After months of waiting, Baby Driver has finally been released and looks destined to be a huge hit. With an impressive critics rating of 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, director Edgar Wright's first real foray into action is a blast, taking classic crime film tropes and recreating them in ways never before seen. One of the biggest reasons why this works so well is on the strength of the film's soundtrack. Mixing a variety of genres, tracks such as "Hocus Pocus" by Focus and Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle" blend smoothly with what's happening on screen. It's an absolute marvel in editing and filmmaking.
As important as the soundtrack of #BabyDriver is, having music be integral to a film is nothing new for Wright. Contemporary tunes have been crucial to his work as early as the TV series Spaced and zombie-com Shaun of the Dead. In fact, since the start of the 21st century, we have seen a shift when it comes to music in movies. Not to be confused with a film's score, very rarely are songs written exclusively for a film, but rather, directors are using popular music to punctuate their visuals.
This has not only led to the discovery of obscure artists, but has also exposed classic songs to a whole new generation. Needless to say, it's not only a great time for fans of movies, but for music fans as well. So in honor of Baby Driver, here is a look at six of the best movie #soundtracks of the 21st century.
1. Wright's Cult Classic Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
- Featured Artists: Beck, Plumtree, Metric
- Notable Songs: "Scott Pilgrim," "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl," "Threshold"
Edgar Wright's best soundtrack may be the one for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. An adaption of Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic of the same name, the film's soundtrack is just as vibrant as the on-screen pop-art stylings. With a battle of the bands integral to the plot, we get no less than three fictional musical groups who have original music provided by Beck, Broken Social Scene and Metric. Each of these songs represent a different rock genre and feel right at home next to a score provided by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich.
Best Musical Moment: "Black Sheep" by Metric
Throughout the film Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is haunted by the shadow of his ex Envy Adams (#BrieLarson). Dumping Scott during college, Envy's in the band Clash at Demonhead. With the real-life Metric playing backup, it's Oscar-winning Larson who tears the house down singing "Black Sheep." From the song's buildup to the pure rock-star swagger Larson displays on stage, she absolutely owns the scene. It's a fun, stylish set piece and a glimpse at how dedicated Wright is to a musical setting.
2. The Pop Culture Parody Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
- Featured Artists: The Lonely Island, Seal, Adam Levine
- Notable Songs: "I'm So Humble," "Turn up the Beef," "Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)"
When it comes to comedy movies, one of the most difficult to pull off is the musical parody. This subgenre not only has to be funny, but the music has to be on point. And yet movies like This Is Spinal Tap have proven it is possible.
The latest to get it right was 2016's Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. With their keen ear for pop music, The Lonely Island (Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone) would fit perfectly on the Billboard charts. It's easy to imagine Connor4Real's songs — a mix of Macklemore and Believe-era Justin Bieber — being real-world hits.
You also have comedian Chris Redd as Hunter the Hungry, an obvious take on Tyler, the Creator, whose songs have a similar audacity and shock value of Odd Future's early work. We even get a track from Style Boyz member Kid Brain (Schaffer) doing a great job impersonating the overly self-serious rap artist. No strangers to parody, the songs in Popstar are just as funny and listenable as any of the Lonely Island's past hits.
Best Musical Moment: "Equal Rights" by the Lonely Island featuring Pink
Announcing the time and date of a surprise release, Connor4real releases his gay rights anthem "Equal Rights." Despite his best intentions, his wannabe anthem quickly becomes a declaration of his own heterosexuality and love for women, hot wings and his copy of Predator on DVD. It's a pitch-perfect parody of socially conscious artists at their most tone deaf.
3. Hipster Indie Film Garden State
- Featured Artists: Coldplay, The Shins, Colin Hay
- Notable Songs: "Don't Panic," "Caring is Creepy," "The Only Living Boy in New York"
Garden State is polarizing, to say the least. Some look back fondly at Zach Braff's directorial debut, while others can't get past its hipster aesthetic. No matter what side you're on, what most can agree on is how good the soundtrack is. Handpicked by Braff, it's like the indie rock mixtape you were gifted by your artsy college crush. A snapshot of indie music of the early naughts, it introduced artists like The Shins, Iron & Wine and Zero 7 to a whole new audience.
In true mixtape fashion, there is even the occasional classic sprinkled throughout, such as Simon & Garfunkel's "The Only Living Boy in New York." While Garden State may not stand the test of time, its soundtrack is the definitive earnest college soundtrack and the world is better for it.
