It’s not fair, perhaps, to release a “best of” list this far from the end of 2013. But that isn’t stopping anyone else on the internet. There are, however, definitely a few delightful musical moments still in store for us this month. Many of our favorite TV series are already on winter hiatus but some of the heaviest Oscar contenders are still yet to hit the theaters. We can look forward to whatever this is from Anchorman 2. And you should brace yourselves, Benedict Cumberbatch sings AND plays the piano in the upcoming August: Osage County (not the first time we’ve heard him sing…but still). Kristen Wiig will try her hand at some Bowie in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and, perhaps most heart-tearing of all, Joaquin Phoenix will croon a lullaby with his robotic girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson in Spike Jonze’s Her. You can hear the full version of “The Moon Song” sung by Karen O here. Or enjoy it over the last minute of the film’s trailer with a dollop of Phoenix.
As a fan of musicals, I’m most looking forward to Saving Mr. Banks a cornballier version of Adaptation which shows the artistic process behind adapting P.L. Travers’ book into the classic Disney musical Mary Poppins. From this behind-the-scenes featurette you can see that Travers (Emma Thompson) animator Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the famous composers The Sherman Brothers (the perfectly cast Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) sing “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” But I suspect the quieter rendition of “Feed The Birds” will be the showstopper. You can see snippets of both in this video.
But that’s what’s to come. This is a celebration of what we’ve already seen and enjoyed. So here, to wash to taste of The Sound Of Music Live! out of your mouth are TV and film’s 20 best musical moments of 2013.
20. American Horror Story: Asylum
Though Ryan Murphy’s anthology show has a tendency to go off the rails every season, this bit of musical nonsense was right on target. Jessica Lange doing The Frug is precisely why we watch this show.
Most people I know have either stopped watching Ryan Murphy’s other over the top drama or have switched to hate-watching it with a vengeance. But many of us (perhaps ghoulishly) tuned back in to see how the series would handle the death of Cory Monteith. Would it be a fitting, classy tribute or would it be more emotionally manipulative and exploitative? The truth is that it was a little bit of both but when the honest emotions of the cast shone through, it was an arresting piece of art. I think this performance from Monteith’s real-life girlfriend, Lea Michelle, would have been a world-collider if they had broadcast the live, on-set audio rather than a pre-recorded track. The uncomfortably honest emotion Michelle is obviously experiencing here doesn’t come through in her perfectly smooth vocals. Maybe it’s uncouth for me to wish to be privy to someone’s actual emotional turmoil, but if you’re going to do it, why not do it all the way?
18. The Kings Of Summer
As much as I wanted it to love Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ debut, I found it a little uneven. The performances from the kids were fantastic and the cinematography was moody and beautiful, but the story dragged and yawned in parts. But all the best elements came together perfectly in the pipe-drumming montage at the center of the film. The scene is unembeddable, but you can either watch it here or get a sense of it from the trailer.
17. Arrested Development
I suppose I should have picked either “Getaway” or something from the Tobias musical, but the Simon & Garfunkel cue was one of the best gags of the rocky 4th season.
I want to pay some respect to a show that is trying very hard on a weekly basis to incorporate music into the narrative and character development of the show. Unfortunately, for the most part, the musical interludes fall flat. So here’s a bit of a cheat, a song that originally aired in 2012 but was sung by the actors again at the Opry in 2013, “Fade Into You.” Before the show melted into the soapy guilty pleasure it has become, I really thought these characters and this song promised a much stronger musical series.
15. Saturday Night Live
About a year or two ago SNL became addicted to adding music to their opening monologues and we saw a general ramp-up in music-based sketches. (Josh Hutcherson’s recent Outfield sketch being an excellent example.) But the musical moment that made me laugh until I cried was, hands down, this dance number from Melissa McCarthy, Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan. It reminded me of one of my favorite sketches of all time.
14. Behind the Candelabra
Despite the fact that the HBO miniseries was about one of the world’s most famous musicians, we didn’t get a ton of musical performances. But this boogie-woogie scene (Scott’s introduction to Liberace) was phenomenal.
13. Raising Hope
This is one of those middle of the road sitcoms that largely goes unnoticed by critics but it’s always good and sometimes great. Their glam rock performance of “Rock The Torah” was the icing on one of the best musical episodes of television I’ve ever seen.
12. Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon’s delightfully low-key foray into Shakespeare wasn’t my favorite version of Much Ado, but this might be my favorite version of “Sigh No More.” The sweet, jazzy take was played over luscious party footage and dazzling aerialists. Maurissa Tancharoen and the Whedon brothers nailed it.
