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The 16 Greatest Movie Music Moments Of 2014

Come and get your love.

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16. Robert Pattinson Sings "Pretty Girl Rock." (The Rover)

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A24

David Michôd's post-apocalyptic movie is set in an Australia filled with brutality, in which people have begun murdering each other over sparse resources and personal slights. It's not a place for upbeat musical cues, which is why there's something particularly jolting about the moment when the gruff Eric (Guy Pearce) and his hostage-turned-helper Rey (Robert Pattinson) make their way over the rough terrain to the shiny sounds of Keri Hilson's "Pretty Girl Rock." Better still is the cut to Rey alone in a car, aimlessly singing along to Hilson's entreaties that people not hate her because she's beautiful. Civilization may be dying, but some songs, like cockroaches, will apparently live on forever.

15. "Midnight Train to Georgia" Plays Over the Home Mart Loudspeakers. (The Equalizer)

Sony Pictures Releasing

When Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) signals to the gang of Russian gangsters gathered at his old Home Depot-ish workplace that he's come to obliterate them, he naturally does so by blasting "Midnight Train to Georgia" over the loudspeakers. It's a perfectly timed reference to an early scene where Robert jokingly tells his co-workers he used to be a Pip, as in Gladys Knight & the Pips. As Knight sings that "He said he's going back to find / What's left of his world / The world he left behind not so long ago," we can bask in McCall's appreciation for a good callback as well as his awesomely resourceful killing abilities.

14. Invisible Musicians Play Backup for Keira Knightley. (Begin Again)

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Anchor Bay Entertainment

John Carney's latest musical drama is slicker and more star-filled than his breakout Once, but not nearly as charming, despite the presence of Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo as a broken-hearted singer-songwriter and a down-and-out producer who meet at an open mic night in New York. But that first meeting does have a burst of magic, as Gretta (Knightley) performs a song solo, with just her guitar, to a room of people who aren't really paying attention. The exception is Dan (Ruffalo), who hears a future hit in the song — as inspiration strikes him, he sees the instruments behind Gretta come to life, animated by invisible players, filling out her sound until what we're hearing is richer and practically radio-ready.

13. The Classroom Ode To The Eternal Engine. (Snowpiercer)

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Radius-TWC

What does a patriotic anthem look like in Bong Joon-ho's frosty dystopia in which humanity's been wiped out, aside from the residents of a high-tech train forever circling the globe? Well, it's cheery-sounding, at least, though the lyrics are a little grim: "What happens if the engine stops?" chirps the perky teacher (Alison Pill), and her students obediently chime in response, "We all freeze and die!" It's a darkly satirical encapsulation of the messaging those in charge of the train use to maintain order — that the classes everyone's been organized into must be accepted, and that everyone should be continually grateful for just having a place on board.

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12. An Animated Bullfighter Sings "Creep." (The Book of Life)

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Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

This sumptuous-looking Mexican folklore-themed animated film is filled with original songs, but the highlight isn't new — it's a stealthy appearance from a '90s alternative hit. When musician and reluctant torero Manolo Sánchez (voiced by Diego Luna) gets out his guitar to express his melancholy and longing, what comes out is... Radiohead? It's an unexpected, indulgent, and effective Easter egg for the adults in the audience.

11. "I'd rather be a hammer than a nail." (Wild)

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Fox Searchlight

Simon & Garfunkel's chestnut of a Peruvian folk tune cover "El Condor Pasa" acquires talismanic force in Wild, appearing in bits and pieces throughout the film. Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) mutters a line of the song ("I'd rather be a hammer than a nail") in the opening scene, right before she pulls out a toenail that's bloodied and broken from her too-small boots. Bars of it crop up, bits of it are hummed, and it becomes clear in the flashback above that it was a favorite of Cheryl's late mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), who is caught singing the melody by her less than charmed daughter. By the time the song finally plays in full, it's no longer creaky, but powerful and poignant.

10. India Jean-Jacques Sings Nina Simone. (Beyond the Lights)

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Relativity

Gina Prince-Bythewood's crackling music industry melodrama is peppered with some dead-on facsimiles of highly processed R&B hits — check out the music video for Noni's (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) single "Masterpiece," featuring some guest verses from rapper Kid Culprit (Machine Gun Kelly), a perfect pantomime of writhing flesh and conspicuous consumption. But the song at its center is an older, simpler, and far more soulful one — Nina Simone's "Blackbird," the anthem of Noni's loneliness, isolation, and yearning. The adult Noni sings "Blackbird" in a moment of self-discovery, but the best rendition belongs to the heartbreaking India Jean-Jacques as 10-year-old Noni. She performs the song on stage at a talent show, bespectacled, serious, and unadorned, belting out Simone's words with an emotion beyond her years, and bringing the house down.

9. Marion Cotillard Turns up the Radio. (Two Days, One Night)

Sundance Selects

When Petula Clark’s 1970 hit "La Nuit N’en Finit Plus" comes on the car radio in Two Days, One Night, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) surreptitiously turns it off. It's a sad song (the title, in English, translates to "The Night That Never Ends"), and that seems like the last thing that Manu's depressive wife, Sandra (Marion Cotillard), needs as she fights desperately to save her job. But Sandra catches the move and sees it for what it is, scolding Manu for thinking her so fragile as to need that sort of protection. She turns the radio back on, and the song fills the car, and suddenly it's triumphant instead of tragic, an affirmation of the struggle and faith in humanity the Dardenne brothers' latest film celebrates so movingly.

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8. Bricksburg Bounces to "Everything Is Awesome." (The Lego Movie)

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Warner Bros.

