2017 Calvin Awards: Best Use of Music

By Kim Hollis

February 20, 2017

They're wearing their boogie shoes!

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.

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.

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