the best movie soundtracks of 2016

From 'Jackie's' clash of disorienting strings to 'American Honey's' turnt up road trip reverie, these are the films with the year's best soundtracks.

by Oliver Lunn
29 December 2016, 4:45pm

Soundtracks are funny things. Sometimes they're better than the film itself, the music standing on its own two feet, untethered to moving pictures and characters. That happened a few times this year; you left the cinema thinking, "Man that movie sucked — but that soundtrack was something." The fact is, you can have a great soundtrack and a bad movie, but you can't have a great movie and a shit soundtrack. A shit soundtrack ruins everything. Thankfully most of the movies below also happen to be great films — most of them. But think about it: perhaps that has something to do with the soundtrack? 

Whether you've seen the Natalie Portman-starring film about Jackie Kennedy or not, the soundtrack — courtesy of 29-year-old Brit Mica Levi — is online and it offers an almighty eargasm. It's Levi's second movie gig, following her otherworldly score to Jonathan Glazer's sci-fi head-scratcher Under the Skin. It's got that same bendy string sound that made his film so trippy and beautiful. With Levi's latest, you feel the gut-wrenching grief and trauma of the character — it's definitely dark at times — and yet, you'd happily press play on this when riding the bus to work at 9am on a Monday.

White Girl
Kiyo Cato's "Cocaine" is the hauntingly beautiful song that floats through White Girl, Elizabeth Wood's explosive NYC coming-of-ager. Its inclusion is a nod to the coke-fueled story of a magazine intern who has to sell drugs to pay for her incarcerated boyfriend's lawyer. The song has a sombre, reflective vibe that adds another layer to the chaos on screen. That's not to say the soundtrack is a downer. It boasts urban NYC classics like Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones Pt. II" and more frantic tunes like J.A.C.K.'s "Vanilla."

American Honey
"I like to make money, get turnt" is a strangely catchy line, courtesy of Carnage, that's impossible to shake once you've watched Andrea Arnold's road movie about traveling mag crews in the Midwest. It's not the only banger on the soundtrack. There's the chant-heavy "God's Whisper" by Raury, the uplifting shoegaze vibes of "Recharge & Revolt" by The Raveonettes, and the silky smooth bliss of "Fade Into You" by Mazzy Star. It's basically everything you need for your next road trip mixtape. 

Kicks was one of this year's under-the-radar gems, about a teen on a quest to track down his beloved Air Jordans that were stolen by some guy called Flaco. Its soundtrack, filled with original music from Brian Reitzell, seems equally slept on. Fans of Drake's introspective hip-hop might be into IamSu!'s "Sincerely Yours," while elsewhere there's some straight-up raw hip-hop from Wu-Tang Clan, Dave Steezy, and others. 

Everybody Wants Some!!
For Dazed and Confused, Linklater made a cassette for each cast member as a way of understanding their character. For his 80s-set 'spiritual sequel' to that film, the vibe was equally fun and of-the-time, with a soundtrack teeming with fist-pumping tunes plucked from the director's own college years. It's got everything from The Cars and Devo to Gary Numan and Blondie. And it's every bit as fun as that sounds.

Yoga Hosers
Kevin Smith's Canuck comedy — about two teens who work in a convenience store and are fond of yoga — didn't fare well with critics (the Guardian called it a "tired comedy"). While true, it is no Clerks, its soundtrack did throw a lifeline to anyone thinking about walking out the cinema. There are songs by Lily-Rose Depp, one of the blonde BFFs described as "condescending riot grrrls," whose music/film career this movie is blatantly a vehicle for. She performs "O Canada" with her dad, Harley Quinn Smith, and The OC's Adam Brody. She also sings on the intro song, which is like an early Beastie Boys punk-rap song sung by teenage girls. If that sounds like a charmless lol, fast-forward straight to Terence Trent D'Arby 80s banger "Wishing Well."

Endless, a "visual album" by Frank Ocean
I'm gonna go ahead and argue this as a soundtrack. Because hey, there are moving images accompanied by sounds. The 45-minute long visual album, shot in stark black and white, features contributions from Jonny Greenwood, James Blake, Jazmine Sullivan, and others. Partly inspired by The Beach Boys, the sound is soulful and ambient, with Ocean's characteristic blend of melodic vocals and raps. As for the video, which features some dudes (one of them Ocean) building a staircase in an empty warehouse, it's as enigmatic as the singer himself.

Edge of Seventeen
One of the year's best coming-of-agers has a scattershot soundtrack, which plays like an eclectic mix on a teen's iPod Shuffle. There's the sassy hand-claps of Santigold's "Who I Thought You Were," the sensitive strumming of Aimee Mann's "Save Me," and the macho uh-yeahs of A$AP Ferg's "Psycho." So basically, whether you want to cry into your guitar or dab like it's early 2016, this has something for you.  

Ever wonder what frat boys listen to? What songs feature on their "Wild House Party Playlist"? The Goat soundtrack offers some insights, from the party banger "Get Ya Head Right" by Presice, which features the line "smoke something, drink something, get ya head right", to "Wa$ted" by Zach Taylor (title says it all), and the brutal "Act Like It" by Kill Will. It's not your Sunday chill mix. It's rowdy hip-hop to play while doing shots and chest-bumping your bros. If that's your thing. 


Text Oliver Lunn

White Girl
american honey
Everybody Wants Some!!
Oliver Lunn
edge of seventeen
yoga housers