Top 10: Movie Music Moments

The marriage of two different art forms- the sounds in our ears and the image on screen- can take a scene far beyond what was written on paper. The power of music can be used to touch our hearts and minds. With a well-placed song or piece of music, a moment in film can be experienced on all levels, sticking in our head long after the credits roll. Here are just a few of them.

This list does not including dance or sing along moments, but a time when the soundtrack is used to heighten the moment. Also, there are far too many Quentin Tarantino music moments to choose from for this list. Opening titles of Kill Bill? The torture scene in Reservoir Dogs? Pretty much everything from Pulp Fiction? How can I even choose? Tarantino is a true genius at putting music to film. Just watch any one of his films.

1. The Sound of Silence – The Graduate 

The famous Simon and Garfunkel tune plays several times throughout the film, including the famous opening airport sequence. But it’s particular use here is the most effective, with the dream-like quality of the tune matched with the monotony of the heated and confining summer. His parents are constantly over his shoulder…and that once passionate and dangerous affair? It’s becoming listless and repetitive. The lyrics seem to be expressing the inner thoughts of Benjamin, we can understand the confusing thoughts he has inside but does not tell.

2. Don’t You Forget About Me- The Breakfast Club

John Hughes has many iconic music moments in his films- Oh Yeah from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, If You Leave from Pretty in Pink, If You Were Here from Sixteen Candles…the list goes on. The nostalgic songs and John Hughes ingenuity for flawlessly capturing the teenage psyche make for a perfect match. As the brain, athlete, basket case, princess, and criminal all part ways, the Simple Minds hit starts to play. The princess kisses the criminal goodbye. They won’t say hello in school next morning. But for now, they have this. All of them had this one moment of abandoning their labels for a human connection. And it’s something they won’t ever forget.

3.  Where Is My Mind – Fight Club

The Fight Club ending has just taken you for a wild ride- revealing a mind-boggling twist and leaving the Narrator with his face half blown off. But for the first time in his life he believes that everything really is going to be fine. The drum intro of the Pixies song kicks in just as the buildings start to detonate. I don’t think there’s been a music moment so perfectly harmonious. Marla and The Narrator hold hands as the high rises collapse around them- the remnants of the anarchy and chaos that have just been inhabiting his mind. A very strange time in his life indeed.

4. Layla – Goodfellas

Martin Scorcese is a master of choosing music for his film. Where do you even start? Into the Fire from Goodfellas? De Niro’s entrance to Jumping Jack Flash from Mean Streets? Shipping Up to Boston from The Departed? t’s impossible to even pick one for this slot. Layla’s use in Goodfellas seems to be the most deserving. The wistful piano and wailing guitar of the second half of the Derek and the Dominoes tune brilliantly synchronizes with the camera slowly gliding over disfigured corpses and bloody murder scenes.

Two others I can’t help but mentioning use two of my favorite songs. The dreamy bubbegum pop song Then He Kissed Me by The Crystals plays with a flowing tracking shot as Henry charms his date- using a valet, skipping the line for the back entrance, getting the best table. Who could resist this glamourous life?

And the Mean Streets opening, (while it is mostly just a title sequence) Harvey Kietel’s character is having a late-night crisis- as he lays his head on the pillow The Ronnette’s Be My Baby kicks in as film footage of familial neighborhood moments play.

5. God Moving Over the Face of the Waters – Heat

The ending of Heat gives the audience the final culmination of the Pacino/De Niro showdown. The chase is over, and somehow it is perfectly expressed in this beautiful piece of music by Moby. Vincent has shot down the only man he has ever respected and understood. He didn’t want this to happen, he wanted to catch him, not kill him. But Neil would rather die than go to prison. In a heartbreaking final moment, they hold hands. That beautiful last shot combined with the rising score of Moby’s song makes for visual poetry.

6. Mass in C Minor, K. 427 – Amadeus

Several Mozart pieces are used in this scene, including Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 20, Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365, Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299, and Symphony Concertante, K. 364. But it’s the beautiful rising notes of the Mass in C Minor that really drives this scene home. Salieri both hates and loves Mozart’s genius, and we hear the beauty in Mozart’s music and can understand the tortuous pain Sailieri is going through with never being able to achieve such mastery.

