Local Music Journalist
This list is subjective of course as there are a ton of indie films with amazing soundtracks, so it would be impossible and ridiculous to mention all of them in a silly list curated by moi. As I am a fan of both movies or as the chronic Letterboxd users like to call them “films” (it’s me, I am the chronic Letterboxd user) and also being somebody who enjoys listening to music, well let’s just say I can appreciate a film a lot more when it has a complementary soundtrack to accompany it. Who doesn’t want to associate one of their favorite songs with a well-shot cinematic scene? With that being said, I’m sorry if I left out one of your favs but hopefully, you won’t be too disappointed by my list.
It’s been a while since I rewatched Her, but I remember it really resonated with me. Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, lives a lonely and melancholic life. The film takes place in the future where technology has been enhanced and a recently divorced Theodore purchases an A.I. operating system to help him deal with the heartbreak of his wife leaving. He names her Samantha and feelings soon ensue as they spend time with one another. Her is a beautiful film with stunning cinematography, which is why it deserved such a beautiful soundtrack to go along with it. The soundtrack mostly features instrumentals from the popular indie band, Arcade Fire, who composed most of the music for this film and they did an amazing job. “Song on the Beach” and “Photograph” are some of my favorite songs off the soundtrack both being sentimental and bittersweet piano pieces.
9. Donnie Darko (2001)
Now when you think of this cult favorite psychological thriller, the soundtrack might not be one of the first things to come to mind but Donnie Darko does have a good one, why would it be on here if it didn’t? Some popular songs off the film’s soundtrack are: “Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears, “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division and “Mad World” by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews, the latter being one of the most recognizable songs from the film. The new wave and post-punk theme of these select songs, as well as the rest of the other songs on the soundtrack, do a fantastic job in complementing the movie’s psychological plot, especially the song “Mad World” I mentioned earlier which plays at the very end of the movie. The song includes the lyrics “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” which I find fitting for the ending scene as the characters awake from trouble-induced dreams or nightmares, questioning whether the events that happened in their sleep were real or not.
Palo Alto is a movie directed by Gia Coppola and stars James Franco, Emma Roberts and Nat Wolff. It’s an indie coming of age film (as most of the films on this list are) and the movie just centers around a group of teens in highschool dealing with all the angst that comes with…being a teen in highschool I guess. It’s an easy, relatable watch because all of us reading this probably know what it’s like to navigate the crazy world of teenagehood. Downside is James Franco’s character is kind of a creep, you’ve been warned. Now I really didn’t add this movie on the list because of the movie itself, sure it’s good enough, but the soundtrack really makes it and that’s because most of it was composed by Devonte Hynes a.k.a Blood Orange. I’ve listened to the soundtrack way more times than I’ve actually watched the film because of how good Hynes original scores were, some of my favorites being “Palo Alto”, “April’s Daydream” and “Teddy Rides Home”. The soundtrack also features some of his work as Blood Orange with some of his most popular songs “Champagne Coast” and “You’re Not Good Enough” making appearances. Hynes does a perfect job encapsulating what it feels like to be an adolescent going through several different phases of life. Since working on Palo Alto in 2013, Hynes has produced many other soundtracks for movies such as Queen and Slim (2019), as well as the tv series We Are Who We Are (2020).
Submarine is a romance/coming of age movie and kinda has that quirky boy meets girl vibe going on which is why I of course love it. If you haven’t seen it yet I recommend you check it out; it’s funny, cute, has a relatable main character and of course — has an awesome soundtrack. Composed by Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, this soundtrack is one of my all time favs as well as the only thing that Alex Turner has released outside of Arctic Monkeys so even if you haven’t watched this movie you might have already heard some of the songs off the soundtrack. Some of which are “Hiding Tonight”, “Stuck on the Puzzle” and “Piledriver Waltz”.
Although I had heard great things about this soundtrack, I only actually watched this film recently on my two-hour plane ride from Minnesota back to Texas. I had actually even purchased the soundtrack cd before watching when I was there, so my standards were already pretty high. I wasn’t disappointed with my previous purchase though as the shoegaze scores featuring Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, along with one of My Bloody Valentine’s popular songs, “Sometime” off of their Loveless album, really matched the scenes of Scarlett Johansson’s character exploring the bustling city life of Tokyo. It also featured other artists such as Phoenix and The Jesus and Mary Chain which is why it secured a spot on my list, even for it being such a recent watch for me.
