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All Time Best Movie Musical Moments

| May 7, 2021 | 0 Comments

In my mind, there is no more powerful artistic experience than the combination of music and visuals. The eyes and ears combine to produce the maximum emotional response…when it’s done right. It’s my favorite part of any movie when the music is perfect for whatever scene is being depicted. It strikes a deep emotional chord, even in movies that are, overall, not so great.

So, I decided to collect my favorites among these moments. In most cases, I’ve been able to find the clips on YouTube, though some have ads and extraneous material. In one case, the embedding doesn’t work and you have to go to YouTube to view the clip. Also, the power of the scenes, in some cases, is diminished when extracted from the movie. In other cases, particularly in the bad movies, it’s actually better when removed from the mediocrity that surrounds it.

With all those qualifications, here are the criteria for choosing clips and I would invite anyone who reads this to contribute to the list.

  • The movie is not a musical, so the musical interlude is surprising, even a bit out of place. The Sound of Music need not apply.
  • The music is a discreet song, not the generalized soundtrack. For instance, The Godfather probably has the best musical soundtrack in the history of movies. But no “musical moments” as defined here.
  • The song is relevant to the action in the movie. It’s not just a good song, but it advances the plot or deepens the emotional content of the scene.

So, with all that in mind, the following are my favorite musical moments in movies. At least those I can currently remember. I’ll be adding others.

Feel free to add or criticize.

Black Klansman – Too Late to Turn Back Now

| June 6, 2021 | 0 Comments

In Black Klansman, Spike Lee tells the forgotten story of a black FBI agent who fools the local KKK in Colorado Springs, CO into thinking he’s a white racist like them. Excellent movie and powerful depiction of the racism in the U.S. in the 60’s. It is also very entertaining and even comedic in places. Lee knows how to get his point across in the most engaging way.

Maybe the best example of this skill is shown in the “musical movement moment” that gets him on this list. It illustrates a couple of the themes that I’m discovering as I collect these clips. First, it’s point-counterpoint. Tension and release. Terror and joy.

The scene begins with a truly horrifying example of racism in American with a traffic stop by white policemen of a group of black civil rights activists. It’s a disgusting display of verbal abuse and a hint of sexual abuse. In the very next moment, we see beautiful black people dancing together brilliantly and singing along to the song It’s Too Late to Turn Back Now, by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose. The contrast between the ugly white racist cops and beautiful black people could not be more stark.

The other theme I keep coming back to is communal singing. There something about people spontaneously singing or dancing that resonates emotionally, even when it’s scripted in a movie. Here, the dancers clap and sing while dancing. Lee elevates this group of people and creates a deep bond with the viewer. You almost have to physically restrain yourself from jumping up an joining them.

Of course, this scene introduces another kind of tension that advances the plot. The Black Klansman of the title is essentially operating undercover among these civil rights activists. And, even though his cause is just in that he is targeting the Klan, not them, there is a deception involved that you know will create problems for the characters as the movie unfolds. So, this scene is not only extremely enjoyable to watch, it carries some weight in moving the plot forward.

Spike Lee is a brilliant director.

The Deer Hunter – Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You

| May 31, 2021 | 0 Comments

Video note: For some reason, I can’t embed this video. You have to click through and watch it on YouTube. It’s worth the hassle.

The Deer Hunter is one of the defining movies of the Vietnam War era. It’s epic in scale and has some of the best actors of all time. Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Casale and Meryl Streep. It is deeply disturbing, particularly the scenes in Vietnam, which were powerful, but criticized when the movie came out for the dramatic license that was employed by the writer/director, Michael Cimino. The use of Russian Roulette as a metaphor was not well received by many, particularly veterans.

The movie begins in a gritty steel town in Pennsylvania on the day one of a group of steelworker friends is to be married. They leave the factory and head straight for the bar and start drinking and playing pool. All the hugging, backslapping, joshing and ball-busting shows how much they love each other. We also learn that a few of them are bout to enter the military and head to Vietnam. Because they are Pennsylvania steelworkers, they are looking forward to the opportunity to fight the gooks for their country.

As they stand around with their pool cues and beers in hand, one of them goes to the juke box to play the song You’re Just Too Good to Be True, by the Four Seasons. As a viewer, you know these guys are about to enter the lower depths of Hell. They are experiencing their last moments of youthful innocence. And they begin to sing along with the song. The contrasting emotions you feel watching this are intense. They all belt out “I LOVE YOU BABY! AND IF IT’S QUITE ALRIGHT, I NEED YOU BABY!….”. We get an early peak at Christopher Walken’s awesome dance moves. The scene is played joyously, but you, the viewer, are deeply saddened because you know what’s coming. The scene ends with the groom’s mother, a Polish immigrant dressed as though in mourning all in black, marching up the street to the bar, bursting inside and dragging the drunken groom out into the street whacking him with some stick. The other guys laugh uproariously.

The scene sets the stage for what follows beautifully. A bunch of happy go lucky blue collar guys knocking back a few beers and looking forward to serving their country in an honorable cause.

Then things take a turn….