7. La Mamma Morta- Philadelphia

1993’s Philadelphia was one of the very first mainstream films to bring the issues of the AIDS crisis, homosexuality, and homophobia to light. In this scene, with it’s stunning cinematography, Tom Hanks’ character is overcome with emotions while listening to Giordana’s opera Andrea Chénier. He narrates the aria’s lyrics for Denzel Washington’s character, his lawyer Joe Miller. “A voice filled with harmony. It says, Live still, I am life. Heaven is in your eyes. Is everything around you just the blood and mud? …I am love.” The lyrics and heartbreak in the aria touch his soul as he feels the sting of his deteriorating mortality. Joe Miller- who has been dealing with his own reservations and judgements about homosexuality- finally opens his eyes and just sees before him another human being. A human being who his suffering. And all questions he ever had about representing him are quelled.

8. A Real Hero – Drive

From the very beginning with the title scene set to Nightcall, Drive has an amazing soundtrack. In this scene, College feat. Electric Youth’s A Real Hero sets the tone for Irene’s day out with the enigmatic Driver. With the beautiful orange and yellow tinted landscape, you can almost feel yourself in the car with them, the breeze blowing in your hair. This and the song matched with the slow motion shot of the Driver carrying her son- you can feel the impact he is leaving on her.

I can’t not mention the other two scenes as well. Desire’s Under Your Spell plays as the camera slowly pulls in on Irene at her husbands party, distracted by her thoughts as it cuts to the Driver in his room. The lyrics “I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I do nothing but think of you…” we can feel and understand the two of them being pulled to each other.

And the pairing of Riz Ortolani feat. Rina Ranieri’s Oh My Love with Ryan Gosling in that mask makes for an eerie shot and sequence.

9.  Don’t Stop Me Now- Shaun of the Dead

Beating zombies to death in time to the music of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now? That’s comedic genius!

10. In Your Eyes- Say Anything  

Cameron Crowe is another master of matching music to film, Tiny Dancer or pretty much any music in Almost Famous, Bruce Springsteen’s Secret Garden in Jerry Maguire, Everything In Its Right Place from Vanilla Sky, the list goes on. But the most iconic moment is Llyod Dobbler’s romantic gesture using Peter Gabriel’s beautiful song In Your Eyes, making the song a legendary symbol of youthful love.

Scene Sound Off: Dead Man Walking

Dead Man Walking is a 1995 film directed by Tim Robbins. Susan Sarandon plays Sister Helen, a nun who’s faith is put to the test when she is asked to be a spiritual advisor to a prisoner on death row for killing two teenagers, Played by Sean Penn. Matthew Poncelet is sexist, racist, and vehemently denies doing anything. As his spiritual advisor, Sister Helen must help Matthew to recognize and truly atone for his sins before his death, so he does not go to hell. Sister Helen manages to form a close relationship with Matthew, and minutes leading up to his death he confesses and reconciles with his sins, granting Sister Helen to give him the salvation he needs.

After confessing, the guards lead him out and so begins the execution scene of the film. Matthew drops to his knees in vulnerable desperation as it hits him that he is marching towards the face of death. Sister Helen tells him that she wants the last thing he sees in the world to be “a face of love”. She reads holds onto his shoulder and reads from The Bible, determined to be a comforting touchstone for him in his last moments. The camera slowly pans up as we see the sterility and indignity of the paper shoes and the diaper underneath his clothes.

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The haunting score by David Robbins kicks in as they beginning strapping him in the chair and turning machines on. The camera holds as the nurse sticks the needle in Matthew’s veins. The clock ticks…the audience waits on baited breath as the minutes go by. It’s hard not to imagine yourself being minutes away from knowing you’re going to die, the time slowly slipping by before you’re propelled into uncertainty.

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Matthew is raised up to make his last words. He looks at the parents of those he killed in their eyes, and hopes that his death gives them some relief. Poncelet continues, “Killing is wrong whether it’s me, or y’all, or your government”. This is the question that makes the audience soul-search and confront the arguments of the death penalty head on. Matthew Poncelet’s death will give the parents peace, it is the vengeance that the parents have been waiting for and feel they deserve. But is killing wrong no matter what? Or does someone who takes the lives of others deserve their life taken away?

