With the Oscars behind us and the second quarter of the new year beginning, it's the perfect time to burden you with one last top ten list for 2009. Below are the most outstanding film-music moments of the year, as dictated by Boombox Serenade where we've just never been interested in score, and instead favor directors who know how to use real music (yep, I said it) in original and powerful ways. As usual, we start with the tenth best moment and build up to number one.
Lloyd #10 goes to Director Alan Ball, Music Supervisor Gary Calamar, and Sammy Kershaw for the "Louisiana Hot Sauce" sequence in True Blood. Surprise! After the death of his girlfriend, perpetually horny Bon Temps resident Jason Stackhouse got religion this season, but even grief and God weren't enough to make him keep it in his pants. Soon he was lusting after a powerful preachers' wife, proving that Jason is perhaps one of the best-written, most lovable fuck-ups of all time. There's one scene in which Ball and Calamar have a particularly good time torturing Jason. They put God Barbie in a tight gingham shirt, then have her fetch beer and grill up some barbecue for the fellas. It's not long before Jason is seeing her in soft focus and slo-mo while she licks her fingers and tosses her big hair around to "Louisana Hot Sauce" by Kershaw. Like the entire show, it's a sequence that manages to be sexy, smart, southern, and hilariously funny.
Lloyd #9 goes to Director Paul Saltzman and Vitamin C for the "The Graduation Song" sequence in Prom Night in Mississippi. Teenagers can always be counted upon to fill their world with music, so there are a bunch of great film-music moments in Paul Saltzman's documentary about the first racially integrated high school prom in Charleston, Mississippi—filmed just a handful of months before Barack Obama was elected president. The best of these takes place at the end of the prom itself. As the hour grows late, no one drifts away to hotel rooms or parties. The vibe stays up, the dance floor stays packed, and at one point is filled to its edges with grinning students dancing to the bittersweet groove of "Graduation Song (Friends Forever)" by Vitamin C, who sounds more like a fourth member TLC than a blond pop chanteuse. A looping sample of the Pachelbel Canon glides wistfully behind neo-soul inflected vocals..an array of nuances sandwiched into one song, and perfect for the moment. The lyrics are reflective, sentimental...typical of words spoken around graduation, but in this case they also speak to the pivotal nature of the night, and the bond these students share for having made history together.
Lloyd #8 goes to Director Robert Kenner, Music Supervisor Amine Ramer, Bruce Springsteen, and Woodie Guthrie for the "This Land is Your Land" sequence in Food Inc. Robert Kenner's powerful documentary on the U.S. food industry, Food Inc., is made all the more powerful by the epilogue to the film, set to Bruce Springsteen's live version of "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie. In 1940 Guthrie wrote the song in response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which he considered to be unrealistic and complacent, so it's the perfect choice for a documentary that strips away the marketing lies of the food industry and makes a direct appeal to the audience. The instrumentation on the song is minimal, which makes the sequence even more immediate and personal.
Lloyd #7 goes to Director Alan Ball, Music Supervisor Gary Calamar, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and King Britt for the "New World In My View" sequence in True Blood. The "New World in My View" episode of True Blood contains a moment that had everyone talking. As Bill strides toward the villa of the vampire queen, an irresistible and mysterious song fades in and like the vampires themselves, contains elements of the ancient and modern. Warbly vocals seem to come from somewhere out of time, sung by New Orleans preacher named Sister Gertrude Morgan. In her swampy, bony voice you can hear the very origins of rock and roll. Behind that voice is an electronic arrangement by King Britt, a Philadelphia DJ who remixed Morgan's recordings and turned them into an album called King Britt Presents: Sister Gertrude Morgan. His contribution is some sleek, aquatic sounding music—unlikely sonic couture for a restless bride of Christ. It shouldn't work at all really—this old Delta priestess wandering into a Tangerine Dream track—but it does. It's a hugely portentous moment, one that makes way for a pivotal new character and suggests an even larger turning of tides.
Lloyd #6 goes to director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and The Spinners for the "One of a Kind Love Affair " sequence in Soul Power. In late September 1974 a historic music festival took place in Kinshasa, Zaire where thirty one acts performed—17 from Africa and 14 from the U.S.—including the Detroit based band The Spinners, who transfixed a stadium full of 80,000 Africans when they took the stage with their hit, "One of a Kind Love Affair." The New York Times quoted Zaire 74's producer as saying "Our purpose was to document the history of the beat. We want to...help blacks in America, strangers in a strange land, to grasp the strand of the motherland—the musical beat." In this sense, The Spinners' performance is particularly stunning. By 1974 their music was a lush blend of doo wop and the Philly-style soul that was becoming popular in the U.S., and to hear that satiny sound in an African context is a revelation—a living map of black music's breadth and scope...its journey.
