While the best score category looks at original work done by composers, the “best soundtrack” category looks at a film’s use of popular music throughout its runtime. Generally this music should source music, but the presence of music commissioned for the film can be counted as well. It is not an award for the film’s soundtrack album, it’s for the film itself and how its music fits in with the action onscreen and with the themes and overall tone of the film.
- Django Unchained: Like the film itself, the Django Unchained soundtrack has two halves to it. On one hand it has a lot of music that firmly rooted in the Spaghetti western (including excerpts from Ennio Morricone scores and songs like Luis Bacalov’ Django theme as well as some American country music like Johnny Cash’s “Ain’t no Grave” and Jim Croce “I Got a Name”). On the other hand the film has a lot of newly recorded music by African-American artists like Anthony Hamilton, Elayna Boynton, John Legend, and Rick Ross that both give the film attitude while also sort of fitting in the setting. Then it’s all brought together by the song “Unchained” which has Tupac Shakur rapping over James Brown music that’s been augmented by traditional western sounds.
- Lawless: I’m always a bit iffy about nominating soundtracks that are largely made up of music that was recorded for the film, but this one was too interesting to ignore. Instead of making an ambient score like they have with previous films Nick Cave & Warren Ellis put together a band and contacted folk and country legends Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, Willie Nelson and had them do Americana covers of rock songs that were written long after the era the film is set in like The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” The music give the film modern energy without seeming all that out of place in the setting.
- Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson has leaned heavily on British Invasion music for most of his career so it’s kind of surprising that when he finally got around to making a film set in the mid-60s that he left that behind. The music here still has Andersonian whimsy but the selections are more experimental. He draws heavily from a composer named Benjamin Britten as well as some strange “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” records from the 60s. On top of that he also adds some Hank Williams recordings in order to accentuate the wilderness adventure aspect of the film.
- Rust and Bone: For Rust and Bone director Jacques Audiard has augmented a pretty good Alexandre Desplat score with a number of interesting and eclectic song choices. He bookends the film with a pair of Bon Iver songs that set a serious tone, but there’s also some lighthearted stuff like the B-52s “Love Shack” in the film. Beyond that there’s also some less recognizable stuff that couldn’t have been all that easy to find. It’s a worthy follow-up to Audiard’s similarly interesting soundtrack to “A Prophet.”
- The Silver Linings Playbook: In my “Best use of source music in a scene” category I already praised this film’s use of Zeppelin, but there’s a lot beyond that. Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” plays a key role in the film’s plot and there’s also an awesome montage set to the Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash duet “The Girl From the North Country.” Beyond that are a number of less prominent songs that work really well in less noticeable contexts throughout the film.