Diegetics: 59 of the Best In-Movie Music Moments (Pts. 1-3: 59 to 29)

[Ed. note: this story was updated on 7/1 with Nos. 39-29.]

A few weeks ago, Stylus posted a list that was at once entertaining and utterly underwhelming. This is our response to that list.

The list, "The Top Ten Musical Moments From Film" presented a selection of great moments in the use of in-film sound in the movies. As one person's selection of ten moments, the list is not bad at all (in particular, much respect for the choice of using Anna Karina's dance in My Life to Live over the equally great, but better-known dance scene in Band of Outsiders.)

However... ten is just not enough for a list of this sort. There are entirely too many great uses of diegetic sound in film to count. In fact, given certain cinematic trends, we could easily make entire top tens consisting of scenes from films by Quentin Tarantino, P.T. Anderson, or a number of their derivatives.

Thus, we present you with 57 58 59 of the Best In-Movie Music Moments, starting with an alphabetical list of 59-11, and the top ten to follow soon.

Nos. 59-50
Nos. 49-40
Nos. 39-29

59. Adisaya Piravi: A little person stoptape dances.

I have no intention of ever watching this film from Madras (India). But the dance, by a guy known only as Little Superstar, which spawned an internet phenomenon, is nothing short of amazing.

58. Almost Famous: 70s rockers heart Elton John.

Although Cameron Crowe may not be cool, or never was, his love for music (nevermind his taste, at times), is respectable - there's something undeniably uplifting (even for a cynical fuck like myself) about seeing the exhausted band begin singing along to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer."

57. American Psycho: Murdering Huey Lewis.

Beyond seeing a brutal murder set to Huey Lewis, there's something bitingly evil about a guy who kills just after explaining the deeper meaning of "Hip to Be Square."

56. Annie Hall: "Seems Like Old Times"

Diane Keaton is not a great singer. She's not even really a good singer, but her atrocious performance on their first date - followed by her "pastrami sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonaisse" - is pitch-perfect.

55. Apocalypse Now: The Playboy Bunnies and The Flight of the Valkyries.

While Stylus ranked the bunnies dancing to "Susie Q" #1 on their list, somehow that scene doesn't hit me the same way. It's not that the scene's not great - it's just that the movie has so many better scenes set to music, including the Helicopter attack, set to Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries." The sound in the scene starts out being played by Robert Duvall's character, but becomes part of the score. (That, or he has one damn powerful portable machine.)

54. Back to the Future: A white kid goes back in time to teach black people about rock n' roll.

Ohhhhhh.... so that's how it happened!

53. Bande à part: "The Madison"

In this scene our heroes dance "The Madison": "We now might open a parenthesis on Odile's, Franz's and Arthur's feelings... but it's all pretty clear. So we close our parenthesis and let the images speak."

52. Before Sunset: "A Little Waltz for a Night"

This movie could so easily have been terrible - but it wasn't. This scene has been terrible in so many other movies - but not here.

51. Big: Chopsticks on Foot

Re-watching this scene, in which Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia play a walkable piano in FAO Schwartz, for the 100th or so time, I'm struck by two things: (1) There's a couple of shots that last for more than 15 seconds, and (2) They make mistakes.

50. The Big Lebowski: "I hate the fucking Eagles, man."

I take similar pleasure in this scene as in the American Psycho scene above - both are abusing of a crappy band which lots of people love. While AP used Huey Lewis as a further display for Bateman's lack of a soul, the Coens use the Dude's clearly-correct disdain of the Eagles to show how he is persecuted.

49. Blazing Saddles: Count Basie in the West

New Sheriff Bart rides into town on a high note. He's dressed in Gucci gear, and Count Basie's "April in Paris" plays on the film's score... but then Bart rides further...only to see Count Basie and his Orchestra actually playing the score in the middle of the desert - on a gleaming white piano and matching stage, no less.

48. Boogie Nights: "The Touch"

With his porn career in the dumpster, Dirk Diggler sets out to record a solo album. The first single: taking another slice of film magic and re-interpreting it in the best way possible. [Here's another great interpretation of that scene.]



47. Breathless: A Little Jerry Lee Lewis Before Dying

Just as in Godard's film, our rogue hero finds himself surrounded by police at the end, betrayed by his lover. In this otherwise inferior film, Richard Gere chooses to draw his pistol and perform a little Jerry Lee Lewis for his lady. It's almost worth watching the whole movie just for this scene. [No video available on this one.]

46. Buffalo '66: Christina Ricci, Moonchild

[This was the] first diegetic movie-music moment that came to my mind. Surreal, random, and haunting. The scene that convinced me this was a great film. -J. Lefkovitz

45. Chungking Express: Dreaming of Cali

Unlike some of the others on this list, it's almost impossible to think of Chungking Express and not think of "California Dreaming." The song plays virtually on repeat throughout, and yet it never tires. [The scene I was thinking of in particular was one in which Faye Wong dances at the restaurant while listening to the song on her headphones, but this moment between her and Tony Leung's character is nice as well.]

44. Citizen Kane: "You buy a bag of peanuts in this town, you get a song written about you."

It's early in the film, but you get a sense of what kind of man Charles Foster Kane is, when between trying to start a war in Spain and having a troupe of gorgeous women sing a song about what a wonderful man he is, he acts like everyone has a song written about them.

