One of the most effective tricks in the repertoire of modern filmmaking tricks is to throw in a well-chosen pop song to accentuate a scene in a film. This category is all about scenes that perfectly meld music to visual in order to make a special effect. To be eligible a song must be pre-existing rather than an original song (so, no “See You Again”) and has to be a recording rather than a live performance in the film.
- “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by The Platters- 45 Years: This song is used in the trailer for 45 Years and it’s also brought up twice in the movie before it’s finally played in the very final scene, so you know that something special is going to happen given all the build-up. What follows is a tense little slow dance at a party between the film’s central characters which the Charlotte Rampling character starts to have something of a revelation about her life up to that point, finally leading to a subtle but fascinating gesture and look right as the film cuts to credits. It’s a tantalizing scene that invites the audience to speculate as to what they just witnessed.
- “Diamonds” by Rhianna – Girlhood: Girlhood (ignore the stupid ripoff title, it’s actually pretty good) is a movie about a group of rough and tumble Parisian girls and their difficult lives. This scene is something of an oasis for them in which they get enough money to rent out a hotel room and have sort of impromptu party where they dance to this mediocre Rhianna song. The movie holds on this moment for a surprisingly long time, practically playing the song in its entirety, like the film wants to give these characters their joy for as long as it possibly can before returning them to the ringer.
- “Give It Up” by KC and the Sunshine Band- Kingsman: The Secret Service: Most of the songs that get nominated in this category do so for adding a little non-diegetic mood to a scene but here the music is actually kind of part of the plot as the film’s villain decides to tie the unleashing his evil mass murder to this disco classic which fits in well with the movie’s anarchic spirit and has the unusual consequence of making you want the bad guy to win for a little longer just so the groove won’t stop.
- “Starman” by David Bowie- The Martian: Let the record show that I had already noted this as a probable nominee before David Bowie passed and there was a wave of remembrance. This is probably the highlight of The Martian’s disco soundtrack (even though it’s technically glam rock, not disco) and plays over a pretty important montage. The whole thing comes dangerously close to being a little too on the nose what with it being a song about a space man, but hey, at least they had the self-restraint not to use “Life on Mars.”
- “Ceiling Gazing” by Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle – Youth: Youth is a movie about a classical composer but its musical landscape is actually rather eclectic. The centerpiece is probably this song which plays during an important montage, is a song that is a collaboration between singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek (AKA Sun Kil Moon) and an experimental instrumentalist named Jimmy LaValle. The song is the perfect hybrid of moodiness and melancholy for times past.