The Year In Film: The Ten Best Music Moments of 2016

Keep up with all of our Year in Film features here.

20th Century Women (“Don’t Worry About the Government”)

music-moments-20th-century-women The statement feels downright laughable in this hellish year, but in Mike Mills’s late-70s coming of age story, the Talking Heads song is used to memorable effect. The song, from the band’s debut album, has a stripped down, sing-song earnestness (an authentic quirkiness) that fits perfectly with Mills’s uncertain, creative band of protagonists. Abbey Bender


Elle (“Lust for Life”)


There’s a distinct pleasure to seeing Isabelle Huppert, the icy grand dame of the French cinema, frenetically bust a move to Iggy Pop. Paul Verhoeven’s film explores the twisted dynamics of lust, how power and consent can become endlessly complicated. This moment, though, may just be the film’s purest, least ironic expression: Huppert lets herself go in a way the audience can understand. Who doesn’t want to get up and dance when they hear that song? Abbey Bender


Green Room (“Nazi Punks Fuck Off”)


Especially now, after the election, it’s particularly cathartic: who doesn’t want to stand in front of a bunch of Nazis and scream at them to fuck off? It’s also now how I will always remember the late, great Anton Yelchin: standing onstage, in front of a room of bottle-chucking “boots and braces,” scared but pounding his bass and backup-screaming the Dead Kennedys’ chorus: FUCK OFF! You too, 2016. Henry Stewart


Hail, Caesar (“No Dames”)


There were likely a large quotient of people in the audience for Joel & Ethan Coen’s studio system fanfic who didn’t know they were Channing Tatum fans when the lights dimmed. I’m guessing most of those folks walked out humming “No Dames,” the barnburner that Tatum leads in his role as the film’s version of Gene Kelly. Everything about the Coens’ direction of the scene is hilariously perfect, from the grumpy bartender, to the coterie of tap dancing sailors, to the marvelously silly lyrics (“A mermaid’s got no gams! Nooooo gams!”). Tatum is a dynamo, tap dancing, flipping, and singing mellifluously in a cod version of On The Town. The Coens take equally great pleasure showing how the scene would have been filmed. A musical and a history lesson in one, except ten times as fun as that sounds. Scout Tafoya


The Illinois Parables (Soundtrack)


Deborah Stratman’s great film succeeds as a soundscape. This eleven-chapter 16mm work about the past fourteen centuries of Illinois’s history is as complex and varied in its soundtrack choices as it is in its mixing of archival footage and clippings, reenactments, and present-day landscape scenes. In addition to a sea of voices adopting different historical characters, sounds of chimes that connect disparate eras and locales, and diverse bird calls and echoes of running water, The Illinois Parables’s sound (designed by Stratman and mixed by Jacob Ross) contains an eclectic array of musical compositions. Instrumental pieces by contemporary South Korean composer Okkyung Lee take us through the air and then later across land, first to help us view hills from a distance and then later to help us contemplate the effect of nuclear fallout on them. Bach’s “Fantasia in G Minor” takes us through and out of transfiguration rendered by a painting of a burning temple. French punk group Les Porte-Mentaux’s propulsive “A Ça Ira” (“Will It Go”) energizes a retracing of the Mormon Trail; the Lunenberg Travellers’s rendition of the spiritual hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer” provides support through a devastating storm. Works from contemporary European composers such as Alfred Schnittke and György Kurtág help to hold us in elucidating, reflective relationships to Nature, concluding with an Arvo Pärt piece whose gentle chorus of voices seems to literally lift and carry us away. These compositions collectively pass the sensation of Illinois—like America—as a place made up of diverse influences, and one formed by a host of journeyers, some of whom (though far from all) have been fortunate to be able to settle. Aaron Cutler 


Moonlight (Soundtrack)


Every piece of Moonlight fits together so artfully into its final form that it feels a little awkward to isolate any one aspect, but the soundtrack is certainly no less a marvel than the feted cinematography. The two work in tandem, Nicholas Britell’s chopped and screwed orchestral pieces giving this Florida story a universality and timelessness in addition to being plain beautiful, while judiciously placed soul and rap from Boris Gardiner, Goodie Mob and others boost the verisimilitude. At one point, “Cucurrucucu Paloma” by Caetano Veloso, used so memorably in Happy Together, plays, an homage by director Barry Jenkins to a dreaming kindred spirit, Wong Kar-wai. Justin Stewart


Mountains May Depart (“Go West”)


In the three-decades-spanning Mountains May Depart, the song “Go West” as covered by the Pet Shop Boys is played three times. Leaving aside the obvious thematic implications of the song’s lyrics, as some of the characters do embrace Western ideals and customs to mixed results, Jia Zhangke uses it more for its festive textures. Aside from one moment in the first part where it is played in between an engagement and wedding, it is used to bookend the film in heartbreaking fashion. The film begins at a party celebrating the turn of the millennium, and before the melodrama that drives the narrative begins, there is a true sense of pleasure that arises from both the kinetic, nearly synchronized dancing and the sense of community. These are both absent from the final scene, as Zhao Tao stands alone after nearly thirty years, but the reprise of the song and her dance ends the film on a tone of both optimism and resignation, in a perfect encapsulation of the film’s ultimate message that time does not change everything. Ryan Swen


Toni Erdmann (“The Greatest Love of All”)


Maren Ade’s camera rarely focuses on Sandra Hüller’s Ines in close-up in Toni Erdmann, instead situating her either in relation to her prankster father or her corporate world. An exception comes near the end, when he inadvertently crashes a family holiday with her dad and is goaded into singing Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All.” As Ines haltingly sings, she gradually gets more and more into it, and the camera presses into her face as she, for the first time, completely lets go. Houston’s music has long been used for parodic purposes to mock off-key pretenders to her powerful voice, yet this may be the first time that anyone besides Houston herself infused her music with the same passion and uninhibitedness that she did. Jake Cole


Staying Vertical (Pink Floyd)


Alain Guiraudie is a master at creating scenes of very real-feeling, often clumsy and sometimes even uncomfortable tenderness. In Staying Vertical, he pushes it into absolute overdrive. Three-quarters way through the film, a man of about thirty disrobes and gets in bed with a man well over fifty, maybe even sixty years his senior. The octogenarian takes a shot of a glowing green liquid—pastis? chartreuse? (Poison, we later learn.) The younger man then takes his elder from behind, both lying down, going at it in very slow, metronomic motion (out of respect for the senior’s crumbling physique, no doubt), while the elder man’s favored blaring prog-rock carries the scene along in a single take. The old man passes away during climax, very unsubtly adding to his petit mort a much larger, more terminal one as well. Michael Blum


The Purge: Election Year (“Party in the USA”)


While it may have been a solid year for needledrops in the movies, it was not a good year for subtlety, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps, in the continually shifting sociopolitical climate, subtlety is better left on the backburner in favor something more in your face, even on the nose. Mind you, this needledrop only works successfully post-election. Before that, it probably came off as laughably unslick, a tactlessness reserved for writer/directors who think they’re cleverer than thou. But, at the moment, it’s strange to think that such an employment of the Miley Cyrus hit is exactly the kind of sneer that feels not only “right”, but terrifyingly real. Kyle Turner



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here