This year, we had films that roared, wept and set love and life ablaze. Characters tore it up on the dance floor, raced through the desert, caught a fleeting glance from someone—without leaning too hard on cliché, there was something exuberantly magical about music in film in 2015.
The following musical cues afford real insight into the interiority of characters’ lives and identities—not to mention those in that just might become unforgettable moments in film history. We’ve included YouTube links where available, and for the rest we apologize: With a song in our hearts, here are cinema’s 10 most memorable musical moments of 2015.
10. Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
When Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and his servant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) tear up the fucking dance floor, it’s a paradox of a scene: On the one hand, the two shaking their thangs to Oliver Cheatham’s “Get Down Saturday Night” is a rush of adrenaline to the vein of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, but on the other, the rigidity and learned nature of Kyoko’s movements are disturbing. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is taken aback, jarred and suspicious. But Nathan and Kyoko can’t stop the beat.
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Though Daft Punk’s artistry as house musicians is hard to deny, should we take their hit track “One More Time” seriously? Or with a healthy does of irony? Because the latters is how director Mia Hansen-Løve takes it—sort of. She subverts the song’s peppy, energetic sound, using it at PS1, where Paul (Félix de Givry) is DJing. There, it feels empty, meaningless, its carpe diem-laced lyrics rendered as facile. The energy is in the room, but not for long: The highs Paul draws from music are only momentary. Long after the song is over, he’s still on a search for meaning in his life.
8. Tom at the Farm
Director: Xavier Dolan
Atypical of Xavier Dolan’s style, his fourth film Tom at the Farm isn’t anchored by the use of pop songs to add mercurial flair to his films. Instead, the music that’s featured at the beginning of the film—Kathleen Fortin’s French rendition of “The Windmills of Your Mind”, originally written by Michel Legrand—grounds Dolan’s thriller in a different brand of emotional atmosphere, one closer to Hitchcockian thriller than Sirkian melodrama. Just moments previously, the grieving Tom writes a letter to his late lover, conceding that he can do nothing but replace him. Fortin’s soaring vocals are searing in a totally unexpected way, yet its forthright nature keeps well within the bounds of the 26-year-old Quebecois filmmaker’s pet interests and style.
7. Magic Mike XXL
Director: Gregory Jacobs
The great purpose of being a male entertainer, the male entertainers of Gregory Jacobs’ Magic Mike XXL proclaim, is to entertain. To please—on an essential level. And thus Richie (Joe Manganiello) is tasked with making a sour-looking gas station cashier smile. The gas station store is flooded with the sounds of “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, and Richie improvises a routine that includes bottled water, a bag of Cheetos and a near-flawless slip-n-slide on the floor. Surely, who wouldn’t be entertained by that?
6. 45 Years
Director: Andrew Haigh
In Andrew Haigh’s latest film, 45 Years, love has, if not dissipated, then at least been re-contextualized in the relationship between Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay). At their 45th wedding anniversary party, The Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” accompanies the first dance. While the song suggests that love can be a distraction—that it can, at the very least, cloud one’s judgment—Kate has never been more certain about her uncertainty regarding her life and what her marriage has meant.