Belting Katy Perry with Kim Jong Un or booty-shaking to disco tracks with your robot – these are 2015’s poppiest scenes
2015 has been all about standout pop music scenes – an extra dimension that jogs the memory, infuses energy, defines a character, contextualises a scene, and always sounds better than a didactic string score. Some real talk: classical music is boring and irrelevant, unless the character is a psychopathic Beethoven nerd like in A Clockwork Orange. So, let’s run down, month by month, when you wished cinemas handed out headphones instead of 3D glasses.
JANUARY: EX MACHINA
OLIVER CHEATHAM – “GET DOWN SATURDAY NIGHT”
Taking a break from doing the robot, crazed inventor Oscar Isaac opts for a more intricate dance move, partnered by his silent servant. “After a long day of Turing tests,” he advises, “you’ve gotta unwind.” And he does, swinging his hips and limbs to an 80s disco beat, for a lucky audience of one: Domhnall Gleeson, just a little too freaked out to appreciate the neon-lit choreography. Bringing levity to a film that treats its silly premise super-seriously, the scene is why sci-fi and all its pesky rules exist.
FEBRUARY: THE INTERVIEW
KATY PERRY – “FIREWORKS”
“They hate us ‘cause they ain’t us” – a phrase appropriate for Katy Perry’s fanbase, but said by James Franco in The Interview. Ever the multitasker, Franco joyrides a tank with his new BFF, local celebrity Kim Jong Un, as they rock out to “Fireworks”. It’s funny and makes the dictator a tiny bit more likeable (you know, if it was actually real, unlike the atrocities he committed). The song itself, aside from its catchiness, seems to be picked for wordplay when it reappears for the face-melting scene. Seth Rogen did at least ask Katy Perry for permission, while forgetting to cc the North Korean government in the email.
MARCH: THE VOICES
THE O'JAYS – “SING A HAPPY SONG”
At the end of The Voices, Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Jesus H. Christ form an unlikely pop outfit that could sell out arena tours in mere seconds. After the animals have their fun yapping in the movie, the humans get to sing in a credits sequence that’s effectively a music video directed by Marjane Satrapi. The cast, in character, prance and chant in kitsch costumes befitting of Logan’s Run, decorating a white background like sugary cereal drowning in milk. Hey, Ryan Reynolds, we forgive you for The Proposal.
APRIL: WHILE WE’RE YOUNG
2PAC – “HIT 'EM UP”
James Murphy does the score, and there’s a Beastie Boy in the cast, but the musical highlight of Noah Baumbach’s “Oh no, I’m old” comedy is a hip hop montage expounding on its central conflict. A contentious diss track from the 90s rap war, “Hit Em Up” was released by 2Pac three months before he was shot. Here, it plays as Adam Driver cycles hands-free, clicking his fingers and adjusting his hat, while leaving Ben Stiller behind, who’s suffering back pain. Not quite the East Coast/West Coast rivalry, admittedly, but the song still works.
RIHANNA – “DIAMONDS”
A badass girl gang from the Paris projects combine their cash for a hotel room and a private karaoke party where everyone knows the words. It’s a key moment for Karidja Touré’s shy protagonist who bonds with her new pals to the Rihanna anthem, because that’s the power of RiRi and the memorability of a song with only about 10 different words. Not only did Rihanna grant permission for the song’s use, she adored the scene and didn’t charge a license fee. That’s girlhood in action.
JUNE: KNOCK KNOCK
PIXIES – “WHERE IS MY MIND”
Ending with “Where Is My Mind?” has been done before, in Fight Club and your local indie disco night, but is unbeatable in Knock Knock, with Keanu Reeves – buried in his back garden – screaming at a higher volume than Black Francis. Keanu’s departing torturers, appreciative of guitar riffs and irony, spin the song as a parting gift, while he goes crazy staring at his smartphone. Kudos to Knock Knock, the only horror-thriller to centre its grand finale around indie rock and a bruised victim accidentally clicking “like” on a Facebook post. After this, you’ll be too scared to check social media in the dark.