Watch this scene between Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode and tell me it’s not one of the sexiest things you’ve seen on film all year. Apologies for the terrible quality, many thanks to Phillip Glass.
10. The Sapphires
This sweet film flew under the radar this year but it’s definitely worth a rental. The true story of an indigenous Australian girl group who entertained the troops in Vietnam has oodles of fantastic Motown numbers but this performance of “What A Man” was my favorite. Watch the girls find their groove and forget all about Stax, En Vogue and Salt ‘N’ Pepa.
9. Sound City
I just want to pay tribute to Dave Grohl’s entire documentary which is packed to the brim with new performances from talents like Stevie Nicks and Paul McCartney. A must-watch for any music lover.
8. This Is The End
Best movie ending all year? Without a doubt. I might have squealed aloud in the theater.
7. The Great Gatsby
I hate to say this. I’m afraid it will destroy all my musical credibility. But not only did I love Baz’s soundtrack, I think this Lana Del Ray song is the best track on it. I know! This is an actual lyric “Oh that grace, oh that body/ Oh that face makes me wanna party.” I KNOW! But it’s so hauntingly perfect. Accept it. Move on.
6. Breaking Bad
I’m a huge fan of Dave Porter, the composer on Breaking Bad. His musical cues have added so much flavor to the show throughout its entire run. But the moment that stopped me dead was the end of Granite State when the full Breaking Bad theme plays over Walter’s disappearance. It was a hint of the Heisenberg to come. I believe I actually applauded its use.
It’s no secret that I loved this movie. I consider it the finest musical Disney has put out since the early 90s. There are a lot of enjoyable numbers to choose from (“Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People” is a personal favorite), but I think we have to pay proper respect to the power of Idina Menzel’s enormous voice. Queen Elsa, like a frosty little Maria Von Trapp, wanders the hills and finally gives in to her special gift. Both her vulnerability and pride come ringing through in Menzel’s performance.
4. Boardwalk Empire
This show, in their infinite wisdom, cast the lovely and talented Margot Bingham as nightclub singer Daughter Maitland. Bingham’s beautiful performances throughout the season made this one of the show’s best. There are a wealth of options to choose from but I think I have to pick this pas de deux between Margot and the captivated Chalky. It positively crackles.
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers and T-Bone Burnett know how to put on a musical. To date over 7 million copies of the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack have been sold. The songs from this folk music homage are just as delightful. Anchored by the film’s star, Oscar Isaac, the album also features Justin Timberlake, Chris Thile, Adam Driver, Carey Mulligan and her husband (I did not know this!) Marcus Mumford. It’s hard to pick the best track from the album (though the one I keep playing on repeat is the Peter, Paul and Mary cover “500 Miles”). That being said, it’s hard to imagine a moment more delightful than this silly novelty song from Isaac, Driver and a wounded Timberlake.
2. Game Of Thrones
I thought long and hard about this one. The more rational choice from this season of Game Of Thrones would be The Hold Steady’s raucous rendition of “The Bear And The Maiden Fair.” But even though it was originally introduced last year, I think I have to give this spot to “The Rains Of Castamere.” One of the most famous musical cues in modern literature was integral to the success of the most unforgettable television moment of the year. So for chilling our blood during The Red Wedding, the number two position goes to that haunting Lannister tune.
1. 12 Years A Slave
Something that director Steve McQueen has done well, historically, is put his trust in the strength of his actors and their ability to perform. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that he works with the best (Fassbender, Mulligan, Ejiofor). But a signature McQueen move is to leave his camera on an actor’s face in tight close-up loooong after we in the audience are comfortable. He forces you to look, really look, as his talented actors deliver heart-cracking and discomfiting performances. This is the case in both of his previous films Hunger and Shame.
McQueen is much less likely to use flashy camera work or editing tricks to manipulate you. He wants you to marinate in the moment. The most beautiful example of this technique in 12 Years A Slave is when Solomon (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), surrounded by his fellow slaves, listens to them sing the spiritual “Roll, Jordan, Roll.” The song repeats and repeats until finally Solomon, who has, this entire time, held himself as separate and a little above the rest, joins them. Ejiofor’s grief-stricken face both speaks to Solomon’s hopelessness of being rescued and the solace he finds in finally being a part of the community around him. He relaxes into the despair. Leans into it. You can get a glimpse of Ejiofor’s phenomenal performance (and lovely singing voice) in the trailer, or enjoy John Legend’s silkier version from the film’s soundtrack. I strongly advise you do both.