More often than not, the magic of a film's soundtrack comes from one of two places... Either the studied, measured structure and emotion-teasing of an orchestral score, or the nostalgia of carefully chosen pop-music to hit emotional triggers. However, the soundtracks on today's list consist of original music written by bands and artists rather than traditionalsoundtrack composers.
5. Neil Young - Dead Man (1995)
Legend has it that Neil Young improvised the music for Dead Man, playing live, alone in a studio with only guitars, a piano and an organ for company. Having been presented with a copy of the recently completed film by its director, Jim Jarmusch, Young felt his way through it - reacting to the stunning monochrome photography and remarkable imagery.
Whether this is true or not, Young succeeded in creating a free-form, drifting soundtrack that perfectly accompanies the tale of the spiritual awakening that turned a lost young man into the visionary poet, painter and mystic, William Blake.
4. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Of the many filmed versions of the Jesse James outlaw myth, Andrew Dominik's elegiac take from 2007 is the most interesting. Perfectly balancing dreamlike, Malickian beauty with the realistically gritty aesthetic of most modern Westerns, the film was a dismal flop on release. Sadly, it vanished from cinemas before it was widely seen. In subsequent years though, its stature has grown through home video viewing, and it is starting to be recognised as a true classic of the genre.
Bad Seeds, Cave and Ellis, demonstrate that there's a deep synergy between the 19th century musical traditions America and Australia. Their authentic, acoustic compositions vividly evoke the loneliness of life on the frontier, where it's worth falling out of civilised society in the search for fame and fortune, and life itself hangs in the balance.
3. Mogwai - Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006)
A simple but unique concept - the film follows the action of a football match (Real Madrid vs Villareal on the 23rd of April 2005) from the perspective of just one player on the field, Zinédine Zidane, widely regarded as one of the best footballers of all time. His every move is covered from multiple camera angles, and microphones pick up his breathing, grunts and every contact with the ball.
Mogwai's music was always cinematic - mainly instrumental and by turns languid and brutal - with an emotional heft that has led them into a parallel career scoring for TV and documentary. Here they provide a subtle but gloriously uplifting bed of sound to the mesmerising portrait of a sportsman in his prime. Like Senna and Fire in Babylon this is a sports documentary that's for everyone.
2. Popul Vuh - Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)
The music of German band Popul Vuh winds its way through the filmography of legendary director Werner Herzog. It soundtracks the striking imagery of many of his 70s and 80s masterpieces, including Fitzcarraldo and Nosferatu. It is perfect here as the accompaniment to the story of exploration, greed and insanity.
Aguirre, Wrath of God feels like documentary footage of the 16th century, but the choral, ambient synthesizer atmospherics of Popul Vuh's soundtrack set the mystical/mythical tone for the ill-fated search for El Dorado.
1. Air - The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Sofia Coppola's debut feature film evokes the hot summers of youth, the trials of discovering the opposite sex, and the crackle of well-worn vinyl. In a pre-Instagram world, its soft filters and magic-hour cinematography brought a nostalgic glow to the tragic story.
Classic 70s MOR tunes, obsessed over by the film's characters are totally outclassed by Air's future-past soundtrack - music that sounds both achingly retro, and soaringly futuristic. Perfect...
Keep your eyes peeled for list #3...