1. Huey Lewis, Phil Collins, and Whitney Houston; American Psycho (2000)
Music has long been championed in film, but usually it’s done via soundtrack. In some cases, though, characters in movies take it upon themselves to proselytize, or otherwise preach to an unconverted character when it comes to a certain band or songwriter. Granted, it’s not usually done to the extreme Patrick Bateman goes through in American Psycho. Throughout the film, the mass murderer uses his cheery and precise motivational-speaker style to convince his victims of the aesthetic and even sociopolitical importance of sterile ’80s pop like Huey Lewis, Phil Collins, and Whitney Houston. “I think [Genesis’] Invisible Touch is the group’s undisputed masterpiece,” he tells two prostitutes in his immaculate apartment. “It’s an epic meditation on intangibility.” One might say the same about the dissonant notes of Bateman’s own moral code.
2. The Time, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
Jay and Silent Bob aren’t savvy about much, but they do know when a musician deserves massive respect for his craft. That’s one reason the pair are huge fans of Minneapolis smooth operator Morris Day and his band The Time—and leap to his defense when he (and, more specifically, his classic single “Jungle Love”) are disrespected by some snot-nosed kids. In true Jay form, passion trumps eloquence as he makes his argument: “You don’t know ‘Jungle Love?’ That shit is the mad notes. Written by God Herself and handed down to the greatest band in the world—the motherfucking Time.” For good measure, Jay throws one of the hooligans against a building when he continues dissing the band, and repeats his main point: “Don’t you never say an unkind word about The Time!”
3. The Jesus And Mary Chain and Stiff Little Fingers, High Fidelity (2000)
This brief scene from Championship Vinyl epitomizes the personality differences between the store’s main clerks, Barry and Dick. The former (as played by Jack Black) is a curmudgeonly snob with impeccable musical taste, a fact he makes clear to everyone around him. When faced with a hapless Echo & The Bunnymen fan who admitted skepticism about the Jesus And Mary Chain, Barry is appalled; he picks up a copy of Psychocandy, tosses it to the ignoramus and practically spits out, “I can’t believe that you don’t own this fucking record. That’s insane. Jesus!” Meanwhile, at the counter, soft-spoken Dick (Todd Louiso) is wooing Anaugh (Sara Gilbert) by dropping some punk science concerning Green Day’s influences. Hesitantly, he tells Anaugh that he thinks she “would really love” one of their predecessors (Stiff Little Fingers) and cues up “Suspect Device.” He shifts around nervously as she listens, hoping that his awkward half-recommendation seals the deal—and smiles with relief when it absolutely does.
4. The Shins, Garden State (2004)
Manic Pixie Dream Girl, meet Sensitive Male Depressive. In 2004’s Garden State, a headphones-toting Natalie Portman, who’s a quirky ray of light in an otherwise dreary doctor’s office waiting room, enchants Zach Braff’s character. Her subsequent preaching about indie rockers The Shins is light on substance and heavy on flirtation: “You know ’em? You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear,” she says, just before curling up in the chair next to him and teasing him about being talented enough to listen to the song while filling out forms. This casual approach is absolutely effective here—as Braff hears “New Slang” for the first time, he sees Portman transform into a luminous creature right in front of him, kicking off a love affair for the band and the girl.
5. Elvis Presley, Coffee And Cigarettes (2003)
Many of the vignettes in Jim Jarmusch’s anthology Coffee And Cigarettes feature musicians, but only the segment “Twins” is about a particular artist. Joie and Cinqué Lee (Spike Lee’s siblings) are trying to enjoy their coffee and cigarettes when inept waiter Steve Buscemi interrupts them. Seeing that they’re twins, Buscemi launches into an uninvited discourse on Elvis Presley, and a wild theory that Elvis’ stillborn twin, Jesse, had in fact survived, and impersonated his brother later in life. According to the theory, the tacky, jumpsuit-clad, Vegas-era Elvis was actually Jesse tarnishing the Presley legacy. When Joie accuses Elvis of stealing black music, Buscemi nervously pins that on the evil twin as well. Jarmusch is no stranger to The King, as an earlier film, the Memphis-set Mystery Train, is overflowing with Elvis references, including an extended scene where each pair of characters the film follows (Cinqué Lee and Buscemi among them) listen to Presley’s recording of “Blue Moon.”
6. Sonic Youth, Juno (2007)
The middle act of Juno has Ellen Page’s pregnant teen bonding with her baby’s prospective adoptive parents. Initially, she’s put off by high-strung, overly serious Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and charmed by hip, relaxed Mark (Jason Bateman). The two bond over music when Mark plays her “Superstar,” Sonic Youth’s contribution to the excellent If I Were A Carpenter tribute album. Mark says of the album, “It is God,” and offers to burn Juno a copy. Although she’s initially smitten, she comes to realize his impeccable taste in music can’t make up for his inability to grow up or take responsibility for impending fatherhood. When Vanessa and Mark split up, Juno remembers that she’s looking for a parent for her baby and not just a cool older friend to hang out with, and suddenly high-strung and overly serious doesn’t look so bad. She decides to let Vanessa raise the baby, and tells off Mark by impugning his favorite band. “I bought another Sonic Youth album and it sucked,” she throws back in his face. “It’s just noise.”
