We continue our fortnight of top tens looking back at 2021 and looking forward to 2022:
Thank the lord (or your streaming provider of choice) for this year’s plethora of home viewing gems. The dystopian nightmare of this year would have been even harder to bear had there not been a range of excellent television shows, films, and games to keep us entertained. Here are our picks for the best musical moments from some of them:
Bo Burnham – Inside – Though this was billed as a comedy, it was far more than that. It is funny, but also disturbing, anxiety inducing, and raw. Throughout Inside, Bo Burnham encapsulates so much of what life has felt like pandemic and being locked down. The scatterbrained loss of time, depressive lows and deranged highs. All this through musical vignettes and sketches. Even without the substance of the special, it is impressive on a technical level as he put everything together himself. The songs are really well crafted, the shots look and editing are brilliant. It is the only truly great piece of media that I have seen that directly addresses the past few years.
Limbo – Omar’s oud represents so many things in this film. His most prized possession. Literal baggage that he carried all the way from Syria, and continues to carry with him, often with hilarious awkwardness, everywhere he goes on the remote Scottish island where he now finds himself. It’s a connection to his past and his family and reminder of the life he once had and the talent many people enjoyed. Snippets of memory hint at his oud playing back home, but we don’t hear it. The characters plan a performance of Syrian music on the island. But still we don’t hear it. Omar cannot face playing his oud, and thus stirring up painful memories and reconnecting with his now distant and inaccessible family, in particular his brother, a rebel fighter back home. It is not until a vision of his brother appears to him, and a reconciliation of sorts take place, that Omar can face playing again. The tension is built masterfully until the release, through the power of music, near the film’s end.
Sound of Metal – Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal is ostensibly a film about music, but it’s really remarkable for how it uses sound in general. I watched it at home and yet was still overwhelmed by the way it uses volume and noise to give viewers a whole new perspective on hearing – a sense that many of us take for granted. It opens with Riz Ahmed’s Ruben pounding his drum kit to frankly dangerous levels, then later in the film a similar scene has the sound abruptly cutting out to illustrate his sudden hearing loss. It’s a shocking effect, and one that is all too real for those who have had the gift of hearing taken from them in an instant. We spend hours of each day discovering new music, watching television, and communicating with each other. This outstanding film was a reminder to appreciate the sensory tool that adds so much joy to these experiences.
Doom Patrol – Doom Patrol is a superhero show that is not like the others. With its crew of misfit ‘heroes’, the weird paranormal tone plus storylines that involve getting stuck inside a multidimensional donkey, it definitely stands out. Setting it apart even further is the fantastic needle drops that are used for set piece scenes. Often these moments are allowed to breathe for 3+ minutes. This includes using almost all of David Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’ as to accompany one character coming to terms with their true nature. Or Frank Ocean’s ‘Moon River’ when someone says goodbye to their dying son. At the other end of the emotional spectrum there is an acting lesson that turned into a maniacal version of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’. It’s clear that the show is being written with the music in mind.
Final Fantasy VII REMAKE (AGAIN)
Yes I included Final Fantasy VII REMAKE in last year’s list, but thanks to the INTEGRADE additional content released earlier this year we were treated to loads of new music to enjoy. I’m counting this again because nothing has come close musically for me in 2021 gaming. We got more reinvented music from the original Playstation release, but also loads of new music themed around lead character Yuffie and her place in the world as a Thief from Wutai.
2021 was a year full of Final Fantasy music for me though, lead composer Nobuo Uematsu is my 3rd most listened to artist of the year! So If I was going to include anything it had to be music from this incredible game again.
Squid Game – It’s with good reason that Squid Game was inescapable. With it’s highly stylised appearance, nuanced characters and stark messaging on capitalism it is incredibly engaging. Something else that really grabbed me was the fantastic score. As the visuals of the show are the bright colors of children’s games, the music is often there as a reminder of the true nature of the show. Preventing you from getting comfy. The haunting choral reminds me of many highpoints in horror. Such as the similarly stylized Us that opens with creepy chanting as you watch cute rabbits hop around. Or the ominous howling as the Torrance family drives through the beautiful Rocky Mountains in The Shining. This juxtaposition warns of the horror to come. A brutality that hides round every corner while playing the Squid Game.
Succession – As TV’s most despicable siblings reach the height of their falling out in Season 3 of Succession, Shiv and Roman have decided to side with their father and stand by his side as his media company faces accusations of covering up years of sexual assaults that were rife on their cruiselines. Kendall is on the other side. Whether he is making this stand because he cares about the victims, or because he will do anything to destroy his father, is up for you to decide.
But as Shiv stands up to speak at the shareholders meeting, to tell the hundreds of investors in the company that they are completing a full investigation into all wrongdoings, some music suddenly starts to blare out of speakers that have been concealed around the room. Her words are drowned out. It takes a few seconds to realising that the song is Nirvana’s ‘Rape Me’, and a few seconds longer to releasing that this is Kendall’s attempt at a protest against his relatives. It is a shocking and grimly hilarious moment that sums up the true horror of this horrendous family. It’s TV gold.
Summer of Soul – For anyone that doesn’t know what this is, it’s a documentary built around footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival 1969, footage that was first ignored and then forgotten about for 50 years. It was a massive event in the black community of New York City, and beyond, but one that was overshadowed by the likes of Woodstock and the moon landing. The film brings the live music together with interviews from artists and attendees, plus plenty of historical and cultural context. A must for anyone who loves music, regardless of whether soul, funk and gospel is your cup of tea. Don’t miss Mavis Staples, Sly and the Family Stone and that Stevie Wonder drum solo.
Spiritfarer – After animal crossing last year my wife and I carried on digging into cosy games. And the highlight this year has been Spiritfarer. You are tasked with replacing Charon; the guide for people in the afterlife. Despite the games focus on death, it is a warm and fun game as you help people complete their unfinished business. The instrumental score really helps with this tone as it maintains an ethereal like nature, while also being optimistic. It never loses its charm along the way regardless of whether you’re doing some laid back fishing or navigating your way through a storm. It’s a perfect accompaniment as you sail the Styx.
It’s a Sin – Given that it’s named after an actual song, it would’ve been hard to leave It’s a Sin out of this list. But that isn’t the only reason that music was integral to the show. From the tender karaoke, to the club nights, to the mournful moments in hospital beds, every part of this program about the AIDS epidemic was made more impressive and emotional by its carefully crafted soundtrack.
The most amazing thing about it, for me at least, was that the majority of the music used wasn’t anything I would ever choose to listen to. But the way it was used to evoke an era, create a mood, and tug on the heartstrings, was flawless.