I didn’t have a favorite nominee for the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards that aired last night. I did have a favorite category, though. In fact, my favorite category is the same every year: Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. I’m not really sure what other “Visual” Media the award encompasses, but I love discovering new music from soundtracks, especially film soundtracks. The category “Best Score Soundtrack Album” is a close second (re-watch movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Chocolat while focusing on the music and you’ll see what I mean), but original scores do not typically allow the same expansion of your music collection as compilation soundtracks do.
While some of this year’s nominees may have been impressive, no compilation soundtrack will ever come close, in my opinion, to these:
At one point, Garden State may have rivaled The Notebook for most common favorite movie selection on Facebook. If you paid attention to the movie at all, though, you would have noticed that it is very difficult to separate Garden State as a film from its Grammy-winning soundtrack, which was crafted by director/writer/lead actor Zach Braff himself. Featuring The Shins, Simon & Garfunkel and the British duo, Zero 7, the Garden State soundtrack, like the film, is emotional yet subtle, original yet familiar, shocking yet comforting. Every track of the album has an incredible richness to it, and the entire work comes together to tell an incredibly memorable story. My favorite track is the catchy “New Slang” by The Shins.
Outrageous and comical, just like the film itself, the Juno soundtrack gives old bands like The Velvet Underground and The Kinks new life at the same time that it features hipper current artists such as Belle and Sebastian. I could listen to Michael Cera and Ellen Page’s version of The Moldy Peaches’ tune, “Anyone Else But You” every day, and Kimya Dawson, one-half of The Moldy Peaches, carries the album with six quirky solo tracks. The soundtrack is fun and folksy, and features romantically poetic lyrics, such as those in Barry Louis Polisar’s “All I Want Is You”: “If you were a wink, I’d be a nod/ If you were a seed, well I’d be a pod/ If you were the floor, I’d wanna be the rug/ And if you were a kiss I’d know I’d be a hug.”
Most people who saw Brokeback Mountain would agree that it was unlike anything they had seen before. The film’s soundtrack is equally as original. In fact, about half the album features an original, no-words score by Gustavo Santaolalla. Each track tells the story of the rolling hills and Western scenery that characterize Brokeback. Santaolalla’s “The Wings” is perhaps the most memorable, showcasing a powerful and utterly haunting guitar solo. The other half of the album is a collection of tracks by artists ranging from folksy, bluesy Jackie Greene, to rocker Linda Ronstadt, to contemporary songwriter and singer Rufus Wainwright. Willie Nelson’s cover of “He Was a Friend of Mine” is so touching that it is difficult to remember that it wasn’t originally written for the film.
Speaking of quirky (Juno) and original (Brokeback Mountain), Little Miss Sunshine features another incredible soundtrack. But the film’s music, like the film, is more than quirky and more than original — it has a profoundness to it that is truly one-of-a-kind. Most of the soundtrack is comprised of original tracks by artist Mychael Danna and quartet DeVotchKa, the later of which typically creates music that combines various world influences with American folk. “How It Ends” and “Let’s Go” bring the listener onto the road with Little Miss Sunshine’s cast of lovable tragic misfits while “You Love Me” conjures up the heartbreak and optimism that somehow successfully mingle throughout the film. A select amount of tracks are those by other artists. Sufjan Stevens’ contribution, “Chicago,” got me hooked on the artist for life, and Rick James’ “Superfreak” and Tony Tisdale’s “Catwalkin’” contribute to the comic relief that allowed the film and its star, Abigail Breslin, to capture viewers hearts effortlessly.
Occasionally, a film is accompanied by music so fitting that listening to the soundtrack alone invokes the same emotions that the experience of viewing the film does. If you dismissed my favorite category last night just because it doesn’t feature the music surrounding us on a daily basis, I hope that next year you will know better.