It’s time for another random top 10 list, and this week I thought I would pick the ten best uses of an outside song in a film (meaning it can’t be part of the score). Movies that make use of this give some of the most memorable scenes in film history. Below are my picks (I chose only one scene from each individual movie).
10. Manhattan: “Rhapsody in Blue”
Woody Allen’s use of the song in the beginning of his classic comedy sets up the tone of the entire film. Using the jazz beat to show the New York skyline is simply stunning.
9. The Big Lebowski: “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”
The Big Lebowski is my favorite Coen brothers’ movie, and in one of the movie’s funniest scenes, the Dude dreams about himself going to a bowling alley dancing to “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” The Coens’ use of special effects is amazing, and the scene even takes a satrical bite at Saddam Hussein. A superb piece of work by the brothers.
8. 8 1/2: “Ride of the Valkyries”
“Ride of the Valkyries” actually makes an appearance twice on the list, and Federico Fellini uses the song expertly in his surrealistic masterpiece 8 1/2. It is a thrilling scene in one of the many dream sequences where Guido tames all of his lovers. There’s a reason why 8 1/2 is often touted as one of cinema’s great movies.
7. Reservoir Dogs: “Stuck in the Middle With You”
Only Quentin Tarantino could come up with a sequence where a character would sing and dance to folk song “Stuck in the Middle With You” while torturing a cop. Disturbing, gory, and darkly humorous, this remains one of the most iconic moments in Tarantino’s universe.
6. Blue Velvet: “In Dreams”
David Lynch offers the film’s best scene where one of Frank Booth’s friends lip-syncs Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.” The result is an intense, memorable sequence that’s haunting, particularly with the use of the lighting, that’s one of Lynch’s finest moments.
5. Magnolia: “Wise Up”
In the emotional climax of Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece Magnolia, all the characters start singing Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up.” Many critics objected to this scene and stated this is where the film falls apart, but for me it adds to movie and creates one of the most powerful sequences on screen. Magnolia is a flawless film in my book, and it is my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson picture.
4. A Clockwork Orange: “Singing in the Rain”
You know exactly which scene I’m talking about. One of the most disturbing moments in Kubrick’s classic features some very dark humor in satire. Horrifying and amazingly done.
3. GoodFellas: “Layla”
Martin Scorsese uses music that only few other directors could do (the others being Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino). The “Layla” scene in GoodFellas, used to show a group of killed mobsters, has a nostalgic feel to it, matching the movie itself. GoodFellas is a film I could watch any day and “Layla” is a song I could listen to any time.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey: The Blue Danube
No one mastered music in their films as well as Stanley Kubrick and while 2001 doesn’t retain much of the director’s black humor, there is satire in the film and it isn’t more evident in “The Blue Danube” scene. Using the classical piece, most commonly used for ballroom dances, while showing floating nuclear missiles is genius on Kubrick’s part.
1. Apocalypse Now: “Ride of the Valkyries”
I can sing the praises of Apocalypse Now all day and I’ve said plenty of times before it was my favorite film. For a movie with countless great scenes, the best remains the “Flight of the Valkyries” one where Lt. Kilgore sweeps through a Vietnamese village in a helicopter attack, both frightening and thrilling at the same time. It may as well be my favorite scene of all time.