29. Tom Hanks sums up his crummy life via talking heads in A Hologram for the King
Director Tom Tykwer’s too-cute adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel was a rare box office flop for America’s dad Tom Hanks. Maybe it’s because A Hologram for the King couldn’t help but go easy on his character, a desperate American businessman who heads to Saudi Arabia to pitch his company’s product to the monarch. The movie may not be have been memorable, but the so-weird-it’s-good intro is impossible to forget, especially in the extended version above. Hanks speak-sings his way through a tweaked version of “Once in a Lifetime” as he explains the current wreck of his life, his beautiful house and beautiful wife disappearing in puffs in purple smoke.
28. The dance in The Lobster
The dance the hotel throws in The Lobster is like an extraterrestrial’s re-creation of a human ritual based on vintage holiday pamphlets. The women are all dressed in identical halter dresses, the men in identical suits. Couples sway dutifully on the dance floor or eye each other across the room, while the venue’s manager provides the entertainment — Olivia Colman and Garry Mountaine solemnly belt out “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” to inspire their charges toward mandatory romance.
27. Disney unleashes its latest earworm in Moana
Moana’s big “I want” song is not as inescapable as its Frozen predecessor’s “Let It Go.” But the Lin-Manuel Miranda-composed “How Far I’ll Go” is still mightily catchy, a ballad about repressed dreams of traveling to the horizon sung by Auli’i Cravalho. In addition to its soaring chorus, “How Far I’ll Go” offers the nearly universal Disney princess line of “I wish I could be the perfect daughter.”
26. 10 Cloverfield Land settles in to “I Think We’re Alone Now”
Like so much of Howard’s (John Goodman) underground bunker, Tommy James and the Shondells’ take on “I Think We’re Alone Now” is vintage wholesomeness made creepy. The song, as played on Howard’s jukebox, becomes the soundtrack to a montage in which the survivalist and his guests and/or prisoners Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) settle in to spend the apocalypse as a parody of a happy family — watching movies, playing board games, trying not to think about what’s happening above ground. The lyrics are perfectly on the nose.
25. Peter Gabriel provides a plot song for Snowden
The soundtrack song that explains the plot of the movie is a trend that’s so out of date it was used for retro laughs in Pineapple Express. But this year it was brought back with deep seriousness for Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden biopic, which closes with a new Peter Gabriel composition called “The Veil.” Snowden’s accomplishments aren’t the easiest to summarize in rhyming lyrics, but Gabriel gives it his all, crooning lines like “There’s no safe place to go / Now you’ve let that whistle blow.” It’s not likely to usher in a new golden age of plot songs, but how could Gabriel’s efforts not win your heart?
24. The Beastie Boys get weaponized in Star Trek Beyond
It’s nice to know that the work of the Beastie Boys endured into the future in which Star Trek Beyond takes place…where it’s considered “classical music.” And on top of that, it has the ability to save the day. When the Enterprise cranks up “Sabotage,” it becomes a weapon, the crew anxiously grooving to the song as they take out an enemy fleet.
23. Annette Bening and Billy Crudup put some records on in 20th Century Women
After her son’s car gets graffitied because of his music preferences, 1979 Santa Barbara single mom Dorothea (Annette Bening) decides to give some of these spray paint–worthy records a try. And so, with her tenant William (Billy Crudup), she does. She quickly rejects Black Flag as confounding and tough to dance to, but Talking Heads’ “The Big Country” they like, and find plenty danceable. Soon they’re getting down, delightfully, as the camera pulls back, two grown-ups proving that generational divides will never stop a great tune.
22. The “Rapper’s Delight” car ride in Everybody Wants Some!!
There may be nothing whiter in the known universe than the moment Glen Powell turns around and offers a line of “Rapper’s Delight” with the lyrics changed to fit his character’s name: “See, I am Wonder Finn, and I’d like to say hello.” The musical car ride interlude in Richard Linklater’s college comedy feels like an answer to Wayne’s World’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” sequence, but it also feels uncool in the best of ways. It goes on long past the point in which it would feel like a simple sequence about dudes enjoying a song they like. Instead, it becomes something truly, joyfully dorky.
