost of Tom Joad — aching, sad, gorgeous. The song’s so good, you almost expect Sean Penn to write another movie based off it, like with The Indian Runner and Bruce’s ‘Highway Patrolman.'” I just thought it was the perfect capper to a Aronofsky’s take on the classic underdog sports movie.

Check out all our coverage on The Wrestler.

2. “Ring Them Bells” by Sufjan Stevens in I’m Not There

Confession: I’ve never actually seen this movie. But I give the soundtrack big ups for blessing the marriage of Sufjan Stevens’s maximallist stylings (complete with glockenspiel and trademark harmonies) with Dylan’s minimalist songwriting style. Who knew a Dylan song could sound like this? The matching seems to bring out the best in each, even the hundred millionth time you hear it.

1. “Trouble” by Cat Stevens in Harold and Maude

This is a gimmick I’d like to see revived: a singer-songwriter taking control of an entire movie soundtrack (and I think the Stevens above might be the perfect person to carry the torch). Cat Stevens + this unlikely love story starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Court comes together as an idiosyncratic masterpiece with the climactic “Trouble” montage.

Of course, this is a highly unscientific survey. Complaints, additions? Please leave them in the comments.

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8 Comments on “Perfect marriages: Top 10 song-film matches”

  1. viaairmail Says:

    While Cat Stevens & “Harold & Maude” are a perfect pairing, there are a handful of more recent films whose soundtracks and compositions are custom-made, fairly brilliantly, I’d argue, by one artist specifically for the film: “About A Boy”/Badly Drawn Boy; “Dan In Real Life”/Sondre Lerche; and most recently “Into the Wild”/Eddie Vedder. It doesn’t happen often, but when it works, the results are really profound!
    Great list all around, though – I can’t imagine how hard it was to select just 10.

  2. I love the Sondre Lerche (and much more than I liked the movie)! This was definitely an unscientific survey, so I’m happy to see that you pointed out some contemporary omissions.

  3. Hamilton Drake Says:

    ‘Hi, Brad. You know how cute I always thought you were. . . ‘

    Greatest is still the greatest:

    The Cars – Moving in Stereo

  4. Hamilton Drake Says:

    ‘Hi, Brad. You know how cute I always thought you were. . . ‘

    Greatest is still the greatest:

    The Cars – Moving in Stereo

  5. Alex Says:

    there’s music in that fast times scene? i never noticed.

  6. Chris Chang, Film Comment Says:

    Maybe some web genius can help me find the Bjork “Human Behavior” sequence in Pialat’s Le Garçu? We need to post that here. And watch it once a day.

  7. Julie Says:

    Chris, is it a special edit because I have several versions…I thought it only played during the credits of the film…

  8. Chris Chang, Film Comment Says:

    Julie, there’s a scene with Depardieu talking at a table in a cafeteria-like setting, in the background are a group of people doing The Electric Slide au Française, and then Human Behavior comes on the sound system, and the whole movie morphs into this uncanny extended moment of Bjorkness.

    We are impressed that one person has “several versions” Le Garçu!

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