YEAR END LIST: Best Soundtracks of 2013

Soundtrack

We all know that music has the ability to make or break a cinematic moment.  Would Jaws be as scary if it weren’t for the theme song? Or would we cry as hard when Leo Dicaprio sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean if Celine Dion didn’t belt “My Heart Will Go On” every five minutes? Probably not. Creating the perfect soundtrack is no easy task. This list details my favorite soundtracks of 2013.

 

10. Girl Rising

Girl Rising is a documentary film directed by Richard E. Robbins. The film profiles nine girls from different parts of the world who face adversity and injustice in their struggle to receive an education.  Each profile is written by a famous writer from their respective countries of origin. The soundtrack is composed by Rachel Portman and Lorne Balfe. With unique songs drawing from the World Music, this soundtrack accompanies each of the girls on their journeys. It subsequently takes the listener on a trip around the world, from Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Egypt, Ethiopia, India to Peru.

9. Something in the Air

Something in the Air is a French drama directed by Olivier Assayas. The film takes place in France during the events leading up to the May 1968 strikes and boycotts. The soundtrack is a mixture of politically charged rock and folk songs from the period. From Phil Ochs’ “Ballad of William Worth” to Captain Beefheart’s “Abba Zaba,”  this soundtrack succeeds in choosing appropriate yet unobvious songs to compliment the political turmoil in the film.

8. Spectacular Now 

Rob Simonsen scored The Spectacular Now, a romantic drama directed by James Ponsoldt and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer). Rob Simonsen is a veteran when it comes to scoring films (his prolific body of work includes Moneyball, Little Miss Sunshine and The Life of Pi).  All twenty of Simonsen’s instrumental tracks vary in style and composition. While some tracks feature horns (“My Name is Sutter Keely”) others are minimal (“Walk in the Trees”).  Among the best tracks are “Walk in the Trees,” “Im’ing Cassidy,” and “Sutter and Amy.” Phosphorescent, Kurt Vile and Ariel Pink & Dam-Funk  are also featured on this soundtrack.

7. The Lords of Salem 

While I’m rarely a fan of horror movie soundtracks, Rob Zombie’s  are always so over the top that they add an almost comedic element to the film. His most recent horror flick, The Lords of Salem, includes an eclectic range of genres, featuring a combination of punk, metal, funk and classic rock. Highlights include “Give it to me Baby” (Rick James), “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “Venus in Furs” (The Velvet Underground).

 

6. 42

Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, 42 is a bio pic about Jackie Robinson. Regardless of the fact that Jay-Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”, was featured in the trailer, the actual soundtrack is time period appropriate.  Featuring rock and roll (Hank Williams and Wynonie Harris) gospel (Sister Wynona Carr) and jazz (Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington), 42’s soundtrack is a collage of early 20th century African American musicians.

5. What Maisie Knew  

What Maisie Knew is a drama about a young girl dealing with her parent’s divorce and the ensuing custody battle.  Devotchka’s frontman, Nick Urata, scored nine instrumental tracks off of this original soundtrack, which also includes Lucy Schwartz’s “Feeling of Being (What Maisie Knew),” and two collaborative tracks with Julianne Moore (who knew she could sing!?) and The Kills.

4. Ginger and Rosa

Ginger and Rosa is a dramatic film about two teenage girls living in London in 1962.  The movie documents the strain on their friendship within the political and cultural turmoil of the time. While I expected the soundtrack to consist of 60s rock and roll, the Ginger and Rosa soundtrack features a mixture of traditional jazz music. The soundtrack is littered with jazz favorites, including tracks by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Django Reinhardt and Les Paul.

3. A Place at the Table 

Directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, A Place at the Table explores hunger in America through examining stories of Americans experiencing food insecurity.  The mostly instrumental soundtrack is a collaboration between prolific rocker, T Bone Burnett, and folk/rock duo, The Civil Wars.  It includes four The Civil Wars songs, seven T Bone Burnett songs, and three duets to create an amalgamate of blues, country, folk and bluegrass.

 

2. Inside Llewyn Davis

If you’ve ever seen a Coen Brothers movie, you will know that their soundtracks are always impeccable. Therefore, when I discovered that Inside Llewyn Davis was about a 1960s Greenwich Village folk singer, I had extremely high expectations. Some of the music on this album was to be expected. Greenwich Village folk staples Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk, for instance, are featured. More interestingly, many of the actors in the movie are also featured on the soundtrack.  In fact, one of the strongest songs on the soundtrack is “Five Hundred Miles,” sung by Justin Timberlake (who makes his folk music debut in this film) and Carey Mulligan. Current Americana bands such as The Down Hill Strugglers and Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons are also featured.

1. Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby might seem like an obvious choice, but I don’t care. Produced by Jay-Z and The Bullitts, The Great Gatsby soundtrack did an excellent job at exposing the parallels between the ostentatious displays of the wealth of the upper class in the 1920s and that of today. All of the songs on this album have similar themes of youth, wealth, and unhealthy romantic entanglements. The soundtrack was probably actually the best part of the movie. Highlights include “Together” by The xx, Beyonce & Andre 3000’s version of “Back to Black,” and “Love is Blindness” by Jack White.

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