21. Sonia Braga fires back with “Fat Bottomed Girls” in Aquarius
Kleber Mendonça Filho’s film is overflowing with good tunes — after all, its main character, the force of nature that is Clara (Sonia Braga), had a long and storied career as a music journalist. The soundtrack features songs from Filho’s fellow Brazilians like Gilberto Gil and Taiguara, but it also includes Queen, a band that looms large in one of the movie’s most satisfying moments. The developer trying to pressure Clara out of her apartment arranges a rowdy blowout right upstairs to intimidate her, electronic music thumping and people shouting. But they don’t know who they’re messing with. Clara pours herself some wine and retaliates by blasting some music of her own. When the opening harmonies of “Fat Bottomed Girls” block out the neighboring ruckus, she starts a party of one that rivals anything they could come up with.
20. Dounia dances in Divines
When Houda Benyamina’s terrific crime-drama-as-coming-of-age film begins, its hero, Dounia (Oulaya Amamra), is more interested in money than men. She wants to boost herself out of the crushing dead-end poverty in which she’s been growing up. She wants to be somebody. Over the course of Divines, she grows confident of her own power in more ways than one. Dounia becomes an earner for local drug baron Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda), and she comes to understand her own beauty, both via her romance with a moody dancer and via a mission to seduce another dealer. The latter offers the movie with its best music moment, when Dounia, tasked to get the man’s attention at a club, jumps onto a platform as Azealia Banks’ “212” blasts. Facing the camera in her white gown, with the light turning her hair into a halo, she invites and challenges the male gaze. For a brief window, the control is entirely hers.
19. “Remember Jurassic Park?” in Swiss Army Man
It’s hard to say exactly why Jurassic Park is such an important cultural touchstone to Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s surreal saga. But it’s not even close to the strangest choice in a movie about how Paul Dano bonds with Daniel Radcliffe’s talking corpse in the woods. Either way, when John Williams’ famous theme makes an appearance on the soundtrack, its grand familiarity is poignant — as Dano’s character puts it, “If you don’t know Jurassic Park, you don’t know shit.”
18. Bad Moms run wild through the supermarket
It’s hard to choose just one highlight of Bad Moms’ iconic Icona Pop supermarket montage. Is it the smooch Kathryn Hahn plants on an unsuspecting employee? The run Kathryn Hahn takes at a security guard who immediately flees in terror? The way Kathryn Hahn makes it rain right into the bored face of the checkout clerk? In short, Kathryn Hahn is legendarily funny in this better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be comedy, and never more so than in these glorious two minutes.
17. Weiner gets back in the New York groove
The montage of Anthony Weiner launching his 2013 mayoral campaign early in the documentary Weiner doesn’t just unfold to the sounds of Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove”;�it’s cut rhythmically to Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove.” Weiner’s campaign offices grow from sparsely populated to crowded in a series of edits on the beat, and a staffer unveils a “Weiner for Mayor” poster right as the chorus kicks in. We know the whole endeavor is doomed AF, but in that sequence, fueled by those oohs on the soundtrack, it feels for a second like maybe that asshole really could pull off the impossible.
16. Keegan-Michael Key makes the case for George Michael in Keanu
The patron saint of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s action comedy Keanu is not the adorable kitten of the title. It’s George Michael. The pop star is suburban dad Clarence’s (Key) favorite, which lands Clarence in hot water when the group of gang members he and his cousin (Peele) are trying to infiltrate pull up “Freedom! ‘90” on Clarence’s playlist. Clarence attempts, amazingly, to save himself by convincing the gangsters that George Michael is both black and possessed of ferocious tough guy cred. “This the real OG up in here,” he insists, eventually bonding with them all over “Father Figure” and the need for strong male role models.
15. Adele is a universal language in Skiptrace
This Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville buddy action comedy barely registered in the US, but there’s one scene well worth a watch. While drunkenly sacked out by the fire in a Mongolian village, Chan’s character launches into a rendition of “Rolling in the Deep.” It’s not a solo for long — the villagers start joining in, first with traditional instruments and then chiming in to sing the chorus. Adele crosses continents with considerably more ease than Chan’s Hong Kong cop and Knoxville’s American con man.
