If you don’t believe that music is a crucial and critical component of every film released, imagine watching your favorite film without its music. What’s Casablanca without As Time Goes By? The Godfather team without its iconic theme? Star Wars without John Williams’ soaring score?
2018 Calvin Awards: Best Use of Music
By Kim Hollis
February 26, 2018
The category of Best Use of Music goes further than simply Best Score or Best Song. Movies that have a perfectly executed soundtrack are eligible here just as those with swelling, sweeping orchestral accompaniments. 2018 is an eclectic blend of both types of films, which is what makes this category such a fun one.
Our Calvin Award goes to Baby Driver, which should probably be no surprise to people who have followed our site for years. Edgar Wright is already consistently one of our favorite directors, and his ability to integrate music into his stories has been apparent going all the way back to when he was the show runner for Spaced. Since moving into film, his Shaun of the Dead will make you think of Queen (and perhaps Prince’s Batman soundtrack). Hot Fuzz brings to mind the spy film-inspired score. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is all about the band’s music.
With 2017’s Baby Driver, Wright turned the music into a character in the film. The main character, Baby, constantly has headphones inserted into his ears. His life of crime is only possible when he listens to the exact right music to make the heist happen. The film’s very opening scene is a masterwork of incorporating music into the story, as we truly learn about Baby’s personality as he sweeps through the city.
To list all the songs that factor into the story requires too many words, but the highlights include “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earl (part of that opening segment), “B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas, two songs that honor the character Debora (“Debora” by T. Rex and Beck’s “Debra”), “Neat Neat Neat” by the Damned and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver,” which plays as the credits roll. Those songs really just scratch the surface, but when you watch the film you understand our logic.
Second place belongs to the delightful Pixar production Coco, which has joyous Day of the Dead-inspired songs and score. Michael Giacchino composed the score, but the truth of the matter is that this song’s primary theme is the reason for its presence here. “Remember Me” is a touching, heartfelt song that was written for family, and family is the theme of Coco. Ultimately, Miguel performs the song at a critical moment, which changes everything.
Blade Runner 2049 went through a few different iterations of composers before Denis Villeneuve finally settled upon Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch to complete the score. They chose to honor the original compositions created by Vangelis for the 1982 film by using a Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer just as had been incorporated into the first film all those years ago. Zimmer had worked with Blade Runner (1982) director Ridley Scott on a number of films, and felt that he understood the director’s original vision and how to continue it.
For Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagino wanted the music to reflect Elio’s personality. The protagonist of the film is himself a composer who likes to tinker with existing musical pieces. So, Guadagino asked indie rock musician Sufjan Stevens to put together some songs. They resonated so much that they became an important element of the film, along with songs that would have actually been playing on the radio when the story is set.
We round out our top five with Atomic Blonde, the ‘80s Cold War spy film. It uses a mix of original ‘80s tunes along with some covers to give the movie a more modernized feel. Such songs as “Cat People” by David Bowie, Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom,” and “London Calling” by The Clash all do a remarkable job of evoking the era and an atmosphere.
In sixth and seventh we have one film that is primarily soundtrack driven and one that relies heavily upon its score. Music is very important to Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, so in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 we get another heaping helping of the songs that informed his youth. Even if all we got was the opening battle segment set to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” it might have been enough for its placement here. For Dunkirk, we have the return of Zimmer, who visited the Dunkirk set for inspiration and used beats from director Christopher Nolan’s pocket watch to create something truly affecting.
Our final three films are Phantom Thread, Thor: Ragnarok, and I, Tonya, none of which bear much similarity to one another. Phantom Thread has a notable score from Jonny Greenwood. It’s interesting in that at moments, it feels utterly incongruous with what is happening on the screen, but somehow it works. Thor: Ragnarok took advantage of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” from the moment its first trailer was released, and it didn’t go away from the full-length version of the film. Thor: Ragnarok is a ton of fun and its soundtrack is as well. Finally, I, Tonya is a film full of unreliable narrators, even down to the music, which wasn’t necessarily of the time when the story’s events occurred (the music was more 70s than early 90s).
Films that just barely missed our top ten include Good Time, The Shape of Water, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and Logan Lucky.
2018 Calvin Awards
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music