Once in a while, it happens: a movie and its soundtrack are of equal strength, equal measure, and seem equally determined to spend every day rivalling for a place in your heart. When this happens, it’s magical. You watch said movie getting psyched to listen, and then you listen to said soundtrack, getting psyched to watch. We’ve all been there, you’re probably thinking of an example right now, and you’re probably hoping that I’m going to talk about it.
Well I’m not, and I’m sorry.
Below is a list of the movies that go half the distance. These are the movies that are fine, sure (and okay, maybe bad) and by no means are they great. They’re okay. They’re movies we know and have heard of. But their soundtracks? They’re a gift to each and every person on earth and, unlike soundtracks that are as unforgettable as their just-as-average musical counterparts, these soundtracks make up for any ill feelings or “wow I can’t believe I used to memorize the choreography” regrets. These are simply the soundtracks that trump the movie. Let’s explore them.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
The Great Gatsby is my personal Festivus, which means I’ve got a lot of problems (with you people). I (we) wanted it to be good. We needed it to be good. Leonardo DiCaprio and his Oscar dreams had stepped out of their traditional roles to tackle infamous Jay Gatsby and his broken heart, putting him smack dab in the middle of our teenage “I love you, Leo” daydreams. He was romantic again; this was Titanic for adults.
But no: Jack Dawson had died. But with news that Jay Z was producing said soundtrack and had recruited the likes of Lana Del Rey, Florence Welch, and Beyonce to appear, our hopes and expectations soared higher and higher until we saw the movie. The soundtrack? As promised, a mecca of Jigga splendour. The movie? Not Titanic. Not Romeo + Juliet. Not even Catch Me If You Can. It was an okay film. And if Jay Z has taught us anything, it’s that anything “okay” really isn’t worth bothering with.
Garden State (2004)
Garden State probably mattered a lot to you if you were growing up as Zach Braff was force-fed The Shins at the hands of Natalie Portman. “I hate my hometown, too!” you blogged and MSN chatted about. “I am also miserable with the lack of excellence in my life!”
Maybe you wanted a Manic Pixie Dream Girl like Natalie Portman. Maybe you wanted to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl like Natalie Portman. But regardless of what you wanted then, the older you got, the more you realized that Zach Braff’s character wasn’t worthy of listening to acts like Iron & Wine, Zero 7, and Simon & Garfunkel, because Zach Braff’s character was a whiny complainer, and even Coldplay would’ve turned up their noses at his overly emotional shit.
City of Angels (1998)
In 1998’s City of Angels, Nicolas Cage plays an angel who falls in love with a human named Meg Ryan, and then—after he leaves Angelhood and becomes mortal—Meg Ryan is hit by a car and dies. That’s the movie. “Do you know who would play a wonderful romantic love interest?” a movie producer said. “Nicolas Cage. To me, he just screams angel.”
Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack is rich with late-nineties jams by Alanis Morrisette and the Goo Goo Dolls (“Iris,” you guys!) trumps this movie tenfold. If only Nicolas Cage had just shouted even once.
Twilight: Eclipse (2010)
Each and every one of the Twilight soundtracks was amazing, but I’m going to say it and I’m going to stand by it: Eclipse ruled the most. With the movie’s main theme provided by Toronto’s own Metric (and with a track list chalk full of artists like Bat For Lashes, Vampire Weekend, and Band of Horses), Eclipse’s soundtrack completely embodied the Pitchfork-approved landscape of the late 2000s. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t maintain a modern mandate: while Eclipse was darker, more brooding, and saw a vampire named Riley tear Seattle apart, it was still part of a confusing and relatively damaging franchise. (I mean, would Emily Haines put up with a werewolf and vampire telling her what to do? Obviously not.)
Space Jam (1996)
Not to call myself a movie expert, but Space Jam was insane. It was a movie made by adults—and starring a very famous one—about Michael Jordan who must save the Looney Toons from alien enslavement by winning a basketball game. This, ’90s aficionados, is what the decade was really about. (Questionable decision-making.) So maybe that’s why artists like Seal, R Kelly (ugh), Method Man, and Monica signed up to provide music for this children’s film; maybe, they too, believed they could fly.
The Bodyguard (1992)
Whitney Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” is the stuff of wonderful, beautiful, magical dreams. Her songs, “Run To You” and “Queen of the Night” are still show- and sing-a-long-stopping, and even “Jesus Loves Me” doesn’t always warrant a skip. (Sometimes.) In fact, the entire Bodyguard soundtrack is and was tight and right, and it changed the game for many reasons. (The biggest: now all of us think we can sing, “I Will Always Love You.”)
But that being said, The Bodyguard—movie-style—wasn’t the same. Sure, Whitney Houston was a capable actor, but her singing eclipsed every other character, plot development, and most other scenes. How were we supposed to care about Kevin Costner when she was singing “Queen of the Night”? How were we supposed to remember a stalker was afoot when any other song came on? Exactly: we couldn’t. But we did remember the lyrics to “I’m Every Woman.”
Love, Actually (2003)
Long ago, a lot of us enjoyed the hell out of Love, Actually and that’s because none of us had a chance. Place Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, and Hugh Grant in the same scene, and you’re just asking us to overlook the terrible security at Heathrow Airport, or that Natalie—Hugh Grant’s assistant in the film—is objectified in nearly every scene. (Even her family calls her “Plumpy”! What the shit?) Now, we are 11 years older, wiser, and more socially aware (I hope), so we can at least focus less on the plot points of said ensemble rom-com and more on the fact that its corresponding soundtrack is, well, great.
Featuring Kelly Clarkson (“The Trouble With Love Is”—what a jam), Dido (never forget Rick Grimes‘ dramatic sweater zip-up), Joni Mitchell, and the Beach Boys, Love, Actually‘s soundtrack was not so much about Christmas and/or the season of love, and instead seemed to focus on solid, timeless artists. Should we still skip over “Medley” by Maroon 5 and “Wherever You Will Go” by The Calling? Absolutely. But damn it, The Pointer Sister’s “Jump” is always—always—the best choice.
Coyote Ugly (2000)
This is a movie about bartenders who dance on bars, a woman who wants to be famous (so she dances on bars), and Tyra Banks, who makes her feature film debut. Tragically, it did not clean up at the Oscars, but its soundtrack did, however, clean up in our hearts (I’m not 100 per cent sure what that means). Thanks to elaborate scenes/choreography set to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” EMF’s “Unbelievable,” and INXS’ “I Need You Tonight” (which saw one of the bartender’s boyfriend also dancing on the bar), the soundtrack channeled the rough-and-tumble nature of a dive so intense not even Guy Fieri dare enter it. And if you come from a town where only bars like that are available, it simply offers the sounds of home.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)
It’s very important to establish right now that Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was by no means a bad movie. It wasn’t a bad choice to see it, it wasn’t a bad choice to be excited about it, and it wasn’t a bad choice to feel like you related to any character, especially if you were roughly 19-24 during its release, since it was made especially for you. (We all had and still have Michael Cera’s American Apparel zip-up, and that’s just a fact.)
But coming-of-age films are tough (see: Garden State), and while Nick and Norah were far from the naval-gazing experience of the aforementioned Zach Braff film, it still doesn’t/didn’t hold up to its musical counterpart, which featured “we’re up all night!” songs like We Are Scientists’ “After Hours,” heartwarming jams like Band of Horses’ “Our Swords,” and Shout Out Louds’ “Very Loud.” A time capsule of late-2000s indie. And frankly, no film will really ever do justice to something like that.