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The 24 Greatest Movie Music Moments Of 2015

Backstreet was the only legitimate boy band that ever came out of Florida, period.

24. The Cure-accompanied briefcase battle In Ant-Man.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

While no scene in Ant-Man makes you miss Edgar Wright's sense of timing and humor more, the sequence in which the title superhero (Paul Rudd) fights villain Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) in the cluttered confines of a briefcase plummeting from a helicopter is still pretty solid, thanks to its winking soundtrack. "I'm going to disintegrate you!" Yellowjacket bellows at Ant-Man, and Siri picks up the line as a command and starts playing "Disintegration" by The Cure. The battle may weave its way around Life Savers and flying keychains, but the swelling music momentarily makes it feel epic anyway.

23. The band busts out some Lady Gaga in Ricki and the Flash.

TriStar Pictures

Ricki (Meryl Streep) and the members of her band are clearly classic rock types. The first time we see them onstage during their regular gig at a San Fernando Valley dive bar, they're playing Tom Petty's "American Girl." But never let it be said that Ricki doesn't know she's got to cater to the younger crowd as well as the bar's more seasoned drinkers. When she announces they are, by popular request, going to try playing more of "today's hits," who'd have ever guessed we'd get to bask in the sight of Streep gamely singing Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"?

22. The Turandot fight in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Paramount Pictures

Multiple snipers with different agendas, an assassination attempt, and that wittily choreographed fight on the shifting lighting rigging — in eveningwear, no less, while the show goes on and the audience watches, unaware. The opera is Puccini's Turandot, and the moment the shooters hold out for is the high note in the famous "Nessun Dorma" aria — all to hide the sound of the bullet hitting the Austrian chancellor to save him, at least temporarily.

21. That goddamn Wiz Khalifa song plays in Furious 7.

Universal Pictures

Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth's syrupy hip-hop ballad "See You Again" became maddeningly inescapable all spring and summer, but when it first unfurled in the coda of Furious 7, it was actually perfectly sweet. Nothing about an action franchise dealing with the death of one of its leads in a high-speed crash should have worked, but the Fast and Furious movies have always been unabashedly sentimental beneath the muscles and muscle cars. Rather than try to skirt around Paul Walker's passing, the movie leaned into it as it sent his character off to retirement, the song combining with that spooky, CG'd last glimpse of Brian O'Conner for an unexpectedly moving end.

20. Peter is welcomed to Neverland with a Nirvana song in Pan.

Warner Bros.

Joe Wright's Pan prequel was both bad and a huge box-office flop. But there's something to be said for the wild-eyed weirdness of the scene in which Peter (Levi Miller) and his fellow kidnappees arrive in Neverland and are greeted by Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) and his enslaved miners with a hearty rendition of that traditional pirate shanty, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Is Blackbeard, in fact, Kurt Cobain? Does he go on to found Nirvana? A Pan follow-up is unlikely, so we may never know.

19. "Modern Love" makes Lainey party in Sleeping With Other People.

IFC Films

As the comfortably settled Xander and Naomi, Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage are the secret weapons in Leslye Headland's alt romantic comedy about thirtysomethings Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) and their efforts to not let their sexual histories (and sexual tension) get in the way of their friendship. The best evidence of this is the scene in which Jake and Lainey show up to a children's birthday party at Xander and Naomi's house high on ecstasy. The marrieds watch as Lainey jubilantly strips down to a halter top, surely jump-starting puberty in some of the kids as she teaches an inappropriately sensual dance lesson to David Bowie's "Modern Love." "I miss drugs," the couple fondly muses.

18. Jamie gets Josh pumped up with "Eye of the Tiger" in While We're Young.

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Noah Baumbach's comedy never delineates its Brooklyn generation gap more neatly than when twentysomething hipster Jamie (Adam Driver) tries to psych up fortysomething filmmaker Josh (Ben Stiller) for an investor meeting by making him listen to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" on his headphones. "I remember when this song was just considered bad," Josh says. "But it's working!"

17. Daft Punk puts on "Da Funk" in Eden.

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Paul Vallée (Félix de Givry), the main character in Eden, never manages to become a world-renowned DJ. Instead, over his decade-plus rise and fall, the closest he comes is being locally famous, right on the cusp of something bigger while never crossing over. But two of his friends on the scene go from just being Thomas (Vincent Lacoste) and Guy-Man (Arnaud Azoulay) to becoming Daft Punk, and the handful of times in which their paths cross with Paul's are all terrific, especially at the house party scene in which they break out their new track. The attendees boo when the pair turns down the music, and then nervously start up "Da Funk." "Not bad," one of the characters observes, listening to the song that would become the group's first big hit, a historic moment in their career. "I prefer when it was more techno," another shrugs.