My Best Friend’s Wedding – Say a Little Prayer

| May 31, 2021 | 0 Comments

My Best Friend’s Wedding is a high end RomCom. Not my favorite genre, but the good ones are entertaining. This is a pretty good one starring Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz. The male leads are Dermot Mulroney and Rupert Everett, who steals the movie.

Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney play life long buddies, the nominal “best friends” in the title. Mulroney is marrying Cameron Diaz’s character, a ditzy blonde. Rupert Everett plays Roberts’ gay friend who pretends to be her date at the wedding because she doesn’t want to be seen as unattached. The dramatic tension is the fact that the “best friends” never took their relationship to the next level, even though they clearly seem to be in love with one another. The wedding brings this all to a head.

Of course, none of this matters with respect to this musical interlude. It really stands alone and doesn’t advance the plot in any way. Still, it’s an extraordinarily enjoyable scene. The set up is Rupert Everett’s hilarious description of the completely made up story of how he supposedly met Julia Roberts. It involves a mental institution and a man who thinks he’s Dionne Warwick. Everett’s story includes one of the all time great pregnant pauses after which he starts singing “The morning I wake up. Before I put on my makeup…” Little by little others join in the singing until the whole restaurant is singing and rocking. It’s exhilarating. Brings me to tears every time I watch it.

Fly Away Home – 10,000 Miles

| April 20, 2021 | 0 Comments

The key scene in Fly Away Home is the last segment of the movie. So, this could be considered a spoiler. But I don’t think so because appreciation of the scene does not require the element of surprise. Rather, the whole movie seems to build to this last scene to the degree that I would not be surprised to learn that the producers created the movie for the sole purpose of preparing the audience for this awesome final scene.

The movie is about a young girl, maybe 13 years old, whose parents are killed in a car accident and she goes to live with her quirky uncle, the ubiquitous Jeff Daniels, who lives in a rural area of some New England state. Daniels plays an inventor with a passion for individual flying machines, those one-passenger small motorized wings. Much of the movie revolves around the fraught relationship between the grieving girl and her funky uncle.

At some point, the girl discovers goose eggs in a nest, nurtures them through hatching and beyond. There are no mother and father geese and the goslings follow her everywhere. They, like she, are orphans. The crisis develops when she and Daniels realize that this flock of geese needs to migrate south for the winter. But, since they have no parents, they won’t know how to do so or where to go. The only living being they follow is the little girl.

So, Daniels and the little girl concoct a plan in which he will build a flying machine, paint the wings to look like a mother goose and the little girl will fly south with the geese in tow. Predictably, their plan confronts challenges in the execution. There’s also a subplot in which the pond where they will be taking the geese in North Carolina is threatened by a developer. Every movie needs a bad guy.

All of this leads to the actual flight, which has its ups and downs….literally. The culmination of all this drama leads to the scenes of the girl flying Daniels’ contraption with the geese cruising alongside. And this is where the music takes it into my top ten list. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s ethereal song, 10,000 Miles plays in the background in a perfect accompaniment to the flight. If you don’t burst into tears when she clears that final hill, with the violins swelling and the crowd cheering for the final approach, well, I can only pity you for your hard-heartedness.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Come and Get Your Love

| April 16, 2021 | 0 Comments

Video note: For some reason, I can’t embed this video. You have to click through and watch it on YouTube. Do it!

Is it possible to do a spoiler on something that happens in the first five minutes of a movie? If so, spoiler coming.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a romp of a movie, but it starts off very darkly. It begins with a young boy, maybe 10 years old, whose mother is on her death bed. He’s at her bedside. She gives him a gift, a box, but he refuses to take her hand. Instead, he runs out of the house and is suddenly beamed up, presumably to a spaceship hovering over his house. The mood is very sad and depressing.

The next scene (where the video above begins) takes place in a what appears to be the ruins of some stone structure. Maybe a castle. Foreboding music plays in the background. A robot like figure with red laser-eyes appears in a doorway. The eyes scan the scene and ghostly figures appear within the range of the eyes. The atmosphere is very scary and tense. The robot figure walks slowly forward, pushes a button on the side of his head and the face of Chris Pratt appears. He slowly places wired ear plugs in his ears and reaches to his belt and, with his gloved hand, pushes the play button on an old 1980’s vintage Sony Walkman. It will later be revealed that the gift his mother gave him was a cassette tape of 1970’s pop music.

The twangy opening cords of Come and Get Your Love starts playing and he begins to dance across the screen and the tension vanishes. The title Guardian of the Galaxy explodes on to the screen and the entire mood suddenly changes. Credits begin to pop up at random. And Pratt continues to bop, spin and strut through the ruins, theatrically kicking small alien creatures like footballs, using others as pretend stage microphones. The release from the darkness into the comedic light is almost physical. You want to jump out of your seat and dance with him. It’s a perfect overture to a really fun movie.

I’ve concluded that 70’s pop is a much better musical genre than I thought it was when I was experiencing it in the 70’s. It was my coming-of-age decade, so some might argue, it’s nostalgia. Yes, there was a lot of junk music in the 70’s, like any decade. But the songs we’re still listening to have, by definition, stood the test of time. And I have to say, I never really appreciated Come and Get Your Love until it was paired with Chris Pratt bebopping through an extraterrestrial ruin.