JULY: MAGIC MIKE XXL
BACKSTREET BOYS – “I WANT IT THAT WAY”
“Backstreet was the only legitimate boyband that ever came out of Florida,” insists Joe Manganiello. “Period.” That foreshadows an impromptu dance sequence that, for plot and aesthetic reasons, justifies an XXL sequel. Testing out new stripper choreography, Manganiello lets his body follow the wise words of “I Want It That Way”: he seduces a drinks cooler and goes topless in a supermarket, using the cashier as a litmus test. She approves by not complaining that his dance moves – exploding a pack of Cheetos, squirting a bottle of water – leave a mess for her to clean up.
AUGUST: STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
ICE CUBE – “NO VASELINE”
The thing with diss tracks is that, outside of 8 Mile rap battles, they’re one-sided arguments recorded in studios. “Yo Dre, stick to producing,” Ice Cube raps, in a booth, to a roomful of people who aren’t Dr Dre. The fury of Cube is compelling, though, as is the switch to N.W.A and Jerry Heller all listening to the song in silent anger. And it happened in real life too. Or not, depending on who you ask. Either way, you can’t imagine the eventual Drake and Meek Mill biopic will have a scene to rival it.
SEPTEMBER: RICKI & THE FLASH
DOBIE GRAY – “DRIFT AWAY”
If Meryl Streep wants a Grammy to accompany her Oscars, she’s making the right noises. In Ricki & the Flash – a sorely underrated rock n’ roll homecoming scripted by Diablo Cody – she sings and plays guitar like a pro, adding character backstory to a Dobie Gray cover backed by The Flash. When a bombshell is whispered in her ear, the band start playing, so she breaks out of shellshock with a few strums of her Telecaster. Directed by Jonathan Demme, responsible for Talking Heads concert movie Stop Making Sense, the kinetic warmth of the performance is met by a spirited crowd (of extras excited to see Meryl).
OCTOBER: THE LOBSTER
NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – “WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW”
If Colin Farrell can’t be himself, he’d be a lobster, but has a brief stab at Nick Cave when he sings alone in the woods. Told by Léa Seydoux, leader of the Loners, he’s only allowed to listen to electronic music, “Where the Wild Roses Grow” becomes a protest song. The murder ballad has romantic connotations: it’s a duet between Cave and Kylie Minogue, two musicians that complement each other despite the odds. That fuels Farrell’s secret romance with Rachel Weisz, with whom he’s created a non-verbal language of hand signals, when actually humming a familiar melody does the same trick.
NOVEMBER: STEVE JOBS
BOB DYLAN – “SHELTER FROM THE STORM”
Steve Jobs loved Bob Dylan. And so does Steve Jobs, which is an iTunes playlist dropping constant Dylan tunes. The simplistic “The Times They Are a-Changin’” signifies the Mac’s launch in 1984. Next, the turbulence of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” marks Jobs’ brief exile from Apple. Finally, it concludes with “Shelter from the Storm”, from Dylan’s bruised, post-divorce era, when his lyrics were honest about heartbreak. Whether an egotistical businessman building pricey computers is worthy of the comparison doesn’t matter; to Jobs they were the same person, which he tells Woz early on by quoting Dylan lyrics in conversation like a weirdo.
CYNDI LAUPER – “GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN”
A bit of a cheat, as Anomalisa will only be out this year in America, but Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion comeback deserves a mention for its moving musical set-piece: a depressed puppet, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, singing in a capella Cyndi Lauper’s disco classic – including the bridge – and then again in Italian. Up to that point, the film exaggerates the monotony of protagonist David Thewlis’ world, with Tom Noonan voicing every character. But when Leigh speaks, Thewlis is enthralled, and when she sings, he’s in love – a transformation you see in real-time. Even puppets with no self-esteem want to have fun.