7. Mozart, Amadeus (1984)
Why settle for a scene of someone extolling a musician’s virtues to a layman when you can have an entire movie of it? In Amadeus, Antonio Salieri’s last confession (to a priest who claims to love music but who’s never heard of Salieri, ouch) is a paean to Mozart’s work and the dangers of coming face to face with genius. Salieri’s descriptions of Mozart’s transformative skill betray him; as with all music that changes us, every explanation is an unconscious biography. (“And then, suddenly, high above it, an oboe. A single note, hanging there, unwavering… Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing!”) But such transcendent music also forces Salieri to realize his own mediocrity: He’s good enough to appreciate Mozart, but helpless to emulate him. Eventually his case for Mozart’s excellence becomes a consuming resentment of music he idolizes despite himself. It’s a startlingly honest admission of the engine of envy that often powers our deepest loves, and only underscores Mozart’s genius: The praise of an enemy is the greatest praise of all.
8. Bob Dylan, Annie Hall (1977)
Not all attempts at winning musical converts are successful. Take the hilariously uncomfortable conversation between Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and his blind date, a reporter played by Shelley Duvall. While walking backstage at a concert, she starts quoting “Just Like A Woman” as an example of Bob Dylan’s songwriting prowess (and her own cultural cachet). Singer, unimpressed, coughs audibly when asked he if caught the Dylan concert, and says he missed it, because his “raccoon had hepatitis.” Fans and haters of Dylan alike have something to enjoy in this scene. Although Duvall’s fawning pro-Dylan stance is rightfully skewered, Allen (the writer and director as well as star) also suggests that Singer’s complete dismissal of her is exemplary of his inability to expand his horizons.
9. Kiss, Role Models (2008)
One of the sweeter entries from the ’00s bromance boom, David Wain’s Role Models is at its core a comedy about people’s need to find others who accept their interests, no matter how uncool those interests are. For Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s nerdy teenager, that passion is live action role-playing, while for Bobb’e J. Thompson’s prepubescent miscreant, it’s an age-inappropriate obsession with breasts. That makes Thompson a good match for his court-mandated big brother Sean William Scott, a manchild devoted to the greatest horndog rock band of the ’70s—Kiss. In the scene that fortifies their bond, Scott revels in the opportunity to sell his young mentee on the group. “These are four of the smartest guys who ever lived,” he explains. “They’re these Jewish guys who grew up in New York and they put on guitars and makeup to get girls, and all their songs are about fucking.” Thompson enthusiastically approves, and the two rock out together to “Love Gun,” a song “about Paul Stanley’s dick and how this girl is going to get some of his dick.”
10. Cheap Trick, Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
In order to find success as a ticket scalper, it helps to be able to deliver a passionate speech about the merits of the musicians who are coming in concert, and at Ridgemont High, no one knows how to sell a show quite like Mike Damone. While there are certainly some instances where Damone’s praise is strictly a salesman blowing smoke, his kudos for Cheap Trick seem to come straight from the heart. Then again, maybe they didn’t: the band’s commercial fortunes were on the decline at the time, which means that he probably had a stockpile of tickets that he was doing everything in his power to get rid of. Either way, Damone delivers an impressive defense of the band to a potential consumer in less than 30 seconds, praising the magnetism of Robin Zander and the charisma of Rick Nielsen before delivering a rapid-fire medley of “I Want You To Want Me,” “Dream Police,” and “Surrender.” He’s hauled away by Stacy Hamilton before he can actually seal the deal, but his comments have served to keep Cheap Trick fresh in the minds of Fast Times viewers ever since.
11. Rush, I Love You, Man (2009)
It’s a testament to how much Peter Klaven loves his fiancée that he doesn’t completely lose his mind when, after he tells her that he and his buddy Syd have learned how to play a couple of Rush songs, she asks, “What, do you mean, like, fast-paced rock?” That’s not to say that he doesn’t acknowledge a certain amount of shock that she’s so unfamiliar with “the holy triumvirate” that even his brief rendition of “Tom Sawyer” fails to ring any bells, but his astonishment is quickly replaced with the thrill of being the one to pop her Rush cherry, as it were. Sadly, she’s at best mildly impressed when the sounds of “Limelight” emerge from his computer (“It sounds better on big speakers,” he assures her), with his decision to play air bass with a Jamaican accent likely doing neither him nor the band any favors. Still, given Rush’s longstanding history as a “guy’s band,” it was probably the best reaction he could’ve hoped for.
12. Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Jerry Maguire (1996)
Cameron Crowe couldn’t resist tossing a little music nerdery into his 1996 film about sports agent Jerry (Tom Cruise) and his attempts to find meaning in his life again. On the cusp of sleeping with Dorothy, the single mother who left her job to join his fledgling firm, her son’s nanny stops him. A Gen-X burnout named Chad (Todd Louiso), he is a largely extraneous character, one of the many colorful figures in Dorothy’s life. He’s twitchy, spacey, and bald, and he exudes a New Age neurotic-turned-chillness that Jerry finds baffling. At the door, Chad earnestly entreats Jerry to treat her right. Then, struck by an impulse, he presses a cassette into Jerry’s hands: A recording of John Coltrane and Miles Davis in Stockholm in 1963: “two masters of freedom, playing in a time before their art was corrupted by a zillion cocktail lounge performers who destroyed the legacy of the only American art form—jazz.” Crowe wants to poke fun at the sentiment more than anything, and Chad is so hyperbolic in his praise that even though he pushes the tape at Jerry, he has trouble letting go of it. Later Dorothy and Jerry listen to it in bed, and Jerry asks, drunk and amused: “What is this?” It’s a riot of masterful sound, a disjointed, staccato frenzy. In short, it’s jazz, Jerry.