2023's Best Needle Drops

2023's Best Needle Drops

February 21, 2024 in DJ Picks

by DJ Duderanch

Despite months of union strikes, 2023 still managed to bless us with some powerhouse pictures. But the use of music this time around felt particularly special, so in lieu of a "Best Movies" list, here are a few of my favorite needle drops in films I watched last year.

Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in BlackBerry

Canadian release BlackBerry told of the meteoric rise and disastrous downfall of the BlackBerry empire before Apple’s first iPhone. In this film, Glenn Howerton plays the role of the business savvy, morally ambiguous investor who blasts the product into the mainstream, and whose ambition hammered the final nail in the company’s coffin. I included this here simply because I find it hilarious that the second time we meet him, after a nail-biter of an introduction, he drives his convertible with the top down blasting grunge classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” A subtle but effective way of portraying this supposed beast as an emo tumultuous mess.

Charli XCX’s “party 4 u” in Bottoms

Bottoms features up-and-coming stars Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott as loser lesbians making their way through a comically evil, almost ironically surreal senior year of high school. The movie’s original soundtrack, composed partially by Charli XCX and co-produced by her longtime collaborator A.G Cook, carries a sense of airy nostalgia and melancholy also found in her pandemic release how i’m feeling now. Thus, “party 4 u” fits so well as the final needle drop, that those ill-informed could simply assume she wrote it for the film. Havana Rose Liu plays sweet Isabel, the “u” to Edebiri’s Josie, who starts off oblivious to Josie’s obvious pining but lets herself be swooned by the final act. Bottoms’ thesis comes from the teenage obsessiveness of falling in love for the first time, and if you’re a lesbian loser like the movie’s main duo (and me!), the one-sidedness of it all. This sense of putting on a show for the one you love, doing whatever it takes to get that person to even notice you, permeates into Charli’s song and works as a pretty bow tied atop a perfect, modern teenage romcom.

“Called your digits but the phone kept ringing / Wish I knew what you were thinking… / Dancin on to your favorite tunes / Hope you walk in the party / Cause I threw the party just for you”

Pet Shop Boys’ “Rent” in Saltburn

Unfortunately for me, Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, a film with which I have incredible beef, had a fairly star-studded soundtrack. I’m sure you expect “Murder on the Dancefloor” here, and while I do agree that song stood out as proved by TikTok clips and DJs at gay bars everywhere, Pet Shop Boys’ “Rent” fully embodied the main storyline through classic 80s synth-pop. The movie’s convoluted theme (Poor people are evil and vindictive…? Rich people aren’t all bad…? Let me know if you figure it out) reaches a head in this scene: the working class infiltrator, Barry Keoghan’s Oliver, vs. the privileged manchild, Archie Madekwe’s Farleigh. The manchild uses what he knows best, immature humiliation. Presented as a karaoke tune, Oliver becomes the jester for these rich assholes, singing the lines,

“You dress me up / I’m your puppet / You buy me things / I love it”

before realizing they don’t see him as an equal. They see him as one to be pitied. One to be gawked and laughed at. It raises the emotional stakes and dips the audience into pure anxiety, waiting to see what comes next for this lost boy in the middle of unknown territory.

Richard Reeve Perry’s “Live That Way Forever” in Iron Claw

Released near the end of December last year, Sean Durkin’s biopic about an 80’s Texan wrestling family just barely made my 2023 list and still flew past most of my choices for my favorite movies of the year. This deceptively straightforward story on the journey and curse of the Von Erich’s uses the music of its time brilliantly, with classic dad-rock records like “Don’t Fear the Reaper'' and “Tom Sawyer'' decorating the film’s poetically framed scenes. My personal standout star features the one original song performed “live” in the movie by the youngest and artistically inclined Von Erich brother, Mike, played by Stanley Simons. The siblings drive Mike to his band’s gig at a college party after their parents told him not to waste his time on the whole music thing. Here, he sings “Live That Way Forever,” a Richard Reed Perry original, to an audience of party goers and most importantly, his brothers. I’m not a sports fan by any means, but the heart found beyond the fighting montages pumps through the glitz and glamor, resonating with anyone in the audience who feels a complicated kind of love for their family. The song cuts the film neatly down the middle, before the true tragedy starts, and reiterates the film's theme: the unbreakable bond between brothers often becomes one’s sole chance of survival.

“I got a fever these days / Revved up like a riot at the end of a game / Come on, open the gates / I’m hangin’ on to this feelin’ til they drag me away / I wanna live that way forever…”

Blur’s “Death of a Party” in All of us Strangers

As an Ireland and Paul Mescal enthusiast, All of Us Strangers seemed to be cooking with gas from the get-go. Andrew Haigh’s newest project tackles loss, grief and love in one beautifully tragic package. I recommend going in blind like I did, because the ball drop here shakes you to your core when you aren’t expecting it. This movie, much like Iron Claw, uses a needle drop to separate one act from the next. Blur’s “Death of a Party” plays in the background of the film's club scene, right after Andrew Scott’s Adam takes a hit of ketamine in a gay club bathroom. The song’s psychedelic and drunk feel adds a splash of dreadful color as the story slowly devolves into senselessness, Adam falling deeper and deeper into his drug-induced panic. The scene continues with almost no dialogue, opting instead to tell of his inner turmoil through the lyrics,

“The death of the teenager / Standing on his own / Why did he bother? / Should have slept alone / Another night….”

The tone drastically shifts from this point forward, switching from a grounded romance to something closer to magical realism. As one Letterboxd user put it, “the average K-hole.”

“Go to another party and hang myself / Gently on the shelf”

Calle 13’s Atrévete Te Te and Soda Stereo's Nada Personal in Blue Beetle

Calling a superhero movie one of my favorites of the year feels almost wrong. Scorsese himself describes the Marvel franchise as “amusement park films,” consisting of quick and simply delivered fun with no real substance below the surface. But Blue Beetle takes the superhero format and injects pura Mexicanada directly into its veins. This film contains some of the most accurate depictions of the family dynamics, societal implications and cultural norms of the average Mexican American family. For the first time in my life, I watched an American movie where I related wholeheartedly to the Mexican characters being portrayed on screen. The attention to detail floored me, from the Virgen de Guadalupe altar to the uncomfortable plastic mantel that we find on many of our abuelita’s dining room tables. But the soundtrack pushed the representation over the edge. As Calle 13’s reggaeton staple Atrévete Te Te played five minutes into the first act, tears started flowing before we had even met the titular character for the first time. I watched Blue Beetle in theaters with my parents after several months apart. Living in a city hours away from the primarily Hispanic community I grew up in, this movie offered me a sense of comfort and belonging I never realized I needed until I found myself in hysterics over the smallest references and inside jokes. I spent the rest of the film shocked at its quality, its soundtrack offering us classic after classic, all songs I grew up listening to with my mom as she drove me to school. The finale tune, Nada Personal by Mexican rock powerhouses Café Tacvba, took me back to Sunday mornings in my childhood home and solidified Blue Beetle as the new movie my family and I watch whenever I go back to visit. And I will be more than happy to oblige every time.

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