Director Danny Boyle's movies are memorable for many reasons, not least of which is the music he uses. Whether collaborating with trusted composers or choosing specific songs to underscore key scenes, the man obviously puts a lot of thought into what his films sound like.
For his latest, '127 Hours,' he again enlisted A.R. Rahman, the Indian composer/producer/musician responsible for the propulsive score to 'Slumdog Millionaire,' which so aptly captured the energy of Mumbai. Rahman's music to Boyle's new movie is more eclectic and atmospheric, reflecting both the expansiveness of its Utah setting and the psyche of James Franco's character, who must do the unthinkable to survive. Typically, it plays a huge part in the film.
Thinking back on the director's previous work, we recall equally compelling music. Here are seven examples of Boyle scenes buoyed by great music. (Spoiler warning for those who haven't yet seen 'Sunshine,' 'Shallow Grave' or 'Slumdog Millionaire.')
'Shallow Grave': 'Happy Heart' (Andy Williams), final scene
Boyle's cheeky directorial debut was the darkly funny tale of three Edinburgh friends (Ewan McGregor in his first starring role, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox) whose fourth roommate dies, leaving a suitcase full of cash. After disposing of the body, Eccleston's character becomes unhinged and paranoid, ultimately leading to betrayal and a bloody final showdown. At the end of the movie, Alex (McGregor) is pinned to the floor with a knife and we assume that Fox's character has escaped with the money. Then Alex begins to smile, as we hear the sweet opening notes of Andy Williams' jubilant love song; the music swells and we see why he's so happy. The movie ends on a uplifting note, literally.
'Trainspotting': 'Lust for Life' (Iggy Pop), intro
The 1996 movie that established Boyle's reputation as an astonishingly creative (and fearless) director has one of the most memorable intro scenes in film. To the hyper opening drumbeat of Iggy Pop's deadpan paen to the junkie lifestyle, Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) run down the street pursued by security guards, as McGregor's sarcastic voice-over monologue ("choose life") begins. As the song continues, we're introduced via a slapstick soccer match to the main cast, some of whom we next see shooting up in a bleak-looking flat, as a baby crawls around on the floor. It's a raw, funny, and horrifying beginning that immediately sets the movie's nihilistic tone; and the music is spot-on.
'Trainspotting': 'Perfect Day' (Lou Reed), overdose scene
Renton falls off the methadone wagon and visits his dealer (Peter Mullan) for a sickeningly graphic fix. As the drug kicks in and he falls -- seemingly through the floor -- unconscious, Reed's song begins; a gorgeous, somber expression of romantic memories, generally assumed to allude to (what else?) heroin. The song accompanies Renton's trip to the hospital, after Mullan's character literally drags his inert body down the stairs and leaves him outside the emergency room. He's jolted awake by a life-saving adrenalin shot as Reed repeatedly sings, 'You're going to reap just what you sow.' Devastating.
'28 Days Later': 'East Hastings' (Godspeed You! Black Emperor), deserted London scene
Near the beginning of Boyle's 2002 horror movie, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a London hospital, unaware that the zombie-like "Infected" have wiped out most of the city. He walks around the deserted building in eerie silence, then goes outside. The haunting, guitar-based instrumental (a truncated version of GY!BE's 18-minute track) starts softly, then builds and accelerates as he wanders through abandoned streets and finally reaches a wall of posts seeking lost loved ones. The increasingly urgent music mirrors Jim's shell-shocked comprehension that something apocalyptic has occurred. (Also memorable is John Murphy's 'In the House - In a Heartbeat,' which builds in similar fashion during later scenes.)
'Millions': 'Hitsville UK' (The Clash), money-spending montage
This 2004 fable about a religious, saint-obsessed youngster (Alex Etel) who wants to do the right thing with a stolen bag of money is Boyle's most charming, disarming film. A montage in which the kid's older, mercenary brother exploits his wealthy new status unfolds to The Clash's sprightly yet melancholy 'Hitsville UK,' a nostalgic ode to an earlier time. A relatively low-key scene -- the boy flashes his cash in the school cafeteria, talks a real estate agent into showing a property and purchases a toy soccer stadium from an equally slick schoolmate who then tries to buy sexual favors with the money -- it subtly makes its point. (It also made us unearth our 'Sandinista!' albums.)
'Sunshine': 'Adagio in D Minor' (John Murphy), Kaneda's death/Capa releases payload
For his 2007 sci-fi thriller about a team of astronauts sent to re-ignite a dying sun with explosives, Boyle re-teamed with '28 Days Later' and 'Millions' composer Murphy, who collaborated with Underworld on 'Sunshine''s score. The theme to Murphy's majestic "Adagio" is first heard when the crew's Kaneda is unable to reenter the Icarus II after completing surface repairs and allows himself to be incinerated by the intense sunlight. Later, the music kicks in again as beleaguered physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy) struggles to blow off the airlock door and release the payload, then jumps aboard as it flies into the sun. Like the scene itself, the music is epic, spectacular, appropriately blazing. (A different version was used in 'Kick-Ass,' to not quite as dramatic effect).
'Slumdog Millionaire': 'Jai Ho' (A.R. Rahman), train station dance/end credits
After the 2008 movie's hard-won happy ending -- the suspenseful finale of 'Who Wants to Be A Millionaire' -- Jamal (Dev Patel) and Latika (Freida Pinto) reunite at a train station and share a kiss. Then, in a surprise coda, the couple lead the crowd on the platform in a choreographed dance to Rahman's triumphant 'Jai Ho,' interspersed with colorful end credits. At the song's end, everyone boards trains on either side of the platform, while Jamal and Latika walk off hand in hand. (The Pussycat Dolls' subsequent cover of the super-catchy tune in no way diminishes the impact of the film's delightful ending.)