From Say Anything to We Bought a Zoo, a Brief History of Great Cameron Crowe Musical Moments

Few filmmakers use music as unabashedly and emotionally as former rock journalist Cameron Crowe, the man who turned Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" into an enduring emblem of '80s teen longing and illuminated the power of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" as a late night bonding tune for even the most estranged of friends. Crowe's latest, We Bought a Zoo, is no different; the instant the reverberating beats of Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More" kick in, lonely and sparse, turning increasingly anthemic by the verse as Matt Damon's son is expelled from school and Damon uproots his family to a rural fixer-upper of a zoo with the promise of new beginnings, you know you're in for yet another Crowe Moment.

Crowe once described his fusion of film and music thusly: "Sometimes the marriage works, and the result is an explosion, a memorable body rush that enhances both and rocks your soul along the way." A uniquely musical filmmaker since his feature directing debut in 1989's Say Anything, Crowe's films tend toward the relentlessly sincere and uncynical, and his use of pop tunes to enhance and convey catharsis, to underscore emotions -- and to create those instant, indelible "moments"-- is, for better and for worse, his abiding directorial signature. Even in his weakest films, one could argue that Crowe manages to conjure swelling sentiment, or at least is always reaching for that earnestly grandiose magic. And while even in We Bought a Zoo he can't help but go back to the rock 'n' roll well he he's tapped so many times, he's evolved through the years ever so subtlely in his methods.

Say Anything (1989)

Musical Moment: Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes"

It's the iconic musical moment of '80s teen moviedom: Loner Lloyd Dobler holding aloft his boombox of love beneath Diane Court's window, blasts Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" as Crowe's camera closes in, reflecting Lloyd's urgency. (* SWOON *) Nothing says "I need you" like a guy who'll stand outside your house for who knows how long playing Peter Gabriel when you know he'd rather be listening to Fishbone.

Singles (1992)

Musical Moment: Alice in Chains perform

Crowe's grunge-scene romantic comedy is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the plethora of cameos and soundtrack artists who help make Singles so distinctly of its time and place. Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Pearl Jam as Citizen Dick make for some of the film's best cameo castings, but Alice in Chains' two song performance ("It Ain't Like That" and "Would?") provides the dank Seattle club backdrop against which Kyra Sedgwick and Campbell Scott meet eyes; Say Anything may have captured the beginnings of teen ennui circa 1989, but Singles became a time capsule of the burgeoning grunge scene and its inherent twentysomething angst.

Jerry Maguire (1996)

Musical Moment: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Free Fallin'"

Moving towards his 40s, Crowe took on the tale of a fast-living sports agent reevaluating his life in Jerry Maguire, and thus birthed the first in a series of more personal Crowe Moments. After sealing a much-needed deal on his own, Tom Cruise's Maguire scans the car radio dial for just the right pop tune to speak to the relief and joy he's bursting with; he lands on Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" just in time to belt it out, the song becoming his cathartic channel for release.

Almost Famous (2000)

Musical Moment: Elton John's "Tiny Dancer"

Almost Famous is rife with great music moments -- how could it not, being Crowe's semiautobiographical ode to his time spent as a roving teen journalist covering the '70s rock scene -- but the magic of watching the dysfunctional make-shift Stillwater family of estranged bandmates, groupies, and hangers temporarily forget their issues and grudges by singing "Tiny Dancer" is, by far, the greatest. Where Crowe used diegetic music to allow characters to express themselves before, here he uses it to unite; more importantly, he made it ok to unapologetically croon soft rock singles with abandon in mixed company.

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