When Sister Helen met with the parents of the young girl, the parents asked her if Matthew deserved comfort when he died when their daughter did not have anyone to comfort her as she was raped and killed. This question lingered in Sister Helen’s mind as she grappled with her conscience and in ours as we view this scene.

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The machines start their work as the lethal injection slowly starts to take hold. Susan Sarandon’s character holds out her arm to him through the glass, whispering “I love you”, giving him comfort as his eyes slowly droop. The parents glance over at her angrily. And that’s when Tim Robbins brilliantly decides to inter splice between Matthew’s execution and the scene of the crime. We see what happened in the forest that night, what was done and how awful it was.

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Splitting between the execution and crime scene illustrates how Susan Sarandon’s character was torn between protecting and redeeming a life (as she feels all of God’s children deserve) and whether he deserved that because of his sins. Sister Helen struggled just as the audience is now torn between the moral ambiguity that the death penalty brings. The juxtaposition of the tenderness between him, Sister Helen, and the horror of that night in the woods leaves the audience conflicted with feelings of both empathy and disgust.

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This scene illustrates how the film doesn’t push an agenda. Yes, we have gotten an empathetic look at the killer but we also heard the devastation of what the parents have gone through. Dead Man Walking lays the questions on the table, but doesn’t try to answer them. It is less about right vs. wrong and more about love and compassion. Does someone deserve forgiveness and redemption despite what they’ve done?

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Sister Helen asked herself that, and she decided to stand by what she learned from her religious calling, to love the sinner before the sin. She was someone who believed the best in Matthew despite the chauvinistic and caustic front he put up. Susan Sarandon brought a fierce compassion and unwavering determination to her character. Sean Penn, opposite her, gives a brilliant performance that makes the audience feel empathy and humanity despite his animalistic actions.

Without his well-crafted performance the audience would have not have been able to face the questions the film brings, which are summed up in this scene. Is killing wrong no matter what or is it sometimes justified? 

Watch a cut of the scene below:

Scene Sound Off: Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese’s biopic of the rage-fueled self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta is simultaneously painful and poetic. One of the most harrowing moments of the film comes near the climax when he is thrown in jail. The film perfectly captures the fruition of LaMotta’s inner conflict in this one scene.

Jake LaMotta is at his lowest point, he has finally hit rock bottom. Alone and imprisioned he is able to question and confront his life choices and behaviors. After cursing off the guards, he paces in the jail cell and tries to catch his breath. He puts his hand on the wall, and as the camera slowly moves in he starts banging his head against the wall nearly 10 times. He moves on to punching the wall tearfully screaming the word “why” each time he hits the concrete. Steadily at first, then faster and faster over and over as his screaming gets louder and more frenzied.


Then he sits, crying in pain from the punches. He admonishes himself for being so stupid, and heartbreakingly cries “They called me an animal, I’m not an animal. I’m not an animal.” Because at this moment he truly feels like an animal, trapped and confined in a cage where he is unable to be a danger to anyone else, as he has been all is life. He is the only one left he can fight. The raging bull is tamed and left with nothing else but to finally face himself.


The cinematography in this scene is stunning. His entire face is hidden in darkness, we see very little of him and can only hear his voice. He is shrouded in the shadows as if it uncomfortable for the audience to see him clearly. Such a vulnerable and devastating moment is too painful to watch and better peering in on than viewing nakedly.

Raging Bull Jake cries

Although many of us don’t quite lead the life of such violence and high tension as LaMotta did,  there’s been times where all of us have felt like we were hitting a brick wall, making the same mistakes when we’ve sworn not to, doing something wrong instead of what we know is right. Whether we’re angry with ourselves or with life, we’ve all felt like violently breaking free of the confines we’ve found ourselves in. This scene not only does service to portray Jake LaMotta’s struggles, but also speaks on a human level by showing a type of despair that we’ve all felt at one point in our lives.