16. Jess and Milly dance to "Losing My Religion" in Miss You Already.


Catherine Hardwicke's Miss You Already is a four-hankie weepie about a pair of lifelong best friends, Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette), who find themselves respectively grappling with fertility issues and breast cancer in their late thirties. The movie swings from joyous to tragic and back, but no scene combines the two emotions as potently as the one in which the two women take an impromptu, booze-fueled cab trip to the moors. When an REM song from their shared teenagedom comes on the radio, they demand the driver pull over so that they can dance in the headlights out there in the countryside, sing, and make everyone watching sob.

15. David Bowie's "Starman" is used in an actual space context in The Martian.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The Martian's use of disco standards is a running joke — Commander Melissa Lewis's (Jessica Chastain) stash of '70s songs turned into the incongruous but somehow fitting soundtrack to which Ridley Scott's stranded-in-space saga moved. When the movie cranks up David Bowie's "Starman" for a montage right before the big rescue attempt, it's so on the nose, it should be ridiculous (only "Life on Mars" would be worse). But somehow, it's not. Instead, it's a wonderful fit for the film's bouncy, dorky sensibility, the song playing out over Mark Watney's (Matt Damon) preparations, but also the Ares 3 crew's calls to their loved ones in one of the rare glimpses we get of the astronauts' home lives. Even when the stakes are high, The Martian maintains its sense of awe and optimism, with Bowie's soaring choruses playing over Dr. Alex Vogel (Aksel Hennie) doing zero-gravity tricks for his children.

14. Cole and Sophie's Vegas interlude in We Are Your Friends.

Warner Bros.

It's fitting that when aspiring EDM star Cole (Zac Efron) and his love interest/mentor's girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) have their first romantic interlude, it's not beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but the slightly less traditional Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. The two aren't dreaming Paris dreams — they're yearning for a more modern and more fleeting grandeur, and We Are Your Friends summons it in a giddy, sexy, lush montage set to Years & Years' "Desire." Cole and Sophie may not be the most complicated of characters, but in that scene, their love story looms large, as they run through a casino floor, dance on the sidewalk, and tumble into bed illuminated by the lights of the Strip, on top of the world for the briefest of moments.

13. Ayiva's daughter dances to "We Found Love" over Skype in Mediterranea.

Sundance Selects

Ayiva (Koudous Seihon) braves a desert crossing, bandits, and a treacherous journey by sea to get from Burkina Faso to Italy in order to find work and send money home to his sister and his daughter. But even for someone as savvily adaptable as Ayiva proves himself to be, Italy turns out to be soul-draining, a place where he and his fellow African immigrants live in shanty settlements outside of town and face racism, opportunistic employers, and generally less-than-human treatment. When, toward the end of the movie, Ayiva Skypes with his family, his daughter thanks him for the gift of an MP3 player he swiped earlier on. When she plays him her favorite Rihanna track and dances, the weight of his sacrifice and the distance between them feel incomprehensible.

12. "Uptown Girl" turns up in the Trainwreck dance sequence.

Universal Pictures

The most adorable part of Amy's (Amy Schumer) big romantic gesture to win back Aaron (Bill Hader) isn't that, as the decidedly nonprofessional dancer in the group, her timing is always off and she forgets some of the choreography — it's that the dance number manages to include Aaron's favorite Billy Joel song and to make it heartwarming.

11. Amy Winehouse sings "Back to Black" in Amy.

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Like any music documentary worth its salt, Amy features plenty of its subject's songs alongside its portrayal of the singer's downward spiral. But the scene in which Amy Winehouse sings "Back to Black" in the recording studio in 2006 is noteworthy for the blast of Winehouse's unadorned vocals it offers, a reminder of just how much incredible talent she had. That voice is so big and so imbued with pain and a sense of having lived — and then the track kicks in. Instant goosebumps.

10. The existence of the Doof Warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Warner Bros.

If you were a psychotic cult-leading despot at the end of the world, you would travel with your own flamethrower guitar player too.

9. Lisa sings Cyndi Lauper in Anomalisa.

Paramount Pictures

Voices have a lot of meaning in Charlie Kaufman's animated Anomalisa, for reasons that become clear as its warped version of the world comes into focus. So when Michael Stone (David Thewlis) requests that Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the woman he met at his hotel, sing for him, it makes sense even though it's an excruciating ask. Lisa is shy and not very comfortable in her own skin ("I sing — everybody sings — I just don't sing well," she protests). But her rendition of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is tentative and lovely, a delicate a cappella version of a tune about being carefree from a woman whose life has been anything but. It's a touching moment, and then a funny one, and it's pretty much perfect.

8. Brian Wilson hears the music in his head in Love & Mercy.

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With much respect to John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks, the best parts of the dual timeline in Love & Mercy all take place in the '60s, when a younger Brian Wilson, played by Paul Dano, creates some of the greatest pop songs of all time and has a mental breakdown. The sequences Wilson spends in the studio, coaxing soon-to-be familiar sounds from a group of session musicians, are blissfully centered on the actual assembling of visionary music. "How does that work — two basslines in two different keys?" one of the musicians asks Wilson. "It works in my head," he replies. It works in ours, too, since when they start playing, it turns out to be the intro to "Wouldn't It Be Nice."

