2009 Calvin Awards: Best Use of Music

February 10, 2009

Useless fact: Jai Ho translates as Praise, Hail, Hallelujah, or Victory.

While the Oscars honor movie scores and single songs that appear in movies, we choose a different course. For us, music plays a vital role in driving plot and even in developing character. Thus, it seems a logical conclusion that we would honor Use of Music rather than some smaller pieces of the whole.

No film better embodied the importance of music in 2009 than Slumdog Millionaire, which in fact is also nominated for Oscars for Best Score and Best Song at the Academy Awards. From start to finish, Slumdog Millionaire is imbued with the sounds of "pop" music from India, and every piece is used with great care and deliberation. From the early call of M.I.A.'s O... Saya, we move to the A.R. Rahman piece Riots, which clearly is present to heighten the tension of the pogroms taking place during Jamal's youth. Paper Planes is a youthful, exuberant song with a touch of something dark to it – which would certainly coincide with the story playing out onscreen. Other pieces from Rahman's score, such as Ringa Ringa, Latika's Theme and Millionaire, serve to drive forward the narrative, and finally, there is the delightful dance number Jai Ho, that celebrates the movie that came before it and sends the audience home on an upbeat note. Usually, we'll vote for movies with great soundtracks in this spot, but this one is truly a composite combination of its songs and its score.

Our second place finisher, WALL-E, also is placing highly by virtue of a remarkable score and an extremely appropriate closing credits song. Because WALL-E was almost 100% free of dialogue in its first half, Thomas Newton's musical compositions become all the more vital to the movie's feel and flow. Additionally, from the movie's outset we see WALL-E becoming more and more self-aware as he dances along with music from Hello, Dolly! and views characters from the film as they fall in love. Finally, Peter Gabriel's terrific song "Down to Earth" closes the movie, and the lyrics and futuristic feel to the music are about as appropriate as you could hope for.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall finishes in third place for a variety of reasons, mainly thanks to the deliciously ridiculous songs performed by Russell Brand as British pop star Aldous Snow, but mostly for the awesome Dracula's Lament, which was performed by puppets powered by Jason Segel and friends. Ever since Angel turned into a puppet on that television series, we've pretty much decided that everything seems to be better with puppets. We haven't seen much (other than Dead Silence) to prove us wrong so far.


Most people will think of Bruce Springsteen's tune "The Wrestler" when it comes to music from The Wrestler, but the fact of the matter is that there are a number of heavy metal tunes that are extremely well used in this Darren Aronofsky film. Songs like Quiet Riot's Bang Your Head, Ratt's Round and Round, Accept's Balls to the Wall, Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child of Mine and especially Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone) by Cinderella all serve to take us into the world of professional wrestling and also compliment the story.

Frost/Nixon rounds out the top five on the strength of a fantastic score by the always-excellent Hans Zimmer. You wouldn't dream it by just hearing about the movie's subject matter, but it's an extremely tense, intriguing film and the music helps to emphasize those key aspects.

It seems almost inevitable that a movie about two people living in a world full of mixtapes would find a home on our list. The formula worked before for High Fidelity, and it works well again for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which features a hot soundtrack including music from performers like Chris Bell, Devendra Banhart, Vampire Weekend, We Are Scientists, Shout Out Louds, the great Mark Mothersbaugh and many, many more.

Along the same lines is The Wackness, whose soundtrack both suits its tone and propels the plot forward. A number of the most iconic acts from the East Coast in the mid ‘90s are featured, including the Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, A Tribe Called Quest, Biz Markie and K.R.S. One.

Rounding out the top ten are Milk, In Bruges and Iron Man. Milk finds itself slotted in this position not only for the terrific score from the amazing Danny Elfman, but also for the use of period music such as David Bowie's Queen Bitch (which was probably best used in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, but I digress), Sly and the Family Stone's Everyday People, Rock the Boat by the Hues Corporation and Hello, Hello by Sopwith Camel. In Bruges actually doesn't have a big, bold soundtrack or an overwhelming score, but when the music is playing it is incredibly impacting, particularly in the movie's climax. And finally, Iron Man starts off with a bang as AC/DC's Back in Black plays, and ends with a big boom when Tony Stark announces that he is Iron Man, while Black Sabbath plays behind him. The original music by Ramin Djawadi is terrific, too. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Album
Best Cast
Best Director
Best DVD
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Videogame
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture

Top 10
Position Film Total Points
1 Slumdog Millionaire 82
2 WALL-E 64
3(tie) Forgetting Sarah Marshall 34
3(tie) The Wrestler 34
3(tie) Frost/Nixon 34
6 Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist 33
7 The Wackness 29
8 Milk 25
9(tie) In Bruges 24
9(tie) Iron Man 24



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