This is one of Robert De Niro’s finest work, demonstrating his much deserved Oscar win for the role. It is what I believe to be the greatest acting scene in film history. Watch it for yourself below. And better yet, watch the whole film for yourself. It’s a masterpiece.


Top 10: Childhood Movies

Here is a mix of some classics and family friendly films that shaped my childhood and cemented my passion for the movies, thanks to what I picked out at my local Blockbuster.


1. Jaws

Jaws led to a fascination with sharks, especially the 1912 shark attacks in New Jersey. (read the book Close to Shore) Jaws is the quintessential summer blockbuster, a thrilling ride with an incredible cast. I watch it every 4th of July, and used to read the book too.


2. The Little Mermaid

I have The Little Mermaid to thank for all the mermaid fantasies I enacted in my pool. The animation is gorgeous, (I miss 2D Disney so much) the songs are unforgettable, the characters are charming. My favorite Disney princess hands down. And no, Ariel did not want to be human just because of Eric. Did you even listen to ‘Part Of Your World’??

3. The Mummy

Maybe they’re a little cheesy, not very scary, and some of the effects are dated now, but my love for The Mummy series (which ended at two…we’re not gonna mention Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) is strong. It’s just so damn fun. Also, it was made when Brendan Fraser was really hot.


4. Jurassic Park

One of the most ultimate thrill rides, with a heart-pumping plot, captivating characters (Jeff Goldblum’s shirtless scene is really more than enough) The raptor kitchen scene is my favorite, intense and gripping, left me holding my breath the entire time. The special effects were mind-blowing for that time, and they still are. Despite the advances made in CGI, the animatronics used for the T.Rex looks so much better. The entire T. Rex reveal is just the ultimate bad ass moment. And who can forget her satisfying roar of revenge?


5. Titanic

Yes it has cliches, a melodramatic story, cheesy dialogue and some Billy Zane overacting. But frankly, the story works. It’s an old fashioned Hollywood romance. It has sweeping visuals with breathtaking effects that perfectly capture both the ship’s wondrous awe and the heartbreaking devastation of the tragedy. Titanic will always make me cry. How could you not with the flutes somberly playing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ over the dark bottomless ocean?


6. Spider-Man

It’s hard to believe with the twenty something Marvel movies being pumped out all the time, but superheroes were not a big thing back in the early 2000s. They were pretty much killed thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman series. But the 2002 Spider-Man ushered in a new day for the superhero films, making them popular again. Now it is the new age of gritty superhero movies. (which is pretty much a retaliation from Joel Schumacher’s godawful choices) Spider-Man was a pure popcorn flick and comic book schmaltz. I know Willem Dafoe’s insane monologues to his reflection are stupid, but I love it. There may be a lot of cartoony moments and eye-roll inducing dialogue, but it’s fun.


7. Kiki’s Delivery Service

My mom came home with this on VHS, leading my 2nd grade self to convince everyone my name was Kiki and I had magical powers. As I grew older, I grew to appreciate the film even more. Kiki’s Delivery Service is heartwarming Hayao Miyazahki masterpiece with a timeless story of the trials and tribulations that come with growing up.

Film: Back to the Future (1985)  Shown from left: Christopher Ll

8. Back To The Future

Back to the Future is infectious, a playful and lively time-travel adventure that will always be a classic. Seeing it led me to explore other films from the 80s, and there are tons of iconic films from that decade. Back to the Future is what sparked my passion for film, for that I will be forever grateful. And I completely agree with Lea Thompson, Michael J. Fox is indeed a dreamboat.

HOCUS POCUS, Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, 1993

9. Hocus Pocus

Halloween is not complete without this cute Disney romp. Another thing that sticks out is that this is one of, if not the only, Disney movies to talk so explicitly about virginity. I will be in love with Tracery Binx far longer than it is appropriate.


10. A Christmas Story

The leg lamp, the mall santa, seeing if the tongue really does stick, it’s hard to choose a favorite moment from this Christmas movie staple. Every year my family watches it on Christmas Eve, and plays the 24-hour TBS marathon the next day. This will always have a special place in my heart, probably long after I’m older when that family tradition may no longer be done, but always remembered.