Best of the decade: The sound of cinema

The best soundtracks of the 2010s

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These music videos were a better cinematic experience than a lot of the 2020 Oscar contenders.

Courtesy Pixabay

The Academy has long honored the accompaniment and original compositions of films, which is the reason the members of Three 6 Mafia — but still not Amy Adams — are all Oscar decorated. However, the Academy has never chosen to recognize a compilation of tracks for a film, which is a missed opportunity to highlight a broad array of movies and the emotional connections they create with old and new tunes. 

As the 2010s come to a close, a bit of reflection brings several films to mind from throughout the decade. And perhaps the decade is a poor boundary for mapping patterns of culture and consumption, but in searching, a kind of unity became clear. Curated songs can set, match or diverge from the assumed tone of a scene — and a gifted curator weaves between these mechanisms and surveys a boundless musical history to leave a movie playing in the heads of audience members after the credits roll. 

The first soundtracks that come to mind are from more recent years — two, in particular, from 2019. This year gave us two bop-filled soundtracks, first in May with Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut “Booksmart” and next with August’s release of the Lorene Scafaria picture “Hustlers,” which was filled head to toe with late 2000s, club-infused joy. “Hustlers” gives a survey of pop, rap and R&B in a tight runtime, with more tracks than it can fit into the film itself.  

“Booksmart” is an instant-classic teen movie, which means its soundtrack — a la “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982), “Clueless” (1995) and “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999) — is a critical piece of the cult resonance puzzle. With tracks from contemporary musicians like Leikeli47 and Lizzo as well as classics by Salt-N-Pepa and Alanis Morissette, the sound of the film feels akin to the playlists of today’s teenagers. 

Several movies throughout the decade took a chance on reworking older songs alongside new compositions, to varying degrees of success. In the case of 2013’s “The Great Gatsby,” the whole soundtrack was built to sell a feeling of excess. Resplendent with director Baz Luhrman’s gaudy parallels between the 1920s and now and featuring songs from Jay-Z, Lana del Ray and Fergie, the whole album nails the vibe — it brings you forward and it takes you back. 

Other standouts from a decade of music in film are the soundtracks from 2014 indie comedy “Obvious Child,” which features the titular Paul Simon track along with many other pleasing diddies and classical selections, and 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The latter, which leaves much to be desired in terms of filmmaking, composition and chemistry, is actually triumphant with its soundtrack, which has a wide array of sensual tracks from an array of artists, from Frank Sinatra to Annie Lennox to the Weeknd. 

In other news, the “Ladybird” (2017) soundtrack tricked me into thinking “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band was actually a good song, which speaks to the power of director Greta Gerwig. The tracklist for her first independent directorial endeavor covers a swath of emotions, placing the listener in the mind of Ladybird, her mother and her classmates with each song. 

To cap off this trip down memory lane, it only makes sense to honor the pride of Twitter and Little Monsters everywhere. 2018’s  “A Star is Born” may have won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the power-duet “Shallow,” but the whole soundtrack is filled with hits. There’s some of Bradley Cooper growling in a semi-convincing way. There’s the parts where Lady Gaga is truly able to shine — looking at you, “Always Remember Us This Way.” And, of course, in the grand tradition of songs about pop musicians, the songs that are supposed to horrify us because the artist is selling out are actually straight bops. Justice for “Why Did You Do That?” and “Hair Body Face,” please. “A Star is Born had it all, and that’s the first time the story can claim that — previous film versions just can’t measure up. 

Film soundtracks are a little recognized art form, but they are part of what makes the most memorable movies of the decade the way they are. In the 2010s, filmmakers used compilations of tracks to tell stories and explores characters in new ways, promising experimental and groovy things for the future and cinema’s sound. 

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