The Greatest Movie Soundtracks Ever, Part 6: The 21st Century


It’s been great fun exploring the world of film music over the course of our epic Greatest Soundtracks Ever series, but all good things have to end, and with this sixth and final part, we’re looking at recent history –- specifically, everything from 2000 until the present day. It’s gotten harder and harder to get these lists down to ten as the decades have passed, so as ever, let us know what we’ve missed in the comments section.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

We’ve generally avoided score albums in these soundtrack roundups because, well, they’re a whole different discussion. However, Clint Mansell’s score for Requiem for a Dream has taken on a life of its own since its release 10 years ago. It’s subsequently spawned a remix album, while the main theme, “Lux Aeterna,” has become the dramatic violin piece of choice for everyone from advertisers to Peter Jackson, who used a reworking of it in the trailer for The Two Towers. It’s a remarkable achievement for a bunch of claustrophobic avant-garde violin music composed to echo the excruciating mood of what remains one of the most harrowing and depressing pieces of cinema ever made.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Bluegrass may or may not be your cup of tea, but the fact that many people outside the Appalachians even have an opinion on the genre in 2011 is largely attributable to the influence of O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The soundtrack has sold a mind-boggling 7.5 million copies over the last decade, finding its way into the living rooms of people who’d otherwise never countenance buying a bluegrass record.

Ghost World (2001)

The most memorable track from Terry Zwigoff’s excellent adaptation of Ghost World is clearly Mohammed Rafi’s exuberant “Jaan Pehechan Ho,” but the rest of the soundtrack is often overlooked. This is a shame, because it’s home to a fascinating variety of music -– largely crackling recordings of old Delta blues tracks, along with a number of songs from contemporary NYC composer Vince Giordano, whose music evokes the sound of that bygone era. The soundtrack’s concept alludes to the collection of ancient records owned by Steve Buscemi’s character, and captures the spirit of the film beautifully.

8 Mile (2002)

For several years in the mid-2000s, Eminem was the biggest star on the planet. The basically autobiographical 8 Mile follows his rise to stardom and is accompanied by a killer soundtrack –- including “Lose Yourself,” with its iconic “If you had one shot, one opportunity…” intro. The music in the film itself is also great, and the final battle scene where Eminem’s character verbally eviscerates rival Papa Doc, leaving him literally speechless, is one of cinema’s great cheer-along moments. “This guy’s a gangsta? His real name’s Clarence!”

24 Hour Party People (2002)

It’d seem terribly wrong if a film about Factory Records and the Hacienda didn’t have a cracking soundtrack, and 24 Hour Party People doesn’t disappoint. The album draws together the obvious choices (Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays, 808 State), along with historical context (The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks), and also a couple of tracks from lesser-known artists, including acid house pioneer A Guy Called Gerald and the criminally overlooked Durutti Column.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

You pretty much take it for granted these days that Quentin Tarantino films to be accompanied by eclectic and wonderful soundtracks, but the director and collaborator RZA outdid themselves for Kill Bill Vol. 1, which vies with Pulp Fiction (and maybe Jackie Brown) for the title of Best Tarantino Soundtrack Ever. Put it this way: if we’d made a mixtape that included Nancy Sinatra, Neu!, obscure Romanian flute pieces, and a 10-minute samba version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” we’d be pretty damn proud of it.

Donnie Darko (2004)

There was a trend during the 2000s of films using a slew of retro songs for nostalgic and record-selling appeal, but few where said music was in any way integral to the film. The ’80s songs in Donnie Darko, however, worked a treat -– not so much because they set a historical context, but because they tied in perfectly to the film’s dreamy, surreal atmosphere. Fans of the film on its original release were dismayed to learn that there was no accompanying soundtrack album -– a single-disc version of Michael Andrews’ original score (plus Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”) was released in 2002, but a full soundtrack album didn’t arrive until 2004. It accompanied Kelly’s director’s cut of the film, which, incredibly, meddled with the music -– an early indication that giving him full creative control maybe isn’t the best move (cf. Southland Tales, The Box, etc).

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

You could pretty much make a case for the inclusion of any of Wes Anderson’s soundtracks in this list -– they’re generally as left-of-center and perversely appealing as his films. However, we’re particularly fond of The Darjeeling Limited, which marries snippets of vintage Indian film music to classical pieces and the occasional ’60s pop song. And also, as a result of this soundtrack, Peter Sarstedt’s “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?” has been stuck in our head for most of the last decade.

The Wackness (2008)

This film’s 1994 setting is a large part of its nostalgic appeal, and its soundtrack evokes the era beautifully –- in fact, anyone looking for a primer in early- and mid-’90s hip hop could do a lot worse than this record. There’s no Tupac, presumably because the filmmakers couldn’t afford the licensing fee, but there are songs from Biggie, Nas, Raekwon, KRS-One, and A Tribe Called Quest, alongside –- curiously –- Mott the Hoople and Donovan.

The Social Network (2010)

In which Trent Reznor wins an Oscar. Who’d have thought it, eh?