The best soundtrack category differs from the best score category in that it covers an assemblage of preexisting music rather than original musical accompaniment. While the presence of original songs won’t necessarily disqualify a movie, that isn’t what’s being judged here. Additionally, it should be noted that the award is judging the way music is used in the actual movie and not how it plays on a soundtrack album when removed from its original context. Also, what’s important isn’t so much the quality of the music so much as the way it plays with the images.
- Boyhood: They say that popular music is the soundtrack of our lives. Richard Linklater certainly believes this and created the soundtrack of his own adolescence when he made the movie Dazed and Confused and with Boyhood he’s tried to put together the soundtrack of a new generation. The music choices he makes are poignant but not distracting and they also serve as a good marker of time passing in the movie. It starts with late 90s songs by the likes of Sheryl Crow and Blinck-182 and by the end it’s using relatively recent hits like Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used to Know.”
- Chef: I read an interview with Jon Favreau where he talks about how kitchens in the United States have gone from being rooted in French culture to being rooted in Latino culture and Favreau’s film Chef and its soundtrack reflect that. The film is primarily loaded with classic Latin music, specifically Latin jazz and boogaloo. It also switches things up a bit as the movie goes to different locations, giving us some brass band music in the New Orleans scenes and blues during the Austin scenes.
- Guardian of the Galaxy: The soundtrack album to Guardians of the Galaxy managed to top the Billboard chart and has since gone platinum. It’s the fifth best selling album of the year, which is a hell of an accomplishment in an era where you can simply download any one of its pre-existing songs at will. This speaks to how this collection of 60s and 70s hits has really struck a chord as a collection and while the juxtaposition of cheesy music with space opera was sort of gimmicky, there’s no denying that this music plays a big part in the movie’s comedy and attitude.
- The Guest: I don’t know that The Guest has the best soundtrack of the year, but it’s certainly the one that someone put the most work into. This soundtrack takes the Drive approach of finding obscure tracks that all share a common sound, in this case dark 80s electronica, in order to create a specific mood. There are no standout radio songs here, everything’s a deep cut from semi-unknown bands like Clan Of Xymox and S U R V I V E, but they all come together really well and act almost more like a score for the film than as a soundtrack.
- Top Five: Hip Hop generally hasn’t worked great as background music in movies over the years, mainly because it’s a genre that actually expects you to pay some attention to the lyrics, which can be a distraction away from whatever is in the foreground of a scene. Chris Rock seems to agree with that too because his comedy Top Five is largely scored by instrumental versions of various hip-hop classics, which is a good way to gain steam from that music’s energy while also blending better with the visuals. It was also a very good reminder of how awesome the Jay-Z/Kanye West song about the city of Paris was.