The Monkees Set Fire to Their Pop Image in Head
On the verge of implosion, the band rages through a performance of their song “Circle Sky” in a psychedelic, politically trenchant sequence from director Bob Rafelson’s debut feature.
Lost in the City with the Feelies
In Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens, the odyssey of a New Jersey transplant trying to survive in Manhattan is accompanied by the music of one of the Garden State’s most iconic punk bands.
Double Seduction in Bull Durham
In a pivotal early scene in this baseball classic, director Ron Shelton mischievously uses two contrasting rock tunes to comment on disparate versions of masculinity.
Dream Awhile, Scheme Awhile: The Love Theme in Bringing Up Baby
A ’20s jazz hit provides a rare moment of peace in Howard Hawks’s frenzied screwball comedy.
“It Might Be You” Brings Tootsie’s Queer Potential to the Surface
In the context of Sydney Pollack’s gender-crossing comedy, the mellow love theme sung by Stephen Bishop suggests that the plenitude of romantic possibility has the power to break down social boundaries.
To the Tune of Mortality: “The Gondola Song” in Ikiru
A ballad from the 1910s becomes a precarious way station between life and death in Akira Kurosawa’s portrait of an ordinary man’s final days.
Rock and Roll Arrives in Cold War
Bill Haley and His Comets’ generation-defining hit “Rock Around the Clock” comes through like a seismic, uncontrollable force in Paweł Pawlikowski’s meticulously crafted romance.
In Another Room, from Another Time
In Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Still Walking, the briefly heard Japanese pop hit that inspired the film’s title is both a portal to long-buried memories and a minor detail that resists interpretation.
Fassbinder and Kraftwerk: A Marriage Made in a New Germany
The iconic band’s 1976 song “Radio-Activity” finds a perfect home in the final episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz, providing a musical correlative to the film’s interrogation of national identity.
The Valedictory Anthem That Takes Us Inside Inside Llewyn Davis
The heartbreaking lament “Fare Thee Well” builds in resonance as it drifts through multiple scenes in the Coen brothers’ folk-fueled drama.
Ryuichi Sakamoto Finds a Melody for the Unnameable
In Nagisa Oshima’s POW drama Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, a palpable but forbidden attraction achieves its most potent expression through music.
Party Time in Fellini Land
In La dolce vita, an upbeat tune by Nino Rota turns a dour party into a feast of ecstatic movement.
From Elvis in Taipei
The King of Rock and Roll’s tender ballad “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” becomes a central motif in the Taiwanese epic A Brighter Summer Day, bringing to the surface unresolved feelings about love, national identity, and lost innocence.
Mike Leigh Meets the Cure: The Three-Chord Nostalgia of Career Girls
One of the most iconic rock bands of the eighties provides the soundtrack to this poignant portrait of friendship and lost youth.
Bobby Womack Turns Up the Heat and the Soul in Fish Tank
Heard three times in Andrea Arnold’s coming-of-age drama, the R&B legend’s cover of “California Dreamin’ ” highlights the teenage heroine’s yearning for connection and escape.
A Cantopop Dream Girl’s First Film Reverie
Hong Kong pop icon Faye Wong made her screen breakthrough in Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express, a film that also features her hypnotic cover version of the Cranberries’ hit “Dreams.”
When a Lovely Flame Dies: The Climactic Heartbreaker in 45 Years
The Platters’ impassioned rendition of the pop chestnut “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” highlights the irrevocable loss in Andrew Haigh’s marriage drama.
The Hot-Blooded Love Cry at the Cold Heart of Badlands
Mickey & Sylvia’s 1956 hit “Love Is Strange” injects a hint of lustful energy into a screen romance that is otherwise unsettlingly detached.
Uriah Heep Brings a Touch of the Uncool to Cold Water
With its irresistible momentum and sonic crunch, “Easy Livin’” occupies a special place in one of the most celebrated sequences in Olivier Assayas’s filmography.
“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” Captures the Ache of Fleeting Friendships
The Scottish band Simple Minds took the Breakfast Club theme song to the top of the charts. But its success—and its plea for loyalty—couldn’t save the group from its ultimate demise.
From Folk Ditty to Rally Anthem: Nashville’s “It Don’t Worry Me”
Performed by the late Barbara Harris, the final song in Robert Altman’s masterpiece is a provocative mix of genres and conflicting cultural resonances.