1. The Broken Circle Breakdown
Especially: “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” and “If I Needed You” by The Broken Circle Breakdown Bluegrass Band
This evocative and tragic love story has been likened to Blue Valentine and Walk the Line, but, in actuality, there’s no film quite like it, and one of its strongest elements is its bluegrass soundtrack. The lush, highly emotional covers of folk classics (sung by the main characters, who fall in love because of their shared love for American music) are heartbreaking without being heavy-handed, and profound without being complex, making for one of the best soundtracks of the year, hands down.
2. The Sapphires
Especially: “Who’s Lovin’ You,” “Get Used to Me,” and “Gotcha” by Jessica Mauboy
This indie film is based on a true story about four indigenous girls in Australia who form a band and, with the help of an unemployed talent scout (played by the adorable Chris O’Dowd), tour around Vietnam, entertaining soldiers during the war. The film is filled with Supremes-esque, showstopping numbers, most of them sung by the insanely gifted Mauboy.
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
Especially: “The Last Thing on My Mind” by Stark Sands With Punch Brothers; “Please Mr. Kennedy” by Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver; and “Fare Thee Well” by Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford
Oscar Isaac proves he can more than handle the pressure of being the frontman of this much-anticipated Coen Brothers flick. Also, the above clip is as hilarious as it is musically impressive. Did I mention Justin Timberlake?
4. Upstream Color
Especially: “As If It Would Have a Universal and Memorable Ending” and “Leaves Expanded May Be Prevailing Blue Mixed with Yellow of the Sand” by Shane Carruth
On top of directing, writing, and starring in this mind-bending film, Carruth also composed the soundtrack (and he went through a similar process for Primer). You’d think he’d be stretching himself too thin, but just give this layered soundtrack a listen and you’ll see how eerily perfect it is for the very special narrative at hand.
5. Short Term 12
Especially: “So You Know What It’s Like” by Keith Stanfield; “Brushbroom Glow” by The Tree Ring; and “Wild Again” by Canines
Just watch the clip above and try not to get the chills.
Especially: “Shenzou,” “Gravity,” and “Debris” by Steven Price
A movie this epic calls for an equally epic soundtrack, and composer Price absolutely delivers with instrumentals that illustrate the peacefulness of outer space and add a whole new coat of suspense when the time calls for it.
7. 20 Feet from Stardom
Especially: All of it, since they’re all classics (but with an entirely new context now).
This documentary shines a light on the backup singers for classic musicians like Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Sheryl Crow, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen. Seeing the talent and unfulfilled careers of these extraordinary individuals will surely make numbers like “Gimme Shelter” sound a little different.
Especially: “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel and “For the First Time in Forever” by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel
Because Idina Menzel + Disney is a match made in heaven. And Kristen Bell ain’t too shabby, either.
9. Frances Ha
Especially: “Camille” and “King of Hearts Le Repos” by Georges Delerue, and “Million Dollar Doll” by Dean & Britta
This film is New York’s answer to Amelie, and the quaint, polite-yet-inquisitive score is reflective of everything there is to love about the protagonist.
10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Especially: “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Lorde; “Capitol Letter” by Patti Smith; and “Who We Are” by Imagine Dragons
Lorde’s take on “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” is a suitably grim cover, and the fact that the legendary Patti Smith is on this soundtrack at all is a treat.
11. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Especially: Honestly, everything, preferably while in a hot tub reading the series from beginning to end.
Everyone knows Howard Shore is a soundtrack wizard, especially when it comes to the Lord of the Rings scores he’s given us since 2001. But on top of the melodies that we will always associate with The Shire, there are some unexpectedly delightful pieces on the Desolation of Smaug soundtrack, such as Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” (see above).
Especially: “Tom Blankenship” and “Sleeping in Trees” by David Wingo; “The Kid” by Ben Nichols
The score of this adventure drama — which is mostly gritty, but with moments of melodic clarity — reflects the strong sense of hopefulness that permeates the narrative throughout. And it’s just lovely.
13. The History of Future Folk
Especially: “Over the Moon” and “Space Worms” by Future Folk
The film is about an acoustic space duo, and the music is seriously impressive, despite the silliness of the premise.
14. American Hustle
Especially: “Irving Montage” by Danny Elfman and “White Rabbit” by Mayssa Karaa
This David O. Russell movie shines thanks, in part, to its sexy soundtrack. That cover of “White Rabbit” alone could carry the whole feature, but, luckily, there are plenty of other goodies throughout.
15. Behind the Candelabra
Especially: “Why Do l Love You” and “The Impossible Dream” by Michael Douglas
What’s better than a lively Liberace number? Michael Douglas’ voice as the legendary singer recites an inspirational monologue over it, that’s what.
16. The Great Gatsby
Especially: “Love Is Blindness” by Jack White; “Back to Black” by Beyoncé x André 3000; and “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey
Love it or hate it, you have to admit The Great Gatsby yielded a crazily impressive lineup for its soundtrack, with Bey covering Amy Winehouse and Del Ray’s song becoming one of the biggest hits of the summer. And you know you were totally obsessed with the trailer when you heard White’s cover of “Love Is Blindness.”
17. The Bling Ring
Especially: All of it, which is perfect for your next party.
M.I.A. Azealia. 2 Chainz. Lil Wayne. Kanye. deadmau5. What more could you want?
Honorable MentionSpring Breakers
Honorable mention only because James Franco’s Britney Spears cover isn’t on the official soundtrack (but it should be).