Bricksburg is basically a fascist state, but try asking any of the citizens about that. They bounce through their uniform existence to the sugary accompaniment of "Everything Is Awesome," which assures listeners that everything is, indeed, going awesomely. The genius of the song, which was written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton, and The Lonely Island and performed by Tegan and Sara, is that it's as irresistible an earworm as it is inane, an aural drug soothing everyone through a day of overprice coffee, traffic, empty small talk, and mindless instruction-following before heading home and resting up to do it all over again. Thank god that only happens in the movies.

7. A Late Night Boogie Turned Hook Up. (Obvious Child)

A24

It's a good year for Paul Simon, movie-wise — in addition to "El Condor Pasa" being such a central presence in Wild, his solo song "The Obvious Child" turned up on both the soundtracks for Gillian Robespierre's abortion rom-com, which shares its title, and Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here. It's Obvious Child that makes the most ecstatic use of the song's phenomenal drumming, though, by setting the one-night stand into motion that will leave comedian Donna (Jenny Slate) pregnant. Donna, who's getting over a breakup, meets the kind, square Max (Jake Lacy) at a show and takes him home with her for a boozy night of sex, preceded by a terrifically goofy montage of dancing.

6. The Jersey Boys Closing Credits. (Jersey Boys)

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Warner Home Video

The most frustrating thing about Clint Eastwood's disappointing adaptation of the Four Seasons jukebox musical is how little emphasis it gave the songs. They were all performed staidly within the reality of the movie, sometimes as part of montages bringing the story forward, as if they were too boring to be given the camera's full focus rather than, you know, the point of any musical. But Jersey Boys does jump to life, finally, for one more traditional song and dance number. It's to "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)," and it takes place, ironically, as the credits are rolling, as Frankie (John Lloyd Young), Bob (Erich Bergen), Nick (Michael Lomenda), and Tommy (Vincent Piazza) are suddenly young again, reunited and happy and bouncing through the Belleville streets, and all of the other characters are there as well. It is, sadly, so much better than everything that has come before in the actual movie.

5. "Not quite my tempo." (Whiplash)

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Sony Pictures Classics

Damien Chazelle's drama is filled with musical moments — it's about jazz musicians, more specifically drummer Andrew (Miles Teller), who wants to be just like Buddy Rich, and his impossibly demanding band leader Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Whiplash makes drumming look like an athletic exercise, with Andrew frequently leaving blood and sweat all over his kit, and while there can be moments of joy to the music, it is more often emphasized as being very hard work. And that's never more true than in the sequence in which Andrew has his first real brush with Fletcher's sadism, which is more an anti-musical moment, a crushing of momentum. Fletcher gives Andrew a shot at playing with the studio band, even cheering him along for a while, before swooping in on him like a hawk diving at prey, stopping the band again and again and blaming it on Andrew, who's not playing at whatever precise and possibly nonexistent speed is in Fletcher's head. The phrase "not quite my tempo" develops the weight of horror by the end of the scene.

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4. A Soul Legend Sees His Future. (Get On Up)

Universal Pictures

Tate Taylor's James Brown biopic is so much weirder, rowdier, and better than the sedate genre deserves, jumping through the soul legend's life in no particular order, including some incandescent performances from Chadwick Boseman as James and the occasional surreal touch that packs a wallop. Take the scene in which James, as a boy, is participating in a monstrous charity event in which the white guests watch a group of blindfolded black kids try to knock each other out in a boxing ring. James, flat on the mat after taking a tough blow, eyes the musicians who've been hired to play for the crowd. In his eyes, the mild jazz they're playing transforms into a funk riff, and then he's standing with them, punching out his opponent to win.

3. A Real and Fake Vampire Bond Over Records. (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night)

Kino Lorber

Ana Lily Amirpour's Iranian vampire Western is a sui generis movie — sometimes creepy, sometimes hip, sometimes sad, and sometimes deeply and surprisingly romantic, like in the scene in which the Girl (Sheila Vand) meets a drugged-out, costumed Arash (Arash Marandi) on the street and takes him back to her home. We've seen her kill someone earlier, but suddenly she's just a lonely girl putting on records, nervous in the company of a boy she likes. The scene in which Arash slowly approaches and embraces her as "Death" by White Lies swells is as gloriously lush and dreamy as the film had previously been sparse and bleak, the music creating a bubble in which only the two strange lovers exist.

2. Chris Pratt Dances on a Faraway Planet. (Guardians of the Galaxy)

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Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Marvel's hugely successful experiment with the weirder, wilder side of its library is both an '80s space adventure throwback and a self-aware pop culture comedy, and it sets that tone perfectly in its opening scene, in which Peter Quill (Pratt) puts on some headphones and dances his way through a forbidding alien landscape to the strains of Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love." It's silly and so very exuberant, Peter white-boy jiving his way past attacking aliens and monster-filled crevices like a kid getting down in his bedroom, and it kicks off what is one of the year's best soundtracks.

1. The "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" Lip Sync. (The Skeleton Twins)

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Roadside Attractions

Craig Johnson's movie about a pair of unhappy adult siblings united after a decade apart mainly shows off the solid dramatic acting chops of stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. But then there is the giddily wonderful scene in which Milo (Hader) tries to cheer up and diffuse the anger of his sister Maggie (Wiig) by resurrecting their childhood routine of lip-synching to Starship's cheesetastic "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now." Milo goes big from the beginning, trying and failing several times to win over a resistant Maggie, but the best moment is when she finally surrenders, unable to stop the smile from curling the edges of her pout, and the two jump up and dance together, finally, at least for a moment, on the some page.