Asking me for my favorite soundtrack of all times is a very tricky question. As tricky as asking me for my favorite band or my favorite movie. For me, a soundtrack is an artwork on its own. The art of making a perfect connection between a movie’s screenplay and characters, and music. So asking me what my favorite soundtrack is not only asking me for the movie which features the music I prefer, but asking me which movie I think makes the best link between plot and sound. And this is tough.
Rather than trying finding my top 3 soundtracks, I picked three of my favorite soundtracks I have different stories with: Cruel Intentions, because I can tell the entire tracklist from the top of my head, Whip It, because it is not a great movie, simply a really sweet one, but its soundtrack is definitely worth attention, and Garden State, because the soundtrack is manifestly linked to the plot – and made me cry more than once as well.
Cruel Intentions (1999)
‘Even more treacherous than he is attractive, he has never uttered a single word without some dishonorable intention. Every woman he has successfully pursued has regretted it. Stay away from him.’
Says Annette Hargrove, played by Reese Witherspoon, describing Sebastian Valmont – Ryan Phillippe – in this scene when you see the chemistry between the characters building its first bits. The sensuality of the scene enhanced by the fact that they are in a pool, at night, but even more by the fact that the mysterious chords of Ordinary Life by Kristen Barry are playing on the background. This is how much soundtrack of the movie contributes to its atmosphere.
I am opening this article with the soundtrack of Cruel Intentions because it is probably the movie I know the best. I can watch it while quoting along. And I know exactly how the soundtracks rolls itself in the movie: tell me a scene, I’ll tell you the song, tell me a song, I’ll tell you the scene.
The Cruel Intentions soundtrack is a perfect compilation of indie alternative music from the late nineties and immerses you completely in the movie in the way that the music played is probably on the characters’ CD shelves (aaah the nineties…).
Not a single misplacement, and some songs actually became famous thanks to scenes from the movie that became classics, that is to say Counting Crows’ Colorblind – when Sebastian meets Annette at the train station, remember:
‘Well, I’m in love.’
Not to forget: the ‘lesbian kiss’ scene on Blur’s Coffee & TV, the quarterback surprised in bed with another dude with Comin’ Up From Behind by Marcy Playground on, the birth of the romance backed by Praise You by Fatboy Slim, the love letter read on Aimee Mann’s You Could Make a Killing and last but not least, the absolutely perfect ending on The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony a.k.a. the emblematic indie tune of the nineties.
- Placebo – Every You, Every Me
- Day One – Bedroom Dancing
- The Cardigans – Lovefool (not featured in the Original Soundtrack)
- Kristen Barry – Ordinary Life
- Marcy Playground – Comin’ Up From Behind
- Blur – Coffee & TV
- Bare, Jr. – You Blew Me Off
- Fatboy Slim – Praise You
- Faithless – Addictive
- Abra Moore – Trip On Love
- Counting Crows – Colorblind
- Aimee Mann – You Could Make a Kiling
- Craig Armstrong – This Love
- The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony
- Skunk Anansie – Secretly
Whip It (2009)
Whip It is one of those movies that can be qualified as an “indie teenage movie”. The fact is that it is basically a teenage movie with a rather predictable plot but there is a different vibe to it than such movies as Mean Girls or Easy A, it is not trying hard with crazy situations and paints a rather realistic picture of a dorky girl from the suburbs. Maybe it’s just Ellen Page who does that since Juno has a really similar vibe.
Roller Derby as the central topic, Austin as the place of action and Drew Barrymore as the director, you would expect the soundtrack to stick to high standards. And it does. Whip It has a 58 songs tracklist mixing alternative, punk, garage, folk and power pop, featuring such classics as Dolly Parton’s Jolene alongside indie treasures like Apollo Sunshine’s Breeze.
Music is definitely a central element to the movie, to the extend that actual musicians star in it: musician and songwriter Landon Pigg plays the love interest of the lead character (Bliss Cavendar, portrayed by Ellen Page) and has several stage appearances featuring the band Turbo Fruits, where they play the songs Get Up Get On Down and High Times.
And what better than fresh and vivid tracks to add to the adrenaline rush from the Roller Derby scenes? And this how you get such bouncy tunes as Boys Wanna Be Her by Peaches, Pot Kettle Black by Tilly & The Wall or Crown of Age by The Ettes.
Less extravagant, the music going along Bliss’s everyday life brings up her situation of outsider stuck in a city she wants to escape from. Blue Turning Grey by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah paints a drive around town, Bang On by The Breeders a confrontation with the school’s beauty queen and Sheena Is A Punk Rocker by The Ramones the escape to Austin with her best friend.
You completely get into Bliss’s world, somewhere between the lifestyle surrounding Roller Derby – over tattooed girls, jacuzzi parties with garage bands playing in the living room, etc – and her smalltown girl routine.
