September brings us another Toronto Independent Film Festival with journalists, industry stars, and indie fans alike clamoring for a glimpse of soon-to-be-classic films like The Sacrament and Gravity. Chances are at least one film on Toronto’s list will include an outstanding, game-changing soundtrack.
This got us thinking – what are the best indie movie soundtracks of all time? It’s probably impossible to make a perfect list; after all, there are hundreds of indie films (more than anyone could watch in a lifetime) but in our long history of film reviewing, here are a few soundtracks that stick out in our memories.
Perhaps the most stereotypically indie of all indie films, 2004′s Garden State includes a soundtrack hand-picked by director and lead actor Zach Braff. It sets the tone for indie films to follow by combining up-and-coming bands such as The Shins with classic acts like Simon and Garfunkel. Braff also defined the indie soundtrack ethos when he described his soundtrack as an old school mix CD.
Super Size Me
Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, in which he famously eats nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days, opens with a group of schoolchildren singing the classic camp song “Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut.” He salts and peppers his film with instantly recognizable pop culture favorites such as “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” and “Pusher Man.” Even if you only listened to the soundtrack and skipped the movie, you’d still know exactly what Morgan Spurlock thinks about the fast food giant.
2008 indie favorite Juno shared the irresistible joy of band The Moldy Peaches with the world. Director Jason Reitman chose the Kimya Dawson/Adam Green guitar-folk duo after asking star Ellen Page what she thought the titular character would listen to.
Juno’s soundtrack helped revive nerd-folk guitar as a legitimate music genre, and the final scene of lovebirds Ellen Page and Michael Cera jamming out on their front porch inspired hundreds of teenagers to sign up for online guitar lessons. It’s no coincidence that now famous acts like Julia Nunes and Danielle Ate the Sandwich all came of age when Juno aired.
A movie about music is bound to include an amazing roster of bands and musicians on its soundtrack, and High Fidelity delivers. The track is jammed full of the greatest acts in music history, including Elton John, Aretha Franklin, the Velvet Underground, Queen, and Elvis Costello. High Fidelity‘s soundtrack works both as an emotional commentary as well as one of character Rob Gordon’s famous “best of” lists. One only regrets that High Fidelity was released in 2000; who knows what might have made it on the soundtrack had it been remade today.
Any of Wes Anderson’s films could make it onto a best soundtrack list, but 2012′s Moonrise Kingdom stands out as my personal favorite. As a child raised on classical music, including a stint in the movie’s featured opera Noye’s Fludde (I played a monkey), I appreciated the subtle use of classical music as a way into the two young characters’ thoughts and emotions. Before children are old enough to develop musical tastes of their own, they are dependent on the musical tastes provided by their parents, and I, too spent a childhood with Mozart and Britten as earworms. It was an excellent choice that would have been sullied had Anderson elected to use pop music of the era instead.
So, what did we get right and what did we miss? Which films go on your best indie soundtrack list, and which music artists did you discover through independent film?
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