14. The Ain’t Rights play “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” in Green Room
When is a cover song more than just a cover song? When it’s an act of protest. Stranded and broke, Green Room’s idealistic punk band the Ain’t Rights end up getting stuck playing a gig at a skinhead venue in order to keep their tour going. They do it, but they’re unhappy, sentiments they express by kicking off their set with a version of the Dead Kennedys classic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” If the film’s white-supremacist villains feel more immediate and alarming in the wake of the rise of the so-called “alt-right,” the musical moment of rebellion is wonderfully uncomplicated — a raucous middle finger to a crowd invested in hate.
13. Morris finds his voice in Morris From America
Morris (Markees Christmas) spends a lot of Morris From America dreaming about hip-hop, taking solace in it, and composing his own rhymes bragging about accomplishments that are, for all their casual misogyny, pretty hilarious from a boyish 13-year-old. (E.g., “Fuckin’ all the bitches, two at a time / All you can take for just $10.99.”) He’s twice an outsider in the German city to which he and his father Curtis (Craig Robinson) have moved — they’re American and, as Curtis puts it, the “only two brothers in Heidelberg.” Hip-hop is key to Morris’ identity, even if he’s largely isolated in his love for it — when he does his Jay Z impression for his crush, she asks if Jay Z is the guy who’s married to Beyoncé. All of which makes the moment in which Morris goes up on stage more rewarding; he abandons the empty braggadocio and performs from the heart. It’s a little cheesy and a lot rewarding.
12. Channing Tatum plays sailor In Hail, Caesar!
In the Coens’ old Hollywood satire, Channing Tatum’s Gene Kelly–esque character leads a sailor song and dance number called “No Dames.” It’s a sly nod to the (intentional or otherwise) homoerotic subtext studio films could sneak into more repressive times — the men start the number by mourning the months they’ll be at sea with not a woman in sight, and end it dancing with each other. Tatum’s always excellent moves get paired with lyrics in which his cohorts proclaim that “Out there on the sea / Here’s how it will be / I’m gonna dance with you, pal / You’re gonna dance with me!”
11. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping strains its metaphors
The funniest track in the Lonely Island’s mockumentary is “Finest Girl,” a parody of the “girl was a freak”-style song. Only here, the object of Connor4Real’s (Andy Samberg) lust turns out to be into things he isn’t prepared for — namely, Osama bin Laden role-play. Women in skimpy military-themed gear trot out behind him on stage as he performs next to a writing dancer who dons a turban and then a beard. Connor struggles to hold onto a comparison that’s not only outrageous but labored. “I couldn’t track the metaphor,” he eventually admits, though it doesn’t stop him from getting the crowd singing along to his fictional partner’s request to “terrorize that pussy.”
10. The jukebox moment in Moonlight
“Hello Stranger” by Barbara Lewis is the song that Kevin (André Holland) puts on the jukebox of the restaurant in which he’s now a cook. It’s fitting, since he’s reconnecting with his childhood friend and eventual lover Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) after years. The look the two exchange as the music swells and the lyrics “Ooh, seems like a mighty long time” sound feels like it could put the world on pause.
9. The Pet Shop Boys bookend Mountains May Depart
Two tunes are key to Jia Zhangke’s three-stage film. One’s a Cantopop ballad by Sally Yeh that goes from innocuous to totally heartbreaking over the film’s first two sections. The other is Pet Shop Boys’ bouncy “Go West,” an exuberant ditty about the promise of the new that opens the film with hope in 1999, then returns to close it in 2025. By then, its sentiments have been transmuted into something so intensely bittersweet that you’ll never hear the song the same way again.
8. The La La Land opening number
You’ll know if you’re going to fall for La La Land by the end of its opening number, which starts on an overpass in standstill Los Angeles traffic. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are there in their cars, but “Another Day of Son” is a group number in which their famous faces are, for a moment, unimportant. It’s an ode to running off to Hollywood to chase your dreams, people getting out of cars, the camera swinging wide in a patched-together long take, big of old-fashioned movie magic erupting briefly out of the most mundane and infamous of the city’s experiences.