This is another movie that has absolutely amazing cinematography and although it would be pretty hard to match a soundtrack to the beautiful scenes that make up this film, it got the job done with the help of various talented artists, one of which being Sufjan Stevens. Before 2017, I had never even heard of Sufjan Stevens, but thanks to this movie I can confidently say he is one of my favorite artists and I know how to properly pronounce his name (slight flex I know, I know). Some of his songs that are featured in “Call Me By Your Name” are “Mystery of Love”, “Futile Devices” and “Visions of Gideon”. Also, who can forget the iconic dancing scene where Elio, Timothee Chalamet’s character, dances to “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs? There was a moment in time where that scene literally ruled my Tik Tok for you page back in 2020 for some reason and everybody was tryna recreate it. Without these songs, I definitely think that Call Me By Your Name would have lost some of its charm at least for me, personally.
This is another pretty popular movie that I’m sure most of you have already seen starring Michael Cera and Elliot Page. The movie’s plot centers around Juno (Elliot Page), a 16-year-old girl, who finds out that she’s pregnant, with her best friend Paulie’s (Michael Cera) child. After she decides against an abortion, she considers giving the baby up for adoption to a seemingly nice couple instead. However, things don’t necessarily go as planned for Juno as she continues to get to know the couple and becomes closer in particular to her future child’s father. The soundtrack is so cute and it just encapsulates the early 2000s twee, indie coming-of-age scene so well, along with the feelings of being young and in love. A lot of the songs are by Kimya Dawson, as well as her band The Moldy Peaches. “Anyone Else but You” is a popular song from this movie by The Moldy Peaches and the movie also features a super cute cover by Elliot Page and Michael Cera. Other popular indie and rock bands that were featured in this film are Belle and Sebastian, Sonic Youth and The Velvet Underground.
Surprise, surprise another movie featuring Michael Cera, I swear he was in any quirky music-centric indie film that took place from like 2005-2010 (I still love him though). Scott Pilgrim is another soundtrack I have on cd and for good reason as it’s packed full of great catchy songs. Some of my favorites are from the main character Scott’s garage rock-ish band Sex Bob-Omb, which for being a fictitious band had a lot of great hits, my personal faves being “Summertime” and “Threshold”. The soundtrack also includes songs from Metric (although Brie Larson’s version of “Black Sheep” is way better and that’s a FACT), Broken Social Scene and Beck. Fun fact the song that actually inspired Bryan O’Malley to write the graphic novel, therefore the movie that it’s based on, “Scott Pilgrim” by Plumtree also appears on the soundtrack.
I first watched this movie back when I was in middle or high school and boy did it have a significant impact on my life. I wanted to be Margo Tenenbaum so bad because of how cool and mysterious I thought she was. The soundtrack of course is astounding and some of my favorite scenes are based not only because of the scene itself but the music that was playing as well. For example – this comes with spoilers – but the scene where Richie is waiting for Margot to get off the bus after they haven’t seen each other in years and he finally sees her and “These Days” by Nico starts playing, that scene made me fall in love with that song. Another one is the scene where Richie is about to well… let’s just say do something very bad to himself and he’s staring at himself in the mirror and “Needle in the Hay” by Elliot Smith starts playing. That is one of my favorite scenes of all time, I’ll never get tired of watching it EVER. It’s literally all I think about when I hear that song.
I had to give this beloved movie first spot. I’m sure everyone has seen this film at least once. I mean if you haven’t you might as well live under a rock…no offense but c’mon it’s like THE coming of age film, the poster child of the genre itself– for this generation at least. I’m not gonna take too long on summarizing,but what I will tell you is the film features a variety of songs from famous indie/alternative artists such as: The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500, Pavement and much, much more. This soundtrack probably jump started every indie kids music taste, I mean I know it did for me… I had no right to be listening to “Asleep” by The Smiths 24/7 when I was an impressionable young teen. There’s also the iconic tunnel scene where Emma Roberts’ character stands on top of a car while driving down a tunnel as “Heroes” by David Bowie plays. Not saying that this movie is only appreciated because of its soundtrack but it definitely does a great job in defining it, as music plays a huge role for the main characters and the overall story itself.
There you have it guys, the soundtracks of the movies that crafted and shaped my music taste for the past 10 years of my life and made me insufferable for good indie movie soundtracks. If you guys haven’t watched any of the movie mentioned and are interested in watching a film with a good plot, stunning cinematography and a spectacular soundtrack, consider watching any of the ones I mentioned above so you can mark them as watched on your Letterboxd account and write an entry that says something along the lines of “wow this film had an amazing soundtrack, I’m so glad that somebody cool and awesome recommended this to me in an article I read.” Just kidding and by the way, this article is NOT sponsored by Letterboxd, full disclosure.
Written by: Preethi Mangadu