7. Philadelphia – (Jonathan Demme – 1993)
Song – La Mamma Morta (from the Opera Andrea Chenier) – Maria Callas
Andrew Beckett (Oscar winner, Tom Hanks) has AIDS, and is suing his former law firm for firing him due to his illness. While prepping for his testimony, Andrew and his lawyer Joe (Denzel Washington) are at Andy’s house after a party. They are finally alone to get to work when Andy puts on his favorite opera.
Joe is “not familiar with opera”. Andy walks around deciphering the lyrics for Joe telling about a woman who decides that all she wants is to live. It mirrors Andy’s situation as he is fully aware of his mortality as an AIDS patient in the late 80s – early 90s. The scene is one of the chief reasons Hanks won his first of two straight Oscars.
6. Apocalypse Now – (Francis Ford Coppola – 1979)
Song – “The End” – The Doors
Perhaps no film shows the madness of war better than Coppola’s Oscar nominated Apocalypse Now. We are introduced to the film by Jim Morrison and The Doors ushering us into Vietnam. A serene jungle as smoke starts to rise, and then right as Morrison begins singing the first lyrics… the jungle goes UP IN FLAMES as the helicopters fly by.
As the song continues Coppola juxtaposes the jungle in flames with Martin Sheen’s Capt. Willard lying in bed surrounded by alcohol, a cigarette and his gun. The helicopter propellers fade out to Willard’s ceiling fan.
We soon see Willard drunkenly smash the mirror in his room; the scene is infamous as Martin Sheen was REALLY messed up and Coppola rolled film anyway. This was the opening scene in a film that later used Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries for the bombing of a Vietnamese village, and of course features Marlon Brando as a deranged AWOL Colonel Kurtz.
5. Reservoir Dogs – (Quentin Tarantino – 1992)
Song – “Stuck in the Middle with You” – Stealers Wheel
“You ever listen to K Billy’s super sounds of the 70s?” What’s not to love in this scene? Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde is left to babysit a captured police officer while Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) lies in a pool of his own blood unconscious. Mr. Pink & Mr. White have gone to get the stashed diamonds from the botched heist.
Blonde isn’t satisfied “babysitting” so he proceeds to tune in to his favorite radio station and commence a horrifying torture on the cop; first slicing his face, then hacking off his ear with a straight razor before covering him in gasoline. What makes the scene is Madsen’s unadulterated glee. He is a pure psychopath. His quick one liners add to the torture. “Was it as good for you as it was for me?” “How about a little fire scarecrow?” This is definitely one of the coolest and sickest scenes in modern film history.
4. Silence of the Lambs – (Jonathan Demme – 1991)
Song – “Goodbye Horses” – Q. Lazzarus
Silence of the Lambs swept the 1991 Academy Awards including acting Oscars for stars Jodie Foster & Anthony Hopkins. But I’d argue the character that drives the film and is perhaps even scarier than Dr. Lecter himself is Buffalo Bill, played by Ted Levine.
He kidnaps overweight women, keeps them alive and suffering in a deep pit in his basement until he decides the shoot them and SKIN them. Why? Because Bill is undergoing a metamorphosis; he needs to change, like a moth or butterfly. Only difference is Bill wants to change into a woman.
In the infamous scene set to Q. Lazzarus’s already creepy song, Bill dresses up in his incomplete skin suit and puts on make up while talking to his reflection: “You’d fuck me? I’d fuck me.” Don’t forget the nipple ring tug either. He then introduces the world to the term “mangina”. All in all this is the freakiest scene in a movie featuring Hannibal F’n Lecter!
3. Casablanca – (Michael Curtiz – 1942)
Song – “As Time Goes By” – Dooley Wilson
The second scene from this classic, this time focusing on the reunion of two long lost lovers: Ilsa broke Rick’s heart years earlier. Rick is now the heartless owner of a night club in Casablanca, a way station between Nazi occupied Europe and the freedom of America. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) sticks his neck out for nobody.
When Ilsa and resistance fighter husband Victor Lazlo show up in Casablanca she meets Rick’s friend and piano player and says the famous line: “Play it Sam.” Nobody in the world can play “As Time Goes By” like Sam and soon Rick is having a crisis of conscience and a possible reunion of past lovers is brewing. This is universally considered one of the greatest movies ever made, and scenes like this are the reason why. Rick and Ilsa say more in one long stare than most movies say in 2 hours.
2. Say Anything – (Cameron Crowe – 1989)
Song – “In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel
C’mon! One of the single best scenes of the 1980s, John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler stands outside his recently ex-girlfriend’s window holding a stereo over his head blasting THEIR SONG; “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. Since then, that image appears on more posters and the song is played during more first dances at weddings than almost any other. Cameron Crowe is a veteran of the music industry and thus knows how to delegate music and songs within his films better than almost anyone.
The romance between Lloyd and Diane Court (Ione Skye) are a perfect “opposites attract” story. She’s a straight A-student with a devoted father and high aspirations of scholarships abroad. He comes from a wide social circle that includes drunks, dopes and a depressed singer, while he helps his sister (you guessed who plays her) and her son. His only aspiration, aside from kickboxing is being with Diane. Nothing shows this more than Cusack holding that radio.
1. Goodfellas – (Martin Scorsese – 1990)
Song – “Layla” – Derek & the Dominoes
This was the scene that inspired the list and perhaps the best use of any song in motion picture history. Scorsese always blends great music and songs into his films, but no scene showcases this more effectively than the mobster murder montage in Goodfellas. What happens when you combine one the greatest directors, a collection of the greatest actors and borrow one of the greatest songs from one of the greatest artists (Clapton) ever: You get a shitload of GREAT!
The end result is one of the best movies of all time and this scene epitomizes that. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) narrates over the song and we find dead mobster after dead mobster with Jimmy (DeNiro) trying to cover his tracks and tie up all loose ends of the Lufthansa heist. Of course the scene also manages to explain the title of the movie and lead up to Tommy’s (Joe Pesci) own mafia execution. Simply put, the best use of a song in a movie ever.
Author Bio: Dan Torkel grew up in Brooklyn, NY and has been watching movies since age 2 when his parents took him to see Sesame Street’s Follow that Bird. His first job was an usher at a UA theatre where he used his $5.15 an hour salary to stockpile a huge DVD collection and see all the free movies he could see. He currently teaches history at Abraham Lincoln (NOT Vampire Hunter) High School in Brooklyn, and is happily married with 2 kids.