I haven’t done one of these lists in a while, which is a bummer, because they’re always a lot of fun and they inspire spirited feedback. But when a dear childhood friend of mine mentioned on Facebook that he can’t hear the song “Just Once” by James Ingram without thinking of the heart-wrenching ending of “The Last American Virgin,” it got me thinking.
There are so many songs that, when I hear them now, I immediately recall the movies in which they’ve been featured. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola use pop music so frequently and skillfully in their films, the songs and the images become intrinsically entwined — and the soundtracks become as memorable as the movies themselves.
So here are five songs that always remind me of the movies in which they’ve appeared. There are so many great ones, it was hard to narrow it down. But I’d love to hear what’s playing in your movie jukebox, so feel free to chime in with your favorites.
_ The Cars’ “Moving in Stereo” in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982): Although the scene in which Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character loses her virginity in the dugout to Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” is a very close second. But Phoebe Cates emerging from the swimming pool in a red bikini in Judge Reinhold’s slo-mo fantasy sequence is, like, THE image of the movie. To this day, whenever I hear that guitar riff off the top, I have to say: “Hi, Brad. You know how cute I always thought you were.”
_ Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” in “Blue Velvet” (1986): It’s such a David Lynch moment, with its twisted mix of dreamlike romanticism, dark humor and unbearable tension. Dennis Hopper’s startlingly psychopathic character is obsessed with this Orbison ballad and stands mesmerized and mouthing along as a flamboyant Dean Stockwell lip-synchs it for him — that is, until Hopper snaps, as is his tendency. Apparently, Orbison didn’t even know Lynch was going to use the song in the film, but its inclusion helped reignite his career.
_ Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” in “Animal House” (1976): I love the use of this song in the famous cafeteria scene for a couple of reasons. First of all, the lyrics comment so perfectly on John Belushi’s unabashed crassness as Bluto. But it’s also a great fit because the rhythm is so smooth as Bluto calmly pushes his tray along, piling it high with food and randomly shoving items in his mouth. Every time I hear it, I think to myself: “See if you can guess what I am now.” I want to go watch this entire movie right now, even though I’ve seen it a million times.
_ Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” in “The Big Lebowski” (1998): The Dude is just so happy to have his car back — and he’s so happy the police were able to find his Creedence tape. And he’s just bopping along to this perky tune, enjoying a drive in the Los Angeles sunshine — until he drops a joint in his lap, freaks out and crashes. (I love that little high-pitched squeal Jeff Bridges does here when The Dude is scared; he also does it when the nihilists drop the marmot in the bathtub.) I also like the way the Coen brothers cut the drum portion of the song to tight shots of little Larry’s homework. Just a fun scene in a movie I dearly love.
_ Britney Spears’ “Everytime” in “Spring Breakers” (2013): Harmony Korine’s colorfully nightmarish look at girls gone wild is ballsy in a million different ways. But one of his most daring choices here is also his subtlest and sweetest. A devilish James Franco as the wannabe gangster rapper Alien sits down at a poolside piano and plays his bikini-clad, gun-toting partners in crime a song to inspire them: this tinkly, plaintive Britney Spears ballad. It’s an unexpectedly beautiful and poignant moment in a film that’s usually more interested in shocking you.
The documentary “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story” follows a young woman’s journey from insecure bullying victim to internationally acclaimed motivational speaker and lobbyist. Velasquez — who was born with a syndrome that gave her striking facial features and makes it difficult for her to gain weight — radiates sweetness and humor, no matter the situation. Her story is certainly worthwhile and inspiring. But I wish the film had dug deeper below the surface. My RogerEbert.com review.
The teens from “The Maze Runner” are still running, but while they cover more ground in this second film in the series, they never really go anywhere. The sequel is bigger in scope, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. Plus, by this point, all these dystopian-future, sci-fi dramas based on Young Adult novels are essentially interchangeable. Which one has Kate Winslet as the icy government villain, and which has Patricia Clarkson? I try to sort it all out in my RogerEbert.com review.
Rated R for disturbing violent content and some nudity.
Running time: 99 minutes.
Four stars out of four.
You shouldn’t be reading this review. I shouldn’t even be writing it. Every time I’ve recommended “Goodnight Mommy” to someone, I’ve warned that person not to read anything about it beforehand — just to trust me, and see it, and be mesmerized.
Yet it’s so great, I feel it’s my duty to tell the world about it without giving away what makes it great. So this review might end up being really short. But here goes …
“Goodnight Mommy” is an Austrian thriller about two 9-year-old, identical twins named Lukas and Elias (played by Lukas and Elias Schwarz) living in an austere, minimalist house in the countryside. They’ve been by themselves for who knows how long, waiting for their mother to return from the hospital after undergoing some kind of plastic surgery. Once she arrives, bandaged-up and barely speaking, the twins increasingly suspect that this person isn’t their mother at all but an impostor.
The premise alone is enough to give you goosebumps. But it’s the execution that’s the real marvel from the writing-directing team of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, making their startlingly assured feature debut. “Goodnight Mommy” is intense and precise, from its big ideas to its smallest details. It consistently keeps you guessing, but it also dares to ask you to re-examine your feelings for and alliances with these characters. Nothing is simple or safe here, although the quiet purity of the film’s tone and aesthetic trappings might suggest otherwise.
It’s a horror movie in that horrific things happen, but it’s also a dramatic exploration of the bond between parent and child — specifically, between mother and son. A complicated dichotomy exists in our relationship with these little people we make; on the one hand, there’s a familiarity that’s infused within the fiber of our beings. I look at Nicolas sometimes and feel like I’ve known him my entire life. And yet they can also be baffling, maddening creatures whose actions shake us to our core and make us question everything we know. Or maybe that’s just what happens to me when Nic has a meltdown over sour gummy worms at the grocery store.
Being a parent makes “Goodnight Mommy” resonate on a whole different level, but it’s certainly not a necessity for being sucked into it. This is deft and daring storytelling that will grip anyone who’s willing to be a little uncomfortable — make that a lot uncomfortable — and who’s willing to follow it into some dark and twisted territory. There’s a brief respite of comic relief about halfway through when a pair of Red Cross workers knock on the door, then sit at the kitchen table waiting for someone to give them some sort of donation. It’s also a welcome reminder that an outside world does indeed exist, given the claustrophobic situation Fiala and Kranz have created. But that’s about it. “Goodnight Mommy” escalates, and it is relentless.
The tension is palpable from the start, though — long before the boys’ mother returns, and even during activities that would seem to radiate the wholesomeness of carefree, childhood fun. Lukas and Elias play hide and go seek in a cornfield, or chase each other across the lawn, or bounce up and down on the trampoline. But the use of natural sound attunes us to the hidden, dangerous rhythms of their games. There’s an underlying hum in the sound design — a buzz that grows — which tells you something isn’t quite right and provides an early, sinister tone.
Similarly, the house itself is a consistent source of the film’s atmosphere. Chilly, industrially chic and crammed with bizarre art, it reminded me of the house in “Ex Machina,” and I’d move into either of them tomorrow. (I’m not sure what this says about me.) Foreboding lurks around every sleek corner. It is simultaneously full of light and bereft of joy.
As for the performances, both Schwarz brothers and Wuest are in the tricky position of having to play it as understated as possible even while their characters go to extremes, and they consistently find that balance. Then again, “Goodnight Mommy” is full of such fascinating contradictions and surprises.
Just trust me. See it — and then we can really talk about it.