In Nisha Ganatra’s comedy The High Note—now available at home on demand—two women find a common bond in their love of music. Maggie (Dakota Johnson) works as the personal assistant to her music idol Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), a job she loves even as she dreams of becoming a music producer. To make this story sing, the filmmakers needed a soundtrack as enchanting and individual as the characters in the film. To orchestrate the film’s many layers, music supervisor Linda Cohen pulled together a remarkable team, including Grammy winner Corinne Bailey Rae and the up-and-coming talent Sarah Aarons to write original songs. Celebrated music producer Rodney Jerkins, aka Darkchild, oversaw the entire soundtrack. “The music in this movie is fantastic!" says director Ganatra. “There is something for everyone and yet all of the songs have a very specific point of view.”
Music has always been instrumental to our films, with several movies like Atonement and Brokeback Mountain winning Oscars® for their scores. To celebrate The High Note’s jubilant collection of curated hits and original songs, we’re rewatching some of our favorite movies with killer soundtracks.
Harriet | Its musical soul
To tell the story of Harriet Tubman, one of America’s great unsung heroes, Harriet's director Kasi Lemmons needed a star who could stir people's souls. As a Tony® and Grammy®-winning performer, Cynthia Erivo knew how to move people musically and dramatically. At the Academy Awards®, Erivo was recognized for both, being nominated for Best Actress and Best Original Song (“Stand Up”), a rousing anthem that she co-wrote with Joshuah Campbell. “I knew how much it meant to me and to everybody,” Erivo exclaimed about why she wanted to write and perform this rousing gospel-influenced hit. “There’s a connection to the past, to the ancestors, that’s embedded in the sound of gospel.” In writing the film’s score, Terrence Blanchard also found a personal connection to Harriet’s story. “Seeing the struggles of people throughout various generations of my family, of the culture that I grew up in—those are the things that I drew upon to create the emotional resonance in the film’s score,” explains Blanchard.
The World’s End | An apocalyptic mix tape
For Edgar Wright—whose new feature Last Night In Soho is slated to open on April 23, 2021—music is the key to making great movies. For The World’s End, in which Gary King (Simon Pegg) returns with four childhood friends (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan) to his home town to finish an infamous pub crawl, Wright used a ‘90s rock soundtrack in two ways. “One’s about Gary and his hedonism, and one's reminiscing about old times,” explains Wright. “I think the music is the biggest thing that helps you understand where Gary is coming from.” When the boys kick off the weekend by sliding Primal Scream’s “Loaded” into their car's tape deck, nothing else needs to be said. Noting how wittily each song comments on the action, AllMusic exclaims, “The World's End isn't just more entertaining than your average soundtrack, it's also a lot more fun.” In fact, Collider named it as one of the “Best Soundtracks of the 21st Century.”
Lost in Translation | Achingly felt
In picking their list of “The 50 Best Movie Soundtracks of All Time,” Pitchfork placed Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation at number seven. There are several things that make the soundtrack such a stand out. For one, there’s Coppola’s uncanny ability to pick the perfect tune for her characters, like Bill Murray belting out Roxy Music’s “More Than This” at a Tokyo karaoke bar with Scarlett Johansson. There is also the filmmaker’s talent for making such diverse songs as My Bloody Valentine’s “Sometimes”, Rick James’ “Love Gun”, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair,” and Peaches’ "[email protected]#K the Pain Away" fit together in perfect harmony. More than anything, however, Coppola allows the music to narrate subtly her character’s complex emotions. As Pitchfork points out, it is her "ability to capture the story’s aching undertones through music" that is the reason Lost in Translation has one of cinema’s best soundtracks.
Moonrise Kingdom | Songs of innocence and experience
For filmmaker Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom began with a song. “Before I had a script…I had an idea of using that Francoise Hardy song [“Le Temps De L'amour”]," recalls Anderson. "I had an image of this scene that this music would be part of it.” In the final film, the 1962 French pop classic became the song that Suzy (Kara Hayward) plays on her portable phono as she and Sam (Jared Gilman) dance together in front of Moonrise Kingdom cove. That song, like much of the music on the soundtrack, combines the innocence of childhood with the yearning for something more. Layering classical and operatic pieces next to Hank Williams' honky-tonk tunes, Moonrise Kingdom provides one of Anderson’s most touching and personal soundtracks. The use of Benjamin Britten’s Noye's Fludde, for example, originated with Anderson having been in a production of the children’s opera at age ten. For the filmmaker, “that music is something I’ve always remembered, and made a very strong impression on me. It is the color of the movie in a way.”
Broken Flowers | A surprise at every beat
In Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, Bill Murray plays Don Johnston, a confirmed bachelor who learns from a mysterious letter that he may have a 19-year-old son. To investigate this mystery, Johnston revisits all the women from his past (Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy), a trip that sheds more light on himself than on any possible progeny. To give a beat to Murray's personal roadtrip, Jarmusch compiled a remarkable collection of songs that Taste of Cinema named one of “the 20 Best Movie Soundtracks of the 21st Century.” To a score of Ethiopian jazz master Mulatu Astatke's music, Jarmusch added songs from a wide range of genres and styles. The music veers back and forth from indie rockers The Brian Jonestown Massacre to the metal band Sleep to soulful tunes of Marvin Gaye to reggae’s The Tennors, creating a musical mix that AllMusic calls “an unpredictable delight.”