From synth-soaked scores to 90s hip hop heavyweights, these are the musical masterpieces behind this year’s movies
Sometimes, an on-screen snooze or a questionable plot can be totally elevated by a killer film soundtrack (The Guest, Somewhere, Lost Highway). There are also instances where a good film transforms into genius at the hands of its cleverly crafted score (Halloween, Drive, Trainspotting). Needless to say, soundtracks matter, and this year has been full to the brim with exceptional efforts. And while we’ve still got one month of the year left, we thought we’d bypass December’s inevitable Oscar hopefuls and seat-filling blockbusters to give you a definitive rundown of the film soundtracks that made this year sparkle.
IT FOLLOWS – DAVID ROBERT MITCHELL
Following in the synth-filled footsteps of John Carpenter’s cult classic Halloween, the soundtrack to STD zombie horror It Follows is full of ominous electronics and piano lines dripping in gothic dread. “I was definitely inspired by the general sound of horror from the 70s and 80s,” explained score composer, Disasterpeace. “We referenced music from the likes of John Carpenter, Penderecki and John Cage. I’ve also been a fan of (the band) Goblin for a while, so I think some of my ideas about what horror music is comes from those places.”
KILL YOUR FRIENDS – OWEN HARRIS
Is the soundtrack to Owen Harris’ murderous Britpop thriller the best of its kind since Trainspotting? Not quite – but it does capture the spirit of the era brilliantly. From The Prodigy’s controversial anthem “Smack My Bitch Up” to Oasis’ sludgy love letter “Cigarettes and Alcohol” and Blue Boy’s hypnotic, pill-popping club hit “Remember Me”, the soundtrack to Kill Your Friends lives and breathes the male-centric drugs-and-cash excess of the 90s, as well as its dull, throbbing hangover.
EDEN – MIA HANSEN-LOVE
Filmic love letters to dance music culture are not always executed well, as one look at cheesy EDM Hollywood flop We Are Your Friends will show you. But French drama Eden turned out to be a masterpiece, and this is in no small part due to its exceptional soundtrack, which includes original innovator Frankie Knuckles’ “The Whistle Song” to the bittersweet euphoria of Liquid’s “Sweet Harmony” and, of course, a whole lot of Daft Punk.
DOPE – RICK FAMUYIWA
The 90s hood film is in the midst of a rebirth this year, and Rick Famuyiwa’s LA-set Sundance hit Dope has stood right at the forefront. There are so many reasons this film rules, but its musical input is a main one. From the almost all-musician cast (A$AP Rocky, Zoe Kravitz AKA Lolawolf, Tyga, Casey Veggies, Kap-G) to the soundtrack oozing with 90s hip hop favourites (A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Public Enemy), Dope is a music obsessive’s fantasy.
THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL – MARIELLE HELLER
Despite being a portrait of adolescence in all its sexed-up, flush-faced glory, Marielle Heller’s teen tale was slapped with an 18 rating, undercutting the younger audience who might need it most (not that anyone pays attention to ratings, but y’know). That aside, the San Francisco-set drama has an incredible soundtrack which is full to the brim with 70s icons, from the melancholic gothicism of Nico, the hypnotic riffs of Heart and the drifting, sun-splashed melodies of T-Rex.
PAPER TOWNS – JAKE SCHREIER
When coming-of-age indie Paper Towns was released earlier this year, it debuted to a lukewarm reception and intense scrutiny of its star Cara Delevingne, who was on the receiving end of accusations about how she landed the role, as well as the usual sexist line of questioning from reporters. What was less discussed was the film’s sparkling, uber-pop soundtrack. From the slick, synth-soaked sounds of Kindness and Twin Shadow to the jangling riffs of The War on Drugs and De Lux, the Paper Towns soundtrack is as fun and freeing as the plot itself.
MONTAGE OF HECK – BRETT MORGAN
You can’t really go wrong with a soundtrack crammed with previously unheard Kurt Cobain solo material. Long-buried demo versions, lo-fi private recording gems and spoken word are injected into the cut-’n’-pasted Kurt Cobain biopic as seamlessly as the homemade collage-like film footage. In an interview with KCRW’s The Business, director Brett Morgen described the process of unearthing these recordings. “I went into the archives (and) – this could be too strong a word – I liberated a lot of material for the film. The primary motivation at that moment was for Frances (Bean Cobain).”
MOMMY – XAVIER DOLAN
From mall-rockers Simple Plan to Oasis’ overkilled track “Wonderwall” and Dido’s “White Flag” (yes, Dido), the soundtrack to Xavier Dolan’s Canadian masterpiece Mommy sounds like most self-respecting music lover’s worst nightmare. And that’s kind of the point. “Given the background and social strata that the characters come from, you can’t really imagine that they’ve gone shopping lately,” Dolan told Vulture. “We went for that very normcore, fashionless era in history, the early 2000s.” So essentially, the soundtrack is supposed to be basic, and we love it.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – GEORGE MILLER
George Miller’s sci-fi action epic Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the most visually stunning films to be blasted onto our screens this year, but it also had a razor-sharp, uber-suspenseful soundscape to match its stylish, dystopian aesthetic. Created entirely by multi-instrumentalist Junkie XL, the music hammers in at a feverish 100mph and keeps you clinging to the edge of your seat throughout.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON – F GARY GRAY
F Gary Gray’s American biopic film Straight Outta Compton plays out the rise and fall of Cali hip hop heavyweights N.W.A, so it makes sense that it would have a fire-filled soundtrack to match. Though it’s mostly made up mostly of N.W.A favourites, the film also features 90s classics from rap icon Dr Dre (“Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang”) and solo material from original gangster Eazy-E and Ice Cube.