Lloyd #5 goes to Directors Spike Jonze and Arcade Fire for the "Wake Up" trailer for Where The Wild Things Are. The first-ever trailer to win a prestigious (*cough*) Lloyd Award, this movie preview made everyone who saw it sit up and take notice—all without any voice-over or snippets of dialogue. Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" set a sweeping, even epic tone for Spike Jonze's unsanitized interpretation of the children's book by Maurice Sendak—revealing the downcast palette of browns and grays that scandalized studio executives when they first saw it. More like a music video than a trailer, this piece stands on its own and is full of the big, unruly emotions that define the film. It lets you know that if you watch this movie, you'll be reliving the glory and the terror of that time in your childhood when you realized home could no longer fully contain you, and that you'd have to venture out into the wider, much wilder world.
Lloyd #4 Goes to Director Sacha Gervasi, and Anvil for the finale sequence in Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Talk abut payoff. For most of this documentary, the graying members of Canadian metal band Anvil are still trying to make the dream happen, but the prospect of success seems dimmer every day. As they struggle to book gigs and get paid their sense of frustration is palpable, but so is the determination that has kept them together since 1973. When they finally book a bigger show in Japan (where they hear they have a cult following) the band nervously wonders whether anyone will show up. Then they take the stage to find themselves in front a venue full of thousands of adoring fans. The feel-good movie of the year. Since the release of this documentary, Anvil gone on to open for big acts like AC/DC and has played several big festivals.
Lloyd #3 goes to Director Robert Siegel, Music Supervisor Gabe Hilfer, as well as musicians Larry Collins, Alex Harvey, and Tanya Tucker for the "Delta Dawn" sequence in Big Fan. Big Fan is a brilliant character study of a single-minded sports fan named Paul Aufiero who willingly rejects the world in favor of his one true love: the New York Giants. After being beaten up by his favorite player one night, Aufiero deals with the humiliation by tracking down a fan of his team's arch rival and unloading a paint gun on him. His flight from the scene is accompanied by the very last song you'd expect to hear: Tanya Tucker's rendition of "Delta Dawn." "Delta Dawn what's that flower you've got on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?" The sound is lilting and tender, but the lyrics paint a chilling portrait of a person who takes up residence in empty obsession for the rest of her days.
Lloyd #2 goes to Director Lee Daniels, Music Supervisor Lynn Fainchtein, and Sounds of Blackness for the "Soul Holiday" sequence in Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. This sequence is so carefully and artfully crafted that it transcends our usual definition of "film-music moment" and becomes an actual storytelling element in and of itself—woven into the very fabric of the film through careful interlacing of action and sound. We are talking, of course, about the climactic scene in which Precious' abusive mom pushes Precious down a flight of stairs while she is cradling her newborn son. Sometime during this bone chilling series of events, the early strains of a gospel song called "Soul Holiday" are folded into the action. "Time to celebrate," it begins, "our love for one another," a bitterly ironic choice at this moment, but as she ventures blindly out into the night—operating on pure instinct to protect her child—Precious sees a choir practicing in a church and has a brief fantasy of singing with them. As "Soul Holiday" grows louder over top the scene, we realize this is our protagonist's pivotal moment and the song is the anthem of her Herculean feat: walking out on the monster who was ruining her life. The fact that it's a Christmas song implies bravery on par with the biblical Mary and the "holiday" reference may also refer to a coping strategy common to victims of abuse: an ability to flee their own bodies for brief periods of time. It is a brilliant, deeply layered sequence—one so perfect that it's hard to imagine it any other way, and especially with any other music.
Lloyd #1 goes to Director Quentin Tarantino, Music Supervisor Mary Ramos, and David Bowie for the "Cat People (Putting Out The Fire)" sequence in Inglorious Basterds. Historians say that Operation Barbarossa was when Axis luck began to change for the worse, but maybe it was actually when Shoshanna Dreyfus reached through the hole in space-time that Tarantino made and gleefully murdered several hundred high ranking Nazi officials by setting them on fire. The montage in which she prepares herself to do so is the real film-music takeaway from the movie, and of course Tarantino unblinkingly joins the ranks of the very few directors (like Robert Altman and Sofia Coppola) brave and talented enough to use contemporary music in a period piece. In fact, Tarantino knows exactly what to do with David Bowie's ominous, opulent voice, placing it at the very heart of his film like a jewel while lavishing some old-school camera work on his heroine. It's one of the most visually bold sequences in a visually bold movie, and somehow the music helps sear it on your retina forever.
And there you have it! The intensely subjective Lloyd Awards, brought to you by Boombox Serenade. See you next year!