We also spotlight moments from High Fidelity, I May Destroy You, Lovecraft Country and more.
Wow, what a year! Yes, a lot of shitty things happened, but for optimistic fans of film and television there was nothing but an abundance of downtime to sift through new and previously-missed content.
Music in media throughout 2020 has been incredible – it’s no longer about elevating those one or two key scenes, creators are now curating entire playlists to capture the intended tone prior to shooting – case and point with Michaela Coel’s epic series, I May Destroy You, which deserves to win every award it gets.
The rules for this list are simple; it must be a great song choice from a worthy series or film, creating an instantly memorable moment. So, with that in mind, here’s a wrap of the best film and TV music moments of 2020… hopefully you’ll discover something new for your watchlist as well as your playlist!
Note: Listen to all the tracks mentioned in the article via this Spotify playlist.
Best of the Small Screen
The definition of a classic needle drop is when it perfectly wraps up that one unforgettable scene – with a song choice so damn good it instantly goes on high rotation for months. For example, the final jaw-dropping moment from Season Three of Ozark as the piano of ‘Ooh La La’ by Run The Jewels kicks in before fading to black.
With the dream team pairing of J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele aboard Lovecraft Country, people were expecting big things. It took a while to grasp the anthology style concept, with every episode masked in a different horror genre, but some single episodes were better than any film – particularly episode six about a possessed nurse (Jamie Chung) in war-torn Vietnam.
Apart from the closing theme of ‘Sinnerman’ by Nina Simone, music wasn’t a major aspect of the series, however episode four cleverly used a selection of modern tracks like ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ by Rihanna and ‘Money’ by Leikeli47.
The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix was the sleeper hit series no one expected to love, given that it was about a chess prodigy, but the combination of drugs, alcohol and Anya Taylor-Joy had everyone hooked. The period setting allowed for great musical moments, mostly with Beth seductively dancing to ‘Fever’ by Peggy Lee or ‘Venus’ by Shocking Blue, or the fantastic montage at the US Chess Championship to ‘Classical Gas’ by Mason Williams.
Best of the Big Screen
Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island was probably one of the most unseen and underrated films of the year, which introduced Pete Davidson to non-SNL viewers in an impressively personal and semi-dramatic performance. The film has one of the best closing moments, with ‘Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)’ by Kid Cudi leaving you feeling warm and satisfied as the credits role.
Some other great moments had characters interacting with music on screen – like in The Lovebirds – with the cutest onscreen couple of the year, Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, belting out ‘Fire’ by Katy Perry, or the gang of old friends from Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods dancing in the club to ‘Got To Give It Up’ by Marvin Gaye. It’s not Spike’s greatest joint but worth watching if only to see one of Chadwick Boseman’s final performances.
Director Steve McQueen’s ambitious five-film anthology series, Small Axe, is unlike anything before it; spanning the ‘60s and ‘70s, each standalone story portrays the experiences of West Indian immigrants living in London. Small Axe comes from a Bob Marley song of the same name, and the reggae beats flow as heavy as the sweat and testosterone in episode two, titled Lovers Rock. ‘Silly Games’ by Janet Kay is first heard as women prepare food before the epic house party, and again as the crowded room of couples chant it together acapella style. It’s incredible stuff.
Rom-coms and time travel sci-fi aren’t typically genres fused together often, but Palm Springs was one of the most unique and thought-provoking films of the year. It also features not one but two of the best dance sequences of the year, and both strangely set to ‘Megatron Man’ by Patrick Cowley.
Another indie film worth mentioning, if only for the breakthrough performances from all four young leads as well as the hip hop inspired soundtrack, is Get Duked – the first feature film by writer and director Ninian Doff. The best moments were the chaotic fights and chase scenes played to ‘Legend Has It’ by Run The Jewels and ‘Ain’t It Funny’ by Danny Brown.
Beastie Boys Story
Directed by Spike Jonze, this documentary was one of the most surprising hits for the year, told in a very unique and personable way. ‘Sabotage’ by Beastie Boys opens the film and returns later with the accompanying music video, also shot by Jonze. The band talks highly of ‘Sucker MCs’ by Run DMC and its influence, convincing them to make the initial switch from punk rock to rap.
Then came ‘Shake Your Rump’ by Beastie Boys from their second studio album, which proved to everyone they weren’t just a fluke. They use ‘9 to 5’ by Dolly Parton to represent their return to touring, working hard to rebuild their reputation and cement themselves as hip hop legends.
