The five records that occupy the highest spots on our list all have one thing in common: a sense of cohesion. While there’s undoubtedly a lot of fun in a collection that veers from hip-hop to punk to sad-eyed college rock, it’s more impressive when the soundtrack feels like it’s been truly thought through as an integral part of the movie. These five all achieved that, whether it’s Elliott Smith unbearably beautiful folk playing as Will Hunting drives away to win back his love, or Buffalo Tom’s angstily lovestruck ‘Late At Night’ swooning along with Angela Chase as Jordan Catellano finally takes her hand in public.
GROSSE POINT BLANK – Between this and the High Fidelity soundtrack, you can imagine that John Cusack has quite the record collection. Grosse Point Blank is one of the best films and best soundtracks of the decade, a pitch-black comedy that uses its high school reunion setting as an excuse to load the soundtrack with some 80s classics (Queen, Violent Femmes) and a hefty dose of proper ska from The Clash, The Specials and The English Beat.
Highlights – Violent Femmes’ irresistible ‘Blister In The Sun’; ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ aka the best song The Clash ever wrote; Faith No More’s snapping, infectious ‘We Care A Lot’.
EMPIRE RECORDS – Films set in record stores are duty bound to have decent soundtracks but there’s a huge gap between the record geek sounds of High Fidelity and the calorific sugar buzz and lovelorn indie angst favoured by the beautiful kids of Empire Records. There’s not a bad song here and a few that deserved to be massive hits in their own right.
Highlights – Gin Blossoms (one of the most unfairly maligned alt rock bands of the decade) with the fantastically catchy ‘Til I Hear It From You’; ‘Crazy Life’ by Toad The Wet Sprocket (superstars in the US, unknowns here); Evan Dando’s gorgeous cover of Big Star’s ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’.
GOOD WILL HUNTING – The image of a white-suited, blatantly unwell Elliott Smith standing on stage at the Oscars, singing ‘Miss Misery’ is one that still haunts to this day. The song is unspeakably beautiful and that it lost to ‘My Heart Will Go On’ is one of the Oscars’ greatest miscarriages of justice. The Good Will Hunting soundtrack is partly a primer for prospective Smith fans, containing three highlights from Either/Or and one from Roman Candle.
Highlights – ‘Miss Misery’, probably the most beautiful song on any of the 20 records on this list; Smith’s ode to drinking through the sorrow ‘Between The Bars’; The Waterboys’ knees-up, hair-down ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, a respite from Smith’s gentle, achingly sad folk.
MY SO-CALLED LIFE – As we said earlier, the best soundtracks are the ones that feel embedded in the fabric of the film (or TV show, in this case) in a way that the two become forever intertwined. Just ask Buffalo Tom, who saw a sudden uptick in younger fans after ‘Late At Night’ soundtracked Angela’s big moment with Jordan. You can imagine Angela putting all of these bands on a mix tape for Jordan – one he’d never actually listen to, the massive berk.
Highlights – ‘Late At Night’ is here but Buffalo Tom’s anthemic ‘Sodajerk’ stands out more; Toad The Wet Sprocket (again!) with ‘Fall Down’, one of their best songs; Juliana Hatfield’s lovely ‘Make It Home’; the slowly building tension of Afghan Whigs’ ‘Fountain & Fairfax’.
ANGUS – Chances are you don’t remember Angus. Even the cast of Kathy Bates, George C Scott, James Van Der Beek and Ariana Richards (of Jurassic Park fame) probably don’t remember Angus, but this sweet, funny story of the fat, clever kid who upstages the jock and gets the girl was very much against the grain at the time, especially as Charlie Talbert doesn’t transform into a massive hunk in order to do so (we’re looking at you She’s All That). The soundtrack is filled with anthems for weirdos and geeks everywhere, leaning on the loud and catchy likes of Green Day, Weezer, Ash and Goo Goo Dolls.
Highlights – Green Day’s ‘JAR’, a short, sharp blast of three-chord, hyper-caffeinated brilliance; Goo Goo Dolls’ best Replacements impersonation on ‘Ain’t That Unusual’; Love Spit Love (side project of The Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler) with the elegant angst of ‘Am I Wrong’.