Soundtracking is a regular column that appears on Cineplex.com looking at the music featured in the biggest new releases both in theatre and on home video. Shane McNeil looks at the top musical moments from 2015.

Originally published on Cineplex.com – December 26, 2015.

This year might be remembered as the one where music came to life on the big screen.

Devoid of the huge soundtrack smashes of the past two years – Frozen and Guardians of the Galaxy, respectively – 2015 featured a myriad of musical legends getting their cinematic moments. Whether it was the smaller-run documentary treatment enjoyed by the likes of Kurt Cobain and Nina Simone or the blockbuster bravado afforded N.W.A. … Behind the music appeared to be the order of the year.

But that wasn’t all that highlighted the year’s greatest musical movie moments. From disco astronauts to an all-timer of a dance sequence and beyond: Here’s a run-down of the 10 best moments in soundtracking from 2015.

10. The future is the past in The Martian

The Martian – one of the year’s biggest hits – finds Mark Watney (Matt Damon) left alone on a desolate planet with only his will to survive. So, one would assume that there’s not much to be had on the soundtrack front. Fortunately, one of his Ares Mission colleagues left a little something behind… An extensive disco mp3 library. Near the end of the film, Watney’s suffering gels with the audio trove left behind for him, as he faces the prospect of his own personal ‘Waterloo’.


9. Noah Baumbach doubles up

Adam Driver, Ben Stiller, While We're Young, photo

Movie-goers got two joints from off-beat auteur Noah Baumbach this year. While We’re Young dropped in the spring, while he followed quickly with Mistress America for the fall festival circuit. In true Baumbach fashion, both made clever use of music: the former riding a blend of nostalgia and hipster appeal to show a generational divide while the latter used the likes of OMD and Hot Chocolate for a fine road-trip mix.


8. Paul Dano finds ‘Good Vibrations’

Paul Dano, Love & Mercy, photo

The first of the great musical lives on screen to make the list was also one of the earliest to drop in 2015. Paul Dano and John Cusack teamed up to find the madness and the mastery of Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy. While not always a happy story, one of the moments of pure joy in the film comes when Dano’s Wilson and fellow Beach Boy Mike Love (played by Jake Abel) stumble onto the foundation of one of the greatest achievements in the history of pop music.


7. Dre and Cube do Dre and Cube

Straight Outta Compton, photo

Hip hop has been around long enough to have its share of legends, yet the art of the rap biopic is still in its infancy. But an interesting trend is emerging with the ones that are getting made… An element of self-determination. It began in 2009 with the Sean Combs-produced Notorious B.I.G. biopic and continued this year with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube getting producing credits on their own story: Straight Outta Compton. It set a new bar for re-telling hip hop history and leaves one wondering who could be next… Though let’s face it, it’s probably gonna be Jay-Z.


6. A new kind of teenage soundtrack

You hear the title Diary of a Teenage Girl and you expect a certain kind of soundtrack. Maybe it’s the Twilight model of hot indie acts leaving nuggets for a new audience. Maybe it’s the Perks of Being a Wallflower model of going retro and drenching tweens in a wave of great pop. But the thing is, it’s not that kind of film and it’s not that kind of soundtrack. Instead the Sundance standout about a 15-year-old’s unorthodox sexual awakening in the 1970s delivered everything from Heart to T-Rex to Television.


5. A not-so-Mellow yellow

Kudos to whoever bank-rolled the Minions soundtrack. Sure, it’s set roughly around the same time as the British Invasion. And, yeah, dropping The Kinks and The Who and Donovan is a nice reward for some of the parents that might not have been the target audience. Eclipsing all that, though is what they did to a Singin’ in the Rain classic:


4. One for the crate-diggers

For U.K. audiences, Northern Soul re-lived one of the defining musical styles of the nation’s storied musical history. Across, the pond, however, it shed some light on what British kids turned to after The Beatles and The Rolling Stones hit the big time. The quaintest part of the film’s narrative, though, is the notion that once not so long ago, you could keep a song to yourself and – if you told no one its title – set off a treasure hunt to find one elusive disc that could set a whole scene on fire.


3. A different dash of soul

Three incredible soul voices anchored stellar documentaries in 2015. The highest profile was undoubtedly the tragedy of Amy Winehouse’s untimely end captured in Amy. One to look out for in wide release in 2016 (fingers crossed) was the TIFF crowd-pleaser Miss Sharon Jones, about the eponymous soul dynamo’s battle with cancer. But of the lot, Netflix’s What Happened, Miss Simone? Is the most intriguing for capturing the life of an enigma that shunned fame (Nina Simone) and, in the process, getting a stellar contribution from another artist who has already begun to head down that path (Lauryn Hill).


2. This. Dance. Sequence.

The movie is Ex Machina. The song is “Get Down, Saturday Night” by Oliver Cheatham. No further explanation is required.


1. The year’s dopest soundtrack

Despite all its box office success, there was a film that did more for hip hop in 2015 than Straight Outta Compton. As Dope’s protagonist Malcolm (Shameik Moore) lives and breathes the golden era of hip hop. In his words that’s everything from Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” to Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint”. The film’s unbelievable soundtrack lives (mostly) within those milestones hitting everything from Digable Planets to Nas to A Tribe Called Quest. While the film’s closing credit sequence begs to be watched on loop, it’s Naughty By Nature that sets the tone.