(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)
Film may have started as a visual medium, but from its earliest days music has been used as a fundamental aspect of its presentation. From tack piano and organs to sweeping orchestral suites, through to modern electronic soundscapes and hipster-approved needle-drops, the soundtracks to our favourite films play an indelible role in our appreciation of these remarkable movies. Some use music as a fundamental narrative point, while others dust it along with the other aspects of filmmaking to sway emotions and draw audiences along with the story.
The only thing more futile than trying to make a consensus list of the best films of the decade is to make a definitive list of the best soundtrack elements, given that taste in music is even more personal and specific than the mass entertainment of movies, yet ‘tis the season for such futile attempts! Instead, think of this as a celebration of ten years of where the music is either brilliantly integral to the pleasures of the film, or where the exploration of musical ideas is key to the topic being covered, or finally where the entire narrative is structured around the performances of recorded songs.
Here’s is /Film’s list of best musical movie moments for the 2010s.
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James Mangold directs Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari, a film known at Le Mans ’66 in Europe and other regions where that famous endurance race is more religion than sport. Damon plays Carroll Shelby, an ex-driver who has channeled his competitive edge into building cars. He asks a wild yet talented Brit named Ken Miles (Bale) to help him help the Ford Motor Company stick one to Enzo’s famous red cars that are built in Maranello.
/Film’s Chris Evangelista was mixed on the film, digging it even more than I did, but he’s right that it feels like a missed opportunity, like something beautifully built that never quite sticks to the track despite Damon in particular bringing his A-game to the project. Some of the conversation following the film’s World Premiere at TIFF speaks to why that may be the case, in that maybe some different passions, particularly for the sport being portrayed, may have lifted things up a bit more.
The following has been edited for clarity and consistency.
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Bruce Springsteen has had a hell of a few years as of late. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that he’s had a hell of a last few decades, becoming one of the most celebrated and cherished entertainers in popular music history. Still, the release of his autobiography, followed by his award winning show on Broadway that helped contextualize and deconstruct some of the prevailing themes of his work has proven to be one of the great late-career moves of the day. Add in his latest project, a sun-drenched Western themed record called Western Stars, and you’ve got a trinity of Boss things to trumpet.
As an album, Springsteen’s latest borrows liberally from Jimmy Webb, the iconic producer who helped solidify a sweeping, cinematic form of country pop that fused lush strings, warm harmonies and songs whose narratives were both evocative and inviting. Just as early Bruce borrowed from another iconic producer, Phil Spector, this fascination with the scope of Webb-style songs has resulted in a different kind of mythmaking for Springsteen, one that draws from a dusty Californian landscape rather than the Spartan roads of North Jersey.
Along with documentarian Thom Zimny (editor of The Wire, director numerous Bruce docs), Springsteen has helped craft this film to document not only a performance of songs but, like with the Broadway gig, to provide editorial and thematic responses to the tune, situating them within grander contexts and establishing their place within his larger body of work. The performances themselves are grand, taking place with Bruce’s barn, a cathedral-like place crammed with a small orchestra and country band. The performances are lifted even further from the album’s recording, played live the sweep is all the more grand, the swing all the more palpable.
Following the film’s world premiere at TIFF, Springsteen sat down for a conversation for the audience. He discussed the project, the recording, how it all came together and some of the cinematic and musical references they both brought to bear for this remarkable film.
The following is an edited version of that conversation, collecting the highlights.
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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the latest film by Marielle Heller, best known as the director of quirky and engaging stories such as 2018’s award winning Can You Ever Forgive Me. Her latest project is the story of Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a jaded and fairly miserable investigative journalist who has become a new father and is tasked with a 400 word piece on heroes. His editor tasks him with chatting with Children’s Television pioneer Fred Rogers, and thus begins the story of fathers, sons and the complexity of their relations.
Tom Hanks plays Rogers, and he perfectly encapsulates the man’s enormous outpouring of empathy to those around him, young and old, but equally his quirky and sometimes highly awkward mannerisms. It’s a gifted performance, certainly the most indelible part in the project, even while most of the story centers of Lloyd’s transformation rather than the central figure of millions of childhood memories.
Heller spoke to the audience following the film’s World Premiere at TIFF (read our review here), discussing some the challenge of convincing her famous friend to join the project, and how a famous doc paved the way.
The following quotes have been edited for concision and clarity.
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From his work on assembling Woodstock 50 years ago through to his latest doc on Bob Dylan, Martin Scorsese has played as much of a role shaping documentary cinema as he has with his fiction projects. His 1978 film The Last Waltz is one of the greatest rock-docs of all time, showcasing the extraordinary final shows of The Band at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in November 1976.
With its mix of live performance, studio takes and quirky and intimate interviews, the film is a definitive document of a particular time in popular music, showcasing a wide range of talents at the height of ’70s excesses, and where a group of individuals chose to call it quits at the top of their game. Joined by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, the goal was to not only celebrate this group’s success, but to do so with artists that both influenced and help shaped them as a working outfit.
The Last Waltz show has been revisited for decades, and it remains a show for the ages. It helps define a particular era of music in unparalleled ways, thanks in large part to the documentation of the show both audio-wise and visually as captured by Scorsese and his team. Famously, the doc begins with a simple title card informing the projectionist that “this film should be played loud”, making that single frame one of the most truthful articulations ever set to celluloid.
