Music and film formed a potent partnership over the past 12 months, whether it was Hans Zimmer’s jarring score for Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” which served as another character in providing the on-screen tension, or the choreographed mayhem of Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” and David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde,” or Iggy Pop’s sepulchral presence in Oneohtrix Point Never’s stunning soundtrack for the Safdies’ “Good Time.”
Here is a countdown of the individual songs — some original, others re-contextualized — which provided those magic cinematic moments where sound and vision perfectly meshed to become seamlessly part of a greater whole.
1. The Damned, “Neat Neat Neat” (“Baby Driver”): Wright’s heist movie re-genrefication is a feature-length music video choreographed to the nines with a decibel-raising soundtrack of ‘70s and ‘80s new wave, none better than this revved-up speed-punk blaring in star Ansel Elgort’s ubiquitous headphones as he gets set to put pedal to the metal. “Wait, wait, I gotta start this song over … OK, go!”
2. Dave Matthews Band, “Crash Into Me” (“Lady Bird”): One of the most telling moments in Greta Gerwig’s critically acclaimed coming-of-age saga is when star Saoirse Ronan unabashedly expresses her unhip love for this song, completely missing (or perhaps inadvertently acknowledging) its sinister themes of stalking. Credit to veteran A&R exec Michael Hill’s music supervision.
3. Oneohtrix Point Never, “The Pure and the Damned” (“Good Time”): In perhaps the year’s most innovative movie score, the mysterious Boston-raised, Brooklyn-based composer formerly known as Daniel Lopatin mirrors the Safdie brothers’ frenetic, disorienting day-and-night in the life of Robert Pattinson’s tireless, yet charismatic hustler, who rushes against time and circumstance to free his mentally challenged sibling from jail. This end credit song is a rare moment of introspective calm in the chaos.
4. Patti Cake$, “Patti $ea$on” (“Patti Cake$”): Writer/director Geremy Jasper’s remarkable feature-length debut, a Sundance sensation that fizzled at the box office, chronicles the dreams of its title character, a would-be rapper and disaffected New Jersey blue-collar teen played by Aussie Danielle Macdonald, who performs the Jasper-penned songs with the skill of a veteran MC. This one expresses their tenacious desire to escape, applying hip-hop elan to its character’s heartfelt, autobiographical boasts.
5. Grateful Dead, “Morning Dew” (“Long Strange Trip”): One of the memorable highlights of director Amir Bar-Lev’s four-hour Russian novel-esque documentary on the band was an awed recording engineer’s description of Jerry Garcia’s performance of this song at London’s Lyceum Theater accompanying footage of the actual take that ended up on the band’s classic Europe ’72 live album.
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6. Mary J. Blige, “Mighty River” (“Mudbound”): This stirring, gospel-inflected anthem, heard over the end titles to Dee Rees’ powerful Netflix drama of an African-American war veteran returning to his sharecropping family in post-WWII Jim Crow Mississippi, makes Blige a double Oscar contender for best supporting actress and best original song.
7. Childish Gambino, “Redbone” (“Get Out”): Donald Glover’s ubiquitous three-time Grammy nominated funk number sets a deceptively soothing, sensual mood in Jordan Peele’s ground-shaking horror film that portrays liberal racism as even scarier than a real haunted house.
8. John Denver, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (“Logan Lucky”): Steven Soderbergh’s return to the big screen features a typically eclectic soundtrack with the likes of Bo Diddley, Dr. John, John Fahey, and Creedence Clearwater, but this song firmly establishes Channing Tatum’s good old boy nature, joining in with his favorite singer on the radio, before returning during strategic moments in the director’s ultimately amiable rural take on his “Ocean’s” trilogy.
9. Sia feat. Labrinth, “To Be Human” (“Wonder Woman”): Another end-title anthem that has strong Oscar possibilities as it offers a surging, climactic endorsement to Patty Jenkins’ box office-shattering, proto-feminist superwoman saga.
10. The Beatles, “Because” (“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”): Auteur Luc Besson’s $180 million sci-fi graphic novel adaptation and unabashed “Star Wars” clone crash-landed at the U.S. box office, but not before he secured permission to use one of the Fab Four’s most dreamy melodies for a trailer that whetted the appetite apparently sated by the time the film opened.