7. Alexandra takes on "Toyland" in Tangerine.

Magnolia Pictures

It's hard to say what's more poetically sad about the scene in which Alexandra (Mya Taylor) sings to a nearly empty bar on Christmas Eve. Maybe it's that she's spent the whole day passing out flyers that every recipient clearly threw away, all for stage time she has to pay for. Or maybe it's that her song choice is so beautiful and melancholy (and seasonally appropriate!) — "Toyland," made famous by Doris Day. It's an ode to lost innocence and irretrievable childhoods, a theme that's almost unbearable in the context of the lives of the characters on screen. At least Alexandra has Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) in the audience to cheer her on: "Clap! Clap for her!" Sin-Dee demands. What else are friends for?

6. The anniversary-party dance in 45 Years.

IFC Films

The Platters' version of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is the song to which Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) had their first dance as a married couple at their wedding, 45 years ago. Kate hums it as she goes about the comfortable, humdrum life she and her husband have shared, one that over the course of Andrew Haigh's quiet heartbreaker of a movie starts to erode at its very core after a revelation about an earlier romance Geoff had that ended in tragedy. By the time they share a dance to it again at their anniversary party, Kate doesn't see anything about their relationship the same way, and the emotions that play out over Rampling's face during the long take are a mini–master class in acting.

5. The targets of "No Vaseline" hear it for the first time in Straight Outta Compton.

Universal Pictures

There are plenty of memorable music moments in the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, from the scene where Eazy-E first gets coaxed into the recording booth for "Boyz-n-the-Hood" to the one where the group performs "Fuck tha Police" in Detroit in defiance of the police. But for its gleeful use of the power of moviemaking, the "No Vaseline" scene takes the cake. Having been taunted as a "Benedict Arnold" by the remaining members of N.W.A. on "100 Miles and Runnin'" after he leaves the group to go solo, Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) responds with one of the most famous diss tracks ever made. The movie cuts from Cube recording "No Vaseline" to its targets hearing it as a group, individuals flinching as they're called out. It's the ideal imagined scenario for a song like that, its subjects a captive audience, as intent as if they were at a listening party.

4. The Rihanna lip sync in Girlhood.

Strand Releasing

The girl gang that Marieme (Karidja Touré) joins in Céline Sciamma's French coming-of-age film doesn't offer her any better sense of her future in a life of limited options, growing up poor in a Paris suburb with a working single mother, two younger siblings that she's been helping raise, and an abusive older brother. But Lady (Assa Sylla), Fily (Marietou Tore), and Adiatou (Lindsay Karamoh) give Marieme a newfound sense of belonging and of confidence. The feeling of giddy freedom fuels the scene in which the girls, partying in a hotel room, lip-synch to "Diamonds" by Rihanna, luminous in the blue light. Shine bright indeed.

3. Nelly sings "Speak Low" in Phoenix.

Sundance Selects

Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) was a cabaret singer in Berlin before the war, before she had to go into hiding because she's a Jew, before she was captured and brought to a concentration camp she barely survived. Phoenix is a movie about how this traumatized woman tries to recreate the life she once had, including her relationship with her musician husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), who may have betrayed her, and who anyway doesn't recognize her due to reconstructive surgery. It takes Nelly singing again — a devastating rendition of the jazz standard "Speak Low" — for the truth to slowly dawn on characters who've found comfort in deep denial.

2. Richie makes the cashier smile in Magic Mike XXL.

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In the first Magic Mike, male stripping was portrayed as this irresistible dead-end gig for its characters, an addictive, never-ending fest of female adoration. Magic Mike XXL reunites the Kings of Tampa in order to turn its attention to the services they provide, with the understanding that it's not sex that their customer base is after — which is why Richie (Joe Manganiello) gets sent into a minimart, tasked to make the bored girl behind the counter smile. The way he does it, with an impromptu routine to "I Want It That Way" (a callback to an earlier conversation that ended with the insistence that "Backstreet was the only legitimate boy band that ever came out of Florida, period"), is a masterpiece of rippling muscles and comic timing, topped off with the rest of the guys cheering Richie on from outside the window.

1. The theme from Rocky finally plays in Creed.

Warner Bros.

One of the reasons Creed works so well as an update of the Rocky franchise as well as a continuation of it is that it figures out a near-miraculous balance of the familiar and the new. That's never more true than the moment toward the end of the big fight (because there's got to be a big fight) when the triumphant strains of Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now" (because you've got to include the Rocky theme) finally kick in. Director Ryan Coogler and composer Ludwig Goransson know that a little of the famous song goes a long way, and it's all the better for having not been overused. It is, in fact, goddamn magical.

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