What happened to our once-rabid obsession with soundtracks, our need to recreate movie magic by spinning cuts from Saturday Night Fever and Footloose and Top Gun and The Bodyguard? What happened to the time when Kenny Loggins was king? Heck, I had the Caddyshack LP on vinyl! I'm Alright!
Better yet, where are all the hit flicks that smartly use songs not merely as crass sales tools but to slyly texture the narrative as well? It's been kind of bleak. Case in point: The hottest soundtracks lately have been the mopey alt-rock mixtapes that helped hype the sullen Twilight series.
But alas, several flicks lately feature soundtracks that could catch on as something special, something that lasts beyond a film's lifespan at the cineplex. Howard Shore's score for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is selling well; it's always nice when orchestral music makes a leap up the pop charts. Plus music from the big-screen take on Les Miserables, with Hollywood bold-facers Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway warbling away, could become a smash with Glee kids, Broadway nerds and Oscar voters.
My favorite soundtracks, however, come courtesy of Hollywood's two most music-obsessed directors, guys with devilish, and encyclopedic, tastes: Django Unchained's Quentin Tarantino and This Is 40's Judd Apatow. The only thing these movie albums are missing is a little Loggins. But hey, they're smart, catchy and best on shuffle. Here are my quick reviews of each:
Jim Croce, Rick Ross, Django Unchained: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Universal Republic)
Ever since he paired an ear evisceration with the Scottish bounce of Stuck in the Middle With You in film debut Reservoir Dogs, giddy man-child Tarantino has coupled quirky pop and stylized noir like no one else in modern cinema. He doesn't mind blending genres, decades, languages, you name it; he simply cares about cool. You know, like Dick Dale's Misirlou opening up Pulp Fiction. Or April March's taunting girl-popper Chick Habit closing out Death Proof.
The soundtrack for neo-Western Django Unchained thematically merges outlaws of all walks, from robust rapper Rick Ross' self-assured 100 Black Coffins to '70s loner Jim Croce's I Got a Name to the orchestral tingle of any gunslinger's preferred composer, Ennio Morricone, who made his name with such spaghetti shoot-'em-ups as Fistful of Dollars.
This is the first time QT has commissioned original music for a flick; John Legend's retro-groove Who Did That to You? is a coup. But a lot here is also borrowed from somewhere else. For instance, Morricone's The Braying Mule was originally heard in 1970 Clint Eastwood actioner Two Mules for Sister Sara. But hey, mix and match, that's the QT way, baby, and he's proud of it. And why not? The new James Brown-2Pac mashup Unchained (The Payback/Untouchable), which also merges tough-as-nails clips from Django, might be patchwork, but it's also stone-cold awesome. GRADE: A
Graham Parker, Fiona Apple, This Is 40: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Capitol)
Apatow can be cutthroat with a below-the-belt gag, but when it comes to music, he's a sucker for the grand gesture. The 40 Year Old Virgin mocked the band Asia for most of its running time — until it used the prog-pop band's Heat of the Moment to sweetly climactic effect. Adam Sandler played a bitter, callous, terminally diagnosed comedian in Funny People, but when someone tries to lift his spirits with Warren Zevon's Keep Me in Your Heart, his eyes slowly fill with tears and he flees the room.
This Is 40, a sweet, bawdy comedy about two titularly aged parents trying to navigate the deceptive minefield of getting older, is packed with mellow, ultra-hip singer-songwriters who add a certain gravitas between the jokes: from Norah Jones' Always Judging to a couple cuts from Ryan Adams to three songs from Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham (including Brother & Sister, a duet with Jones).
Fringe fave Graham Parker, a Brit rocker with a cult following, plays a clueless version of himself in the movie. (Gotta respect the Oreo hate.) But the truth is that Apatow idolizes him, and Parker provides some nice rocking backbone on the soundtrack, especially a bonus track on iTunes. Oh, and watch out for Fiona Apple's previously unreleased put-down Dull Tool, a frantic shot at the dumb, drooling men of the world ("You don't kiss when you kiss..."). Give Apatow credit: He's an equal opportunity offender. GRADE: B+
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.