Sunday, November 21, 2010

Top 5 Best Film Songs in Non-Musicals

 While I'm far from being the most knowledgeable when it comes to music, there's a certain undeniable unity in the right song at the right moment. It can convey more emotion than any conversation or string of dialogue. Taking a chance on putting a non-musical is always a risk. If it's bad you'll risk disconnecting with the audience. If it's forced you'll risk weakening the message of your story. So I've gone ahead and compiled my top 5 non-musical film songs. Before you begin questioning, here were my criteria:

1. There has to be a character actually singing in the scene (which excludes movies like Ferris Bueller and Risky Business where their main scenes are being lip-synched)
2. The scene had to be important to the film, not just a moment tossed in for good comedic measure (no matter how much I love Wayne's World)
3. The song needed to blend in to the film, become apart of it and inseparable. To think of the film is to think of this song.

So, without further ado, here are my top 5 non-musical songs:

5. MAGNOLIA - Wise Up
After all our main characters have gone through, the wide array of emotional issues, and torment this climatic scene sends shock waves through the cast of colorful characters. Magnolia is a movie that loves to cause rifts in time. Wonderfully self-aware at the breaking points of these people P.T. Anderson's use of Wise Up strikes a cord with the viewer and won't let go.

4. CASABLANCA - As Time Goes By
The wrench in the machine, As Time Goes By not only spurred one of the most popular (if not most misquoted) quote in film history it became an absolute staple of the film. As Time Goes By is really the kick off point for Casablanca, it's introduction reunites the long lost lovers, brings the story into picture and becomes the catalyst from which all the following events derive. A truly timeless song performed by Dooley Wilson.

3. IKIRU - Gondola No Uta
In perhaps his most visually vivid moment, Kurosawa sums up the entire life of one character in a single shot with a single song. When first sang Gondola No Uta is delivered in the melancholy tone of a man who has just accepted he will face death. In this final scene a perfect bookend for the character Kanji Wantanabe is given. He is no longer the sadist awaiting doom, but rather the content who just completed the one great work of his life. 

2. HENRY V - Non Nobis Domine
Utilizing a Latin Hymn on humility Kenneth Branagh created one of the single greatest single takes in cinema history. As our hero, King Henry, carries the body of a dead child lost in battle we can see the wounded spread across throughout the background. The land, once beautiful and lush, now covered in mud, blood, and the corpses of soldiers. Alongside the wounded soldiers Branagh does a brilliant job of cutting character singing into background music (this one barely sneaks by on the criteria but it's such a brilliant scene I would feel remiss if I didn't include it).

1. ALMOST FAMOUS - Tiny Dancer
A perfect example of when a song played at the right time with the right characters in the right moment it can make an impact, not only on the film but on the viewer as well. Tiny Dancer serves not only as a reminder to the viewer that music is a uniting force, but it also reminds the characters of what is most important  to them. Why they are what they are, and why they do what they do. Wonderfully captured by Cameron Crowe, this scene works on so many levels it's really not fair.

Well those are my picks. Let me know which ones I missed, forgot, or didn't even know of! 

6 better thoughts:

Brian Dunn said...

Interesting list. I haven't seen Magnolia or Henry V yet, but I do plan to see them soon. Not the biggest Ikiru fan, but the other two I agree with completely. I'd probably have Rififi when the woman sings the title song. I'd also probably put something from Nashville in there. I'd also totally put down Chaplin in Modern Times when he sings the nonsensical song in the restaurant.

snobbyfilmguy said...

Chaplin in Modern Times...otherwise the list was good. And it's too bad the song and dance number btwn Travolta Uma in Pulp Fiction doesn't count.

Univarn said...

@Brian The song in Rififi didn't have a fair chance because I had my volume high when she started singing, and she sings it in a high pitch to begin with. I haven't seen Modern Times recently enough to toss it in. I also consider Nashville to be a musical, even if not a traditional one.

@Snobby I avoided music/dance numbers for a simple reason: Would end up with a lot of different scenes that are great for a lot of different reasons and I couldn't justifiably compare them all.

Parisa said...

Nice post! Would be fine to see a list of the most typical film music, like the overused songs. :)

filmgeek said...

I love the Tiny Dancer scene in Almost Famous :) That would be in my top 5, along with Can't Take My Eyes Off You in 10 Things I Hate About You, Moon River in Breakfast At Tiffany's, Waltz For A Night in Before Sunset and Anyone Else But You from Juno

Simon said...

Wise Up, yes! I love that moment.

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