43. A Clockwork Orange: "A bit of the ol' Ludwing Van"

The psychological impact of the music in this film is so entwined with the plot. Specifically, Kubrick uses both Beethoven, as an aversion to ultraviolence, and "Singin' in the Rain," as the victim's remembrance of the crime, to great success.

The scene below is Alex listening to some Ludwig Van (the 5th Symphony) prior to his transformation.

42. Cool Hand Luke: "Plastic Jesus"

LUKE IS JESUS. So many aspects display this heavily used symbolism, and Luke's singing of a song about a toy Jesus and the Virgin Mary after the death of his own mother is... well... it's apt... and it's a great moment of sorrow for one of film's all-time best tough guys.

41. Do the Right Thing: "Twenty D Fucking Batteries"

Minor in screen time, but major in influence, Radio Raheem and his boombox play an integral part of Spike Lee's hot summer day. While the scene in which the music dies and the riot starts is certainly more explosive, the one below, in which Raheem explains the origins of his brass knuckle rings (an homage to another film on our list), is Raheem's moment to shine. [Also, the riot scene ain't on the tubes.]

40. The Dreamers: "La Mer"

This may have been the sexiest dance on film in... at least the last decade or so. So sexy that I couldn't even find a relevant photo to post here that didn't show Eva Green's nude torso. And the only video of it found was on a porn site. So yes, this is NSFW. And Brilliant.

39. Exotica: "Everybody Knows"

When Atom Egoyan's film came out in 1996, I recall seeing it at a video store and thinking it was a softcore/Cinemax-like flick. It's not at all, but after seeing this scene below, it's hard to argue with it winning the Adult Video News award for Best Alternative Adult Film of 1996, despite Agoyan's amusement.

38. Full Metal Jacket: Mickey Mouse at War

A town burns, and American soldiers march away while singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme. As strange as it may be, it just feels right at the end of a movie so marked by its intensity.

37. Ghostbusters II: Lady Liberty Goes For a Walk

The concept: Good vibes will save the city. The Ghostbusters, riding in on the Statue of Liberty, must choose one song that will provide the vibes that will save the world. They chose... wisely.

36. Gilda: "Put the Blame on Mame"

It's amazing that something this sexy was filmed in 1946. And after seeing it, some credit must be given to Steven King for recognizing that Rita Heyworth just might be enough to inspire a man to escape from prison.

35. Grindhouse/Death Proof: "Hold Tight"

Although many will criticize Quentin Tarantino for the fact that some of his movies play like a series of music videos loosely connected... the truth is he makes damn good music videos. The first entry of his on this list, the scene below from Grindhouse/Death Proof, finds four women driving after a long night of drinking. One, a DJ, calls up the station to request the song "Hold Tight," by obscure 60s rock group Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. The song, a rocking jam which encourages the listener to hold tight, plays like the most awesome seatbelt ad ever made as the women drive to a gruesome death.

34. Jackie Brown: "We ain't going nowhere but to Ko-rea town, man."

Like the above scene, this Tarantino scene places his characters in a car. And also like the above scene, the music is clearly meant to be seen as chosen by the character in the movie, not by the director. When Tarantino's music is diegetic, he usually doesn't bother with nuance - he really wants you to know that the sound is in the film. So after packing his former associate (Christ Tucker) in his trunk, Sam Jackson's character plays the sweet sounds of the Brothers Johnson's cover of "Strawberry Letter 23." Then he shoots him dead.

33. Jules et Jim: "Le Tourbillon"

Another writer on the internet wrote that Jeanne Moreau sings this song "as if it's the theme of her life." Hard to argue with that.

32. Kill Bill, Vol. 1: Twisted Nerve

Yet another aspect of Tarantino's film-cleptomania involves taking music from the scores of other films. Here he steals Bernard Hermann's haunting whistling theme from Twisted Nerve. A sexy one-eyed killer played by Daryl Hannah whistles while marching to The Bride's hospital bed. The scene actually works better than the original's use, as Hannah's whistling starts out diegetic before building into the film's score.

31. The Lost Boys: Tim Cappello Still Believes

In a town full of vampires, a buff saxophonist rocks out. And in a movie whose tone goes from campy to comedy to thriller and back again, the scene, the song, and the artist fit perfectly. My reaction was similar to Corey Haim and Jason Patric's: mouth agape with a look of "Is this real?", followed by a smile and a look to the person sitting next to you... "Yes, and it's great."

30. The Man Who Knew Too Much: "Storm Cloud Cantata"

If you ever need to distract an assassin on duty, all you need are a cymbal crash and Doris Day's glass-shattering scream. This sequence consists of eight minutes of what Hitchcock called "Pure Cinema"—nothing but images to tell a story. Of course, the scene also owes much to Arthur Benjamin's thunderous "Storm Cloud Cantata," conducted by Bernard Herrmann (who composed the film's actual score). -J. Lefkovitz

29. Modern Times: "Je cherche apres Titine (Clementine)"

It took nearly ten years after the advent of sound in cinema for Charlie Chaplin to forego his silent aesthetic, and these were the first words ever uttered by Chaplin's little tramp. Arriving quite late in the picture, the song makes the viewer forget that "Modern
Times" is a futuristic satire and remember that what made Chaplin so hypnotic in the first place was his ability to be alternately innocent and subversive. -J. Lefkovitz