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Does it make sense to fly to a tropical paradise and spend your time inside watching movies? Well, it helps if you’re invited to once again cover the Los Cabos International Film Festival, a jewel of Mexico’s fest slate located the tip of the Baja peninsula, home to some of the greatest films of the year making their local debut amongst the sand and palm trees.
Founded back in 2012 as a showcase for the growing tourist destination, wanting a mix of Miami and Cannes that’s a quick flight for the Hollywood elite, the festival is really split into two major parts. One, at the more palatial Hotel Me and other locales, is home to producers, funders and filmmakers using their time here to do what comes naturally – eating, drinking and talking, often during the many gatherings and adventures organized for the premiere lot. For those here to see (rather than make) films there are the opening and closing galas, of course, but the majority of time is spent in a multiplex located at the Marina’s fashion mall. With dozens of locals, including many school children who attend as part of organized assignments, we watch everything from world premieres to hits from the film circuit, drawn by the intelligent and sympathetic programmers from Sundance, Cannes, TIFF and other A-list stops on the calendar.
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For decades, Anthony Daniels has been hidden by a golden mask, a globally recognized droid with an instantly recognizable voice that’s played by a man few would notice walking down the street. As the man and voice behind the beloved Star Wars character C-3P0, he’s helped usher audiences into this vast space saga like no other performer. At the outset of the release of Star Wars the human contribution made by Daniels was downplayed, with early marketing efforts avoiding how such an indelibly neurotic character was brought to life. After struggling to come to terms with both the massive success as well as his connection to this iconic automaton, Daniels is finally in a space to tell his tale, rivets and all.
His new book, I Am C-3P0: The Inside Story, is a briskly told tale of a young stage actor who found the role of a lifetime, a man who struggled at first to make sense of just how he could navigate the success and anonymity of what brought his creation global attention. The film provides some fascinating insights, and is told with a droll, eminently British dry wit that’s indicative of the man. Like his costume, some of the more burnished moments are matched with events that are tarnished, yet throughout the telling there’s a sense of both gratitude and bemused amazement for what the last four decades have brought this soft-spoken, intelligent performer.
With the calculated odds high that The Rise Of Skywalker promises an even more integral role for Threepio, a capper for a saga that began with lines of dialogue spoken in wonderfully neurotic fashion from that iconic auriferous visage, making this a perfect time to reflect upon this remarkable journey that has shaped generations.
/Film spoke to Daniels while he was in Toronto for the launch of his book.
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Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster flick, The Irishman, continues the tradition of pairing fantastic needle drops with his storytelling, making for an aural landscape that uses songs to help accentuate jumps in time and location. Working in consultation with longtime collaborator Robbie Robertson, his latest film contains numerous songs both popular and obscure that help tell the story of Frank Sheeran.
Scorsese has had more than his fair share of iconic musical movie moments, from Mean Streets (The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”) to Goodfellas (the piano outro from Derek and the Domino’s “Layla”) and Casino (The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’”). The Irishman treats its music in slightly different ways, eschewing some of the bigger montage moments for deeper integration and long periods where there’s gentle underscore rather than wall-to-wall pop songs.
Here are some stories about certain key tracks that Scorsese and his team have used in The Irishman, as well as a complete soundtrack listing in case you wish to replicate it for your own playlist.
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For much of the 1990s, Roland Emmerich was the king of blockbuster cinema. The Stutgart born director found in Hollywood the perfect toolbox for his grand visions, hitting big with sci-fi thrillers like Stargate and Independence Day, the late-90s Godzilla chapter, and old-school disaster films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. After 2016’s sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, he returns to the big screen with his Word War II epic Midway.
The film, with an ensemble including the likes of Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Woody Harrelson, Tadanobu Asano, Etsushi Toyokawa, Mandy Moore and Dennis Quaid, tells the events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor and eventual battle in the mid-pacific through the eyes of these characters. Splitting the decision-making of the leadership from quotidian bravery (or cowardice) of the regular soldier, the film’s expansive look at the battle rarely descends into dogma, instead tries through its mix of spectacle and character beats to provide a thrilling film that still feels at its core more than mere escapism.
/Film spoke to Emmerich about this push to provide nuance in the telling of the story, how other productions shaped the long genesis of this production, and what how he feels the creation of these kinds of stories have changed over the last few decades.
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What makes Martin Scorsese’s films so indelible is the world he creates, populated by dozens of characters that all in their way shape our perception of the environment he creates. The main players in his news movie, The Irishman – played by Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci – capture most of our attention, yet there are dozens of other performers both known and unknown that always bring their own magic to the big screen.
For years the Israeli-born, New York-raised Danny Abeckaser was a “club guy”, shepherding models to various events, planning massive parties, and making sure that his clients were taken care of. He helped open some of the biggest nightclubs around, and hustled in that world for years. In 2010 he followed his passion into filmmaking, helping produce Kevin Asch’s Holy Rollers, which found critical notice following its Sundance debut. Over the years he’s done a number of independent productions and character roles, including several under the direction of Martin Scorsese.
In The Irishman Danny is credited as “Louie the Deadbeat”, one of those relatively simple roles than in a lesser film would be forgettable. In Marty’s world, however, no scene is superfluous, and thanks to Abeckaser’s unique look and some improv with De Niro, he’s immortalized in this truly remarkable film. /Film spoke with Abeckaser about this role, how it affects his own creative pursuits, and just what it’s like to be working with masters of filmmaking craft.
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