One of our more unique categories is Best Use of Music, which awards the movie that does the best job of interweaving songs, scores and ditties throughout the story. In fact, our typical winners in this category make the music a part of the story. It’s not only about using the score to set a mood, but rather finding the perfect song selection or musical accompaniment at the right moment.
2017 Calvin Awards: Best Use of Music
By Kim Hollis
February 20, 2017
It should come as no surprise that La La Land is our runaway winner, by more than 40 points. The Damien Chazelle-directed musical stakes its claim as one of the strongest films ever in this category from the outset of the film, as people stuck on a highway ramp sing about their dreams and aspirations in “Another Day of Sun.” This theme carries on through the entire film, with “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” exemplifying that starry eyed notion that anyone can be anything in Hollywood – though there is a harsh reality at play beneath all the sparkle and glitz. By the time we come to the “Epilogue,” we’re given a glimpse of both that dream world and the truth.
La La Land’s win marks the second time that one of Chazelle’s films has taken the top spot for Best Use of Music. In 2015, Whiplash took charge of the category and propelled the young director into our consciousness. To say that we’re looking forward to his next project is an understatement.
Second place goes to a film by a John Carney, who also directed a previous winner in this category (2007’s delightful Once). Sing Street is the musical that you probably missed, which means that you need to do yourself a favor and go watch it right now. Set in 1980s Dublin, the film tells the story of a teenage boy named Conor who must transfer to a free state school in order to help his family save money. There, he meets a group of like-minded boys who join his band. Although they initially start as a cover band, Conor’s brother convinces him that he should write original songs, and we’re given some glorious throwback tunes (interspersed with the various types of songs that inspired them). From “The Riddle of the Model” to “Up” to “Drive It Like You Stole It” and the climactic song “Brown Shoes,” these tunes evoke an ‘80s sensibility, but more important, they reflect the struggles of growing up.
Deadpool would deserve its place on this list simply for its usage of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” over the opening credits, but Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop,” DMX’s “X Gon’ Give It to Ya” and George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” all receive near-perfect placement during the film’s events as well. Combine those soundtrack elements with Tom Holkenborg’s (aka Junkie XL) hilarious synthesizer score, and you’ve got a real winner.
Only an “O” short of an EGOT, Lin Manuel-Miranda might just complete that lofty accomplishment in a matter of days (though one of La La Land’s tunes may stand in the way of an Academy Award for Best Original Song). Having taken over Broadway and the world with his masterpiece Hamilton, Miranda is now deeply connected with Disney, starring in the upcoming Mary Poppins film and writing the songs for last year’s animated film Moana. The tunes evoke a sense of the islands where Moana and her family reside, but also a lyrical cleverness that helps to advance the plot. From the “girl power” themes of “How Far I’ll Go” to the introduction of Maui in “You’re Welcome to the Bowie-inspired “Shiny,” Moana’s soundtrack is another Disney masterpiece that people will be singing for years to come.
Another animated film closes out our top five. Kubo and the Two Strings obviously relies heavily on its music as Kubo’s shamisen is integral both to his own storytelling in the village and the advancement of the overarching plot itself. Dario Marianelli’s score is gorgeous, soaring and emotional, presenting a wonderful example of using music to evoke atmosphere and mood.
We go an entire other direction with our number six selection. Popstar: Never Stop Stopping is a silly, hilarious send-up mockumentary of boy bands and the solo artists that emerge from them. Songs like “I’m So Humble,” “Equal Rights,” and “Legalize It” are just a sampling of the tunes that will have you rolling on the floor as you watch this underrated comedy gem. Lonely Island and Andy Samberg sometimes take the joke too far, but honestly, that’s part of what makes it work.
Next up is the sweeping score of Arrival, crafted by Jóhann Jóhannsson. The composer got to work on the music as shooting of the film was under way, using the script and some ideas for the film to get started. He brought in the vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices to help underscore the notion of communication and understanding. We’ll next see Jóhannsson’s work in the upcoming Blade Runner film.
Keanu unflinchingly embraced the greatness of George Michael and gave the singer a swan song worthy of his talent months before his passing. It taught us that “Faith,” “Freedom! ’90,” “Father Figure” and “One More Try” can melt the hearts of even the most hardened criminals – much like a certain adorable titular kitten.
Apparently our group was nostalgic for the 1980s, because yet another film with music from that era appears as our ninth selection. Everybody Wants Some!! is a comedy set around a college baseball team in the ‘80s, and appropriately, the soundtrack includes a wide variety of songs from that time. “My Sharona” (a ubiquitous tune back then), “Heart of Glass” from Blondie, M’s “Pop Muzik,” “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang and of course Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” all play into the action. If you grew up in the ‘80s, you’ll recognize the feelings these songs bring out. If you didn’t, you’ll get a little bit stronger understanding of the time.
We close it out with a film that takes its musical inspiration from the 1970s. For The Nice Guys, director Shane Black wanted some of the bright, irrepressible music of that era to play as background to his neo-noir tale. Like Everybody Wants Some!!, the soundtrack presents an eclectic representation of the sounds of the time, including R&B from bands like The Temptations, Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind and Fire, along with rock from KISS and classic AM rock like Rupert Holmes’s “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, Andrew Gold’s “Lonely Boy” and America’s “A Horse With No Name.”
Just missing or top ten were Jackie, with haunting music by Mica Levi (Under the Skin) and Hell or High Water, with music by the amazing Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music