Best Musical Moment: "New Slang" by The Shins
“You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear,” is how Natalie Portman's manic pixie dream girl introduces "New Slang" by The Shins. As cringe-worthy as the exchange might sound to older audiences, the scene's earnestness is still charming after all these years. The treatment of an indie rock song as gospel is something millennials of a certain age can still relate to (or have a laugh about) today. It may be a bit of a joke now, but the sincerity behind the scene is a perfect encapsulation of indie films in the mid-2000s.
4. The Atmospheric Action Film Drive
- Featured Artists: Desire, College, Cliff Martinez
- Notable Songs: "A Real Hero," "Under Your Spell," "Oh My Love"
When it comes to variety of musical artists, Drive is lacking. Of the album's 20 tracks, 14 of them are by film composer Cliff Martinez. But what makes the Drive soundtrack stand out are the electronic artists Kavinsky, College, Desire and Chromatics. Each of them bring a track reminiscent of '80s genre films. These retro-feeling songs would not only be a key factor in giving this arthouse action film that dreamy feeling, but they opened up the floodgates for synth soundtracks for years to come.
Best Musical Moment: "Nightcall" by Kavinsky
After outrunning the police and completing a job, the Driver (#RyanGosling) drifts along the empty streets of LA. Under the neon lights of the city, the Driver cruises around, no real rush or urgency, just going where he feels. All the while the pulsing synths and heavy bass of Kavinsky drives the score. The whole scene is a faithful microcosm of the movie. It isn't about car chases or violence, but the mood emanating from every frame of film. Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Drive will give you all of these things and then some, but all in its own time.
5. Hip-Hop's Last Great Movie Soundtrack 8 Mile
- Featured Artists: Eminem, Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang Clan
- Notable Songs: "Shook Ones (Part II)," "Lose Yourself," "Juicy"
2002 was a banner year for hip-hop. At the center of it all was #Eminem. Beloved by teens and the bane of parents everywhere, Marshall Mathers III was the biggest star in music and hit his peak with the release of 8 Mile. With the movie based on the rapper's life, the soundtrack gazed across the hip-hop spectrum and gave us everything, from grimy NYC groups like Mobb Deep and the Wu-Tang Clan, to local legends like Detroit's MC Breed. With a respect for hip-hop's history, 8 Mile is one of the great rap soundtracks.
Best Musical Moment: "8 Mile" by Eminem
When it comes to music biopics, the "creating a song" scene is pretty standard. An artist is struggling with lyrics when they are suddenly inspired by an incident in their life that galvanizes them to record their biggest hit ever. It is a tired premise we have seen countless times.
Wisely, 8 Mile takes this trope and puts it on its head. We see is B-Rabbit (Eminem) on a bus heading to work. Listening to a beat tape, he pulls out a piece of paper and jots down bars. We never see him record or hear the full song. Instead, all we hear are fragments of a lyric and rhymes waiting to be filled in. It's a unique look into not only the making of a song, but perhaps the process of one of the most respected artists in hip-hop.
6. Tarantino's Martial Arts Classic Kill Bill: Vol. 1
- Featured Artists: Nancy Sinatra, The 126.96.36.199's, The RZA
- Notable Songs: "Twisted Nerve," "Battle Without Honor or Humanity," "Woo Hoo"
When it comes to piecing together a soundtrack, few directors are as good as #QuentinTarantino. With his encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, Tarantino has been able to give his soundtracks a unique feel by plucking some of the best from '70s- and '80s-genre cinema. Even though he has kept this up in features like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, his most memorable is the soundtrack for Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Ranging from spaghetti Western scores to the themes from British horror movies, this wide array of influence came together to create the perfect soundscape for one of America's last great martial art films.
Best Musical Moment: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by Santa Esmeralda
For the most part, the soundtrack to Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is what a moviegoer would expect from the director. Songs like "Twisted Nerve" and the Isaac Hayes classic "Truck Turner" fit with Tarantino's tribute to '70s midnight movies. As O-Ren Ishii and the Bride face off, the last thing you expect to hear is Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," let alone the disco cover version by Santa Esmeralda. Even more surprising is how well the song works for this samurai showdown. The hand clapping and flamenco guitar give the whole affair a spaghetti Western feel that works for Tarantino's beloved take on kung fu movies.
All You Need Is One Killer Track
When it comes to movies, there are few elements more important than the soundtrack. While a film can look great or boast award-winning acting, the wrong musical cue can destroy a scene. Thankfully, the current crop of directors seem to have a handle on this. Whether it's working with a trusted collaborator or having a keen ear for pop music, directors know how to choosing the right music for their film. So here's hoping Baby Driver is a success, because film needs more directors like #EdgarWright to be inventive while raising our expectations for what a movie can be.
Baby Driver is in cinemas now. What soundtracks did I miss? Let us know in the comments below.