7. Sausage Party celebrates “The Great Beyond”
Like La La Land, Sausage Party starts with a musical number that lets you know exactly what you’re in for. In the case of Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s raunchy animated comedy, that song is “The Great Beyond,” a morning hymn belted out by the grocery residents of Shopwell’s as they thanks the gods, otherwise known as shoppers, browsing the aisles of the store. The tune’s reminiscent of a Disney number by design — it’s composed by Beauty and the Beast’s own Alan Menken. But its lyrics (“We’re super sure there’s nothing shitty waiting for us in the great beyond,” for example) aren’t ones you’ll find in any kiddie flick.
6. Ralph Fiennes shakes his stuff in A Bigger Splash
As outsized music producer Harry Hawkes, a man who’s both tremendous fun and trouble with a capital T, Ralph Fiennes pretty much walks away with A Bigger Splash. And that’s never more evident than in the scene in which the movie puts itself on hold just to let him dance. Harry puts on the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” and proceeds to strut his stuff, showing off and shaking that unabashedly middle-aged bod with glorious abandon.
5. Toni finds the beat in The Fits
When she first joins the community center’s dance team in The Fits, 11-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower) struggles. She practices the routines, but struggles, always a few beats behind the rest of the group. And then, walking home by herself one day, she tries out a few moves, and everything finally clicks. The rhythm builds in volume on the soundtrack as it seems to in Toni’s head, and while it’s gray and overcast, the grin that spreads on her face is sunshine-bright.
4. The Whitney Houston moment in Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann is a movie about a semi-retired music teacher named Winfried (Peter Simonischek) whose attempt to reconnect with his estranged daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) basically involves a series of stunts. The best is the one in which he announces Ines is going to sing in front of a party full of strangers, a challenge to which the no-nonsense businesswoman wonderfully and unexpectedly steps up. The song is the Whitney Houston classic “Greatest Love of All,” and Ines’ take is imperfect and impassioned, both funny and filled with hints at all kinds of difficult history between her and her father. It’s enough to make you cry through your laughter.
3. Deadpool’s opening credits
With all due respect to those who boosted Deadpool to $782 million worldwide, what is by many miles the best part of the self-referential comic book movie takes place before it ever gets going. That would be the opening titles, during which dulcet sounds of Juice Newton’s version of “Angel of the Morning” plays as the camera pans through a frozen scene of contrasting mayhem. The credits that appear on screen aren’t names, they’re a breakdown of the stock elements of the superhero genre, a set of self-referential jokes more brutal and clever than anything Ryan Reynolds’ wisecracking mercenary will later cough up. The cast is listed as including “God’s Perfect Idiot,” “A Hot Chick,” “A British Villain,” and “A Gratuitous Cameo,” while the producers are referred to as “Asshats.” The embittered writers, at least, manage to pat themselves on the back, snagging the listing of “The Real Heroes Here.”
2. Sing Street drives it like it stole it
It’s not just that “Drive It Like You Stole It” is the catchiest, most ear-wormy number the teenage band in Sing Street composes. It’s also the whole Back to the Future-inspired music video fantasy Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has while playing it and waiting for Raphina (Lucy Boynton) to show up. It’s slicker than anything his band’s amateur efforts could ever produce, and the song allows a bright escape for a second. Cosmo’s family and friends come together to dance, a moment that’s happier and more united than their rough reality.
1. “We Found Love” in a Kmart in American Honey
Star (Sasha Lane), the teenage lead of American Honey, is barely older than a kid herself, but she’s responsible for taking care of her two young siblings while their mother’s off partying. It’s a rough situation made worse by her having to evade her stepfather’s groping when she’s home. No wonder that when a magazine sales crew blows through town, she’s entranced.
They look so free, this collection of rowdy teens piled into a van, laughing and yelling out the windows — especially Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who, in the movie’s best moment, causes a scene in the middle of Kmart for Star’s pleasure. He leaps up onto a checkout stand to dance as Rihanna’s “We Found Love” blasting over tinny store speakers. It sets the mood for everything that follows in the film, which leans heavily on music and promises infinite possibilities, at least for the space of a song.