Something else about this soundtrack, is that it brightens some of the cutest romantic scenes I’ve ever seen. Bliss and Oliver (Landon Pigg) meet listening to Little Joy’s Unattainable, finish their first date on The Raveonettes’ Dead Sound, make love on Jens Lekman’s Your Arms Around Me and exchange their last morning after kiss on Radiohead’s No Surprises.
As I mentioned earlier, the full tracklist has nearly enough tracks to fill six Original Soundtrack albums. The following tracklist is the Original Soundtrack tracklist plus some songs I was able to identify in the movie. Good news is that you can find the full tracklist here.
- Tilly & The Wall – Pot Kettle Black
- The Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
- Cut Chemist ft. Hymnal – What’s The Attitude
- The Breeders – Bang On
- The Raveonettes – Dead Sound
- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Blue Turning Grey
- Jens Lekman – Your Arms Around Me
- Gotye – Learnalilgivinanlovin
- Peaches – Boys Wanna Be Her
- Dolly Parton – Jolene
- 38 Special – Caught Up In You
- Har Mar Superstar ft. Adam Green – Never My Love
- Goose – Black Gloves
- The Ettes – Crown of Age
- Landon Pigg ft. Turbo Fruits – High Times
- Little Joy – Unattainable
- The Chordettes – Lollipop (Squeak E. Clean & Desert Eagles Remix)
- The Go! Team – Doing It Right
- Apollo Sunshine – Breeze
- Turbo Fruits – Get Up Get On Down (not featured in the Original Soundtrack)
- Radiohead – No Surprises (not featured in the Original Soundtrack)
- The Strokes – Heart In A Cage (not featured in the Original Soundtrack)
- The Breeders – Cannonball (not featured in the Original Soundtrack)
- The Go! Team – The Power Is On (not featured in the Original Soundtrack)
Garden State (2004)
I’ll buckle down with Garden State, because out of the three movies, it is the one I prefer. It is much more down-to-earth and deep than the previous ones. And the soundtrack is even more important here because it is directly linked to the development of the movie. Director, writer and lead actor Zach Braff picked every single track himself, and chose those particular songs because he was listening to them while writing the movie.
The Garden State soundtrack mainly consists of pop-rock and folk songs, accentuating the somehow melancholic feel of the movie. It communicates the feelings of Braff’s character, Andrew ‘Large’ Largeman, who finds himself unable to express his emotions because he has been on anti-depressants since the age of 9.
The movie opens on Coldplay’s Don’t Panic, after Largeman finds out that his mother died. The song goes along with him going through his daily routine with the exact same blank expression on his face throughout the entire day. Straight away you understand the character’s emotional unbalance: his mother died but the lyrics playing are “we live in a beautiful world“.
The rest of the movie unveils Largeman’s return to his hometown in New Jersey.
His first night back in town turns out to be marked by an ecstasy trip with In the Waiting Line by Zero 7 in the background. Then comes the big highlight of his trip: Sam (Natalie Portman) and her incredible cuteness emphasised by The Shins’ New Slang.
The movie goes on with Largeman going through more or less peculiar situations with Sam and his old high school mates. A hamster’s funeral on I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You by Colin Hay, visiting a room projecting amateur porn live on Lebanese Blonde by Thievery Corporation or shouting their pain away standing on an old crane on The Only Living Boy in New York by Simon & Garfunkel.
Every single song is perfectly connected to the situations and the characters’ emotions, when it comes to both melody and lyrics. Actually the element that is the most manifestly put forward by the soundtrack is the progressive bonding between Largeman and Sam. Two scenes that accurately illustrate the connection between them two are when Sam starts tap dancing to cheer Largeman up with Remy Zero’s Fair playing, and, above all, when the Iron & Wine version of Such Great Heights starts playing after Largeman tells Sam about a very beautiful memory of his mother and she sees in his eye the first tear he cried in over a decade and tries to save it. The soft melody of the song and Samuel Beam’s soothing vocals are brilliantly supporting the intimacy of the scene.
It turns out that the Garden State soundtrack was officially acclaimed: Braff won a Grammy Award in 2005 for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture.
- Coldplay – Don’t Panic
- The Shins – Caring Is Creepy
- Zero 7 – In The Waiting Line
- The Shins – New Slang
- Colin Hay – I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You
- Cary Brothers – Blue Eyes
- Remy Zero – Fair
- Nick Drake – One of These Things First
- Thievery Corporation – Lebanese Blonde
- Simon & Garfunkel – The Only Living Boy in New York
- Iron & Wine – Such Great Heights
- Frou Frou – Let Go
- Bonnie Somerville – Winding Road
- Alexi Murdoch – Orange Sky (not featured in the Original Soundtrack)
So that was three of my favorite soundtracks. If you haven’t seen the movies, watch them before listening to the soundtracks, because I believe that the other way round is plainly wrong!