Mean Streets – Please Mr. Postman

| April 8, 2021 | 0 Comments

M ean Streets, Mr. Postman

Martin Scorcese’s third movie was Mean Streets. It was released in 1973. Two actors who became lifelong collaborators with Scorsese are in the movie and boy are they young, Robert Deniro and Harvey Keitel. Deniro’s character, Johnny Boy is truly maniacal and very scary.

The clip above includes a scene in which the gang, of which Keitel’s character is the leader, are visiting a pool hall to conduct some sort of nefarious business. The “negotiation” is clearly pretty unscripted and also very funny. Things deteriorate when the pool hall owner called one of Keitel’s gang “a mook.”

“A mook???” the gang member says. “What’s a mook?” And the brawl begins, with the song “Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes in the background. The scene includes Scorcese’s trademark tracking shots as he follows the combatants in the various scrums around the pool tables. Deniro is seen swinging pool cues wildly at all comers.

A couple of police officers show up, the music stops and we’re back to comedy. The pool hall owner offers a bribe for the cop to ignore the nail clipper he finds in Keitel’s pocket claiming it’s a dangerous knife. The owner offers to pay for transportation for the cop and asks the cop where he’s going?

“New Jersey,” says the cop. Owner gives him money.

Cop says, “actually we’re going to Philadelphia.” Owner gives him more money.

Mean Streets is my all time favorite movie, in part, because it reminds me of the neighborhood I grew up in in Boston. But this scene is one of my favorites because of the music. While the scene depicts a violent brawl, the music keeps it light and, frankly, fun. The movie overall cycles between comedy, tragedy and violence. This scene hits all those notes, as well.

End of Movie Musical Moments

| April 7, 2021 | 0 Comments

This marks the last of the movie musical moments posts. What follows is the flotsam and jetsam of my life at various moments that motivated me to post.

NASA Lands a Car on Mars

| February 18, 2021 | 0 Comments

Today, I watched NASA TV for about two hours while the space vehicle “Perseverance” made its final approach and landing on Mars.

Despite being a huge fan of space travel, I had no idea this mission was even happening. It just popped up on my twitter feed. So, I turned on the NASA broadcast and started to watch. I remain fascinated by the unbelievable brilliance of NASA scientist to pull this off. There is a little sadness though, in that there is now a limit to what I will see in terms of space travel. Will I ever see a man on Mars? Possibly, but doubtful. A different perspective than during Apollo when a movie called 2001 A Space Odyssey envisioned manned flight to Jupiter. I definitely thought I would live to see that.

Still, it was thrilling to watch, even though most of the images were of anxious NASA scientists staring at consoles. But you knew that they were intensely excited. And, by spending an hour and a half watching those images, with periodic animations of the actual landing, it earned me the right to tear up when the landing was confirmed and the scientists erupted.

I find it amazing, but not surprising, that the news coverage was so fleeting. There was no build-up. As noted above, I had no idea it was happening. The cable news broke to the event for the last 30 minutes before landing and maybe 20 minutes after. Then moved on.

Today…nothing. It’s like the later Apollo missions. We had men actually tromping around the lunar surface and people were bored with it. Back in the days of Star Trek I could not have imagined that manned space travel would turn into something from history, not the relentlessly exciting future.

But here we are.

Impeachment Day Plus One

| February 14, 2021 | 0 Comments

Lots of controversy today about the fact that the impeachment managers chose not to call witnesses at the trial that finished with Trump’s acquittal. I’m not sure what to think. Fundamentally, I’m not inclined to second guess Rep. Jaimie Raskin, a true national hero. But the account in today’s Post of how the decision was made does not really satisfy.

It seems the criteria was whether or not it would lead to any more Republican votes. Obviously, it was not going to do that. I wish they had given consideration to the further effect on Trump’s legacy and, frankly, the political impact of having real human beings describing his depravity. I would even give up a few Republican votes if it drove home with the public his utter lack of humanity. He is simply the worst human being I’ve ever known in my lifetime, either personally or through the media. The fact that 70 million people voted to keep him president continues to boggle my mind.

Republicans who know better and continue to enable him constantly make the calculation that he will eventually go away….but he never does. Time after time, he escapes accountability for his crimes. It is never about whether or not he did the thing in question. It’s either the wrong time or not worth the effort or contrary to some procedural norm or whatever. And then, he declares vindication and moves on.

Now, we hear about all the prosecutors that have him in their sights. I find that encouraging, but I wish I had more confidence that one or more of them have the gumption to carry the process through.

In a weird way, I wonder if his acquittal will make him more vulnerable to the criminal justice system. I could imagine that, if he was convicted, his supporters would claim that he has suffered enough. The conviction is worse than any criminal punishment. Or that prosecuting him amounts to double jeopardy.

While we focus on the puzzle of the 70 million, the fact is that 80 million voted against him. And they feel pretty strongly about who he is and what should be done with him. Let’s hope their voices are heard and that these prosecutors know that it is up to them to bring justice, finally, to this terrible, terrible man.