Finally, ‘Sure Shot’ by Beastie Boys made an emotional ending about the late band-member, Adam Yauch (aka MCA), who died in 2012 from cancer. Fellow Beasties, Ad-Rock and Mike D, explain that he was not only a pioneer when it came to music but also for social justice – organising the Tibetan Freedom Concert and spouting pro-feminine rap lyrics back in the early ‘90s when it wasn’t the norm.
The Last Dance
The music used throughout this epic Michael Jordan documentary really put you in the moment, with director Jason Hehir intentionally using songs from the various time periods.
The entire playlist is on Spotify and worth checking out, but some highlights include ‘I Ain’t No Joke’ by Eric B. & Rakim, in which a younger Jordan shows off his skills, ‘How Ya Like Me Now’ by Kool Moe Dee, from when the Bulls finally beat the Pistons in 1991. We even see footage of Jordan, Pippen and teammates celebrating and dancing to the song on their plane.
Equally effective are ‘The Choice Is Yours’ by Black Sheep from when Chicago won their second title, and ‘Hip Hop Hooray’ by Naughty by Nature, that plays during clips from their ‘92-93 season, when the Bulls were practically unstoppable.
I May Destroy You
As mentioned previously, this is one of the most unique and satisfying things to hit our screens this year. Creator and lead Michaela Coel is a magnetic force; she’s physically captivating to watch and her style and tone of writing is fresh and in your face (in a good way). These selections are only from the very first episode, but the full series soundtrack is enthralling.
It’s clear how large the role of music will play from the moment ‘OMG’ by Sampa The Great kicks in, as Arabella is struggling to finish her novel. You immediately connect the intense rhythm with the character’s psyche and this echoes throughout the series, from extreme highs to emotional lows.
‘Flowers’ by Sweet Female Attitude plays on the dancefloor as the group are joyously partying, which seamlessly flows into ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ by Rev. Milton Brunson as the night turns shady. This gospel song reappears throughout the series, tip-toeing that fine line between playful and petrifying when you contrast the piano and choir lyrics – a strangely fitting anthem for 2020.
Another great series playlist comes from the reboot of High Fidelity, with Zoë Kravitz playing defeated-in-love record store owner Rob. It’s almost a beat for beat remake of the 2000 film, which had John Cusack in the lead, and of course is an adaptation of the best-selling Nick Hornby novel.
The series soundtrack was arranged by the likes of Questlove (The Roots) and renowned film music supervisor Tom Wolfe (who has worked everything from Donnie Darko to Oscar-winning Green Book).
Some songs were pure imitation moments from the original film, such as ‘Come On Eileen’ by Dexys Midnight Runners substituting Katrina & The Waves’ classic ‘Walking on Sunshine’ – which introduces Da’Vine Joy Rudolph’s standout Cherise, the role previously owned by a young Jack Black. Also ‘Lonely’ by Swamp Dogg is what Rob plays at her store to sell records, which replaces The Beta Band’s ‘Dry the Rain’ and is just as catchy.
One of the more original sub-plots involves Rob’s brother, who is responsible for one of the best moments in the series, when he hosts a fake funeral for himself before the arrival of his first kid – and ‘Use My Body’ by Mavis John is the perfect drunken party jam.
Superhero Theme Music
With a lack of major Marvel or DC films hitting our screens this year, it was lucky there were some quality superhero series to fill the void – namely the return of The Boys and The Umbrella Academy. Both series seemed to put more emphasis on music this time around, whether it was Hughie’s obsession with Billy Joel in The Boys, or the entire retro setting for the latter.
‘Right Back Where We Started From’ by Maxine Nightingale kicks off the time-travelling arc in episode one of The Umbrella Academy, with each member of the Hargreeves family transporting to completely different years. ‘Crazy’ by Daniela Andrade – a slow acoustic cover of the Gnarls Barkley party anthem – closes the same episode, with knife-enthusiast Diego waking up dazed in a padded cell after trying to save JFK.
The Boys certainly upped the ante in terms of hyper violence and bat-shit crazy moments, not to mention a lot more Billy Joel references. One of the best Joel moments is when Hughie and Annie belt out ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ while road-tripping.
Other great musical moments include ‘Dream On’ by Aerosmith as caped heroes Homelander and Stormfront perform one of the year’s weirdest on-screen sex scenes, and ‘God Only Knows’ by The Beach Boys as a fitting season closer.
Keen on another end-of-year list? Check out our piece on the 30 best albums to come out Melbourne in 2020 – part one.
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