"The Hurricane: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture" (MCA). Naturally, this features "Hurricane," the 1976 Bob Dylan broadside that brought public attention to a miscarriage of justice that sent boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter to prison for almost 20 years. Dylan's song was a literal retelling of that story in folk terms; now there's another "Hurricane" featuring an all-star collection of conscious rappers (the Roots' Black Thought, Common, Mos Def) telling "the story of a champion's fall and rise" in contemporary terms. There are other strong tracks: Teddy Riley, Kelly Price and Aaron Hall on the soaring testimony of "Love Sets You Free;" K-Ci and JoJo charting the same terrain on the Dianne Warren-penned "One More Mountain (Free Again)"; and Me'shell NdegeOcello's "Isolation," a haunting meditation on the spirit of resistance and spiritual resilience ("I exist despite you"). The soundtrack also features vintage tracks by Gil Scott-Heron, Etta James, Ruth Brown and Ray Charles. Also worth searching out is Christopher Young's outstanding "The Hurricane: Original Score" (MCA). It's excerpted via a suite on the soundtrack, but the expanded version, with rich orchestrations redolent of Charles Ives Americana, beautifully capture the tension, tragedy and triumph of Carter's ordeal.
"Man on the Moon: Music From the Motion Picture" (Warner Bros./Jersey). Another bio-film preceded by a hit song, in this instance R.E.M.'s affectionate 1992 snapshot of troubled comedian Andy Kaufman. For Milos Forman's film, R.E.M. contributes an orchestral version of the title track, a half-dozen incidental bridges and several new songs. The best are an airy "The Great Beyond" that captures Kaufman's dislocated, disconnected approach to both work and life, and "The Friendly World," a somewhat maudlin track that features intriguing contrapuntal vocal lines from R.E.M. and Jim Carrey as both Andy and his lounge lizard alter ego, Tony Clifton. Andy and Tony are represented (on a fragile "Rose Marie" and teeth-grinding "I Will Survive," respectively), along with the Sandpipers' "Mighty Mouse Theme" (Kaufman famously lip-synced it) and period tracks, including Bob James's theme for "Taxi."
"Magnolia: Music From the Motion Picture" (Warner Bros.). Director Paul Thomas Anderson says he was so enthralled by Aimee Mann's finely wrought songs about troubled relationships that they helped to shape his screenplay and then to inform the resulting film. The wispy-voiced Mann provides nine tracks, eight sterling originals and a melancholy reading of Harry Nilsson's "One." Mann's at her reflective best in songs that explore twists and turns of the heart, such as the pleading "Save Me" and "You Do," a statement of constancy in the face of indifference and betrayal. Nearly as good are the emotional ennui of soured love expressed in "Deathly," the self-protectionism of "Build That Wall" and "Wise Up," which plays a significant role in the film.
"Topsy-Turvy: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (Sony Classical). Director Mike Leigh has a great advantage here: The music is by his film's subjects, the British comic opera standard-bearers Gilbert and Sullivan. Leigh's drama centers on the creation of their most ambitious work, "The Mikado," represented here by eight glorious selections; there are also two each from "Princess Ida" and "The Sorcerer," as well as other works, including Eleanor David's stately pathos on "The Lost Chord," Sullivan's pavane for his dead brother. All are performed, as they are in the film, by an excellent cast clearly attuned to Gilbert's ever-clever lyrics and Sullivan's majestic melodies. Conductor Carl Davis also contributes "Resolutions," a haunting muted-string arrangement of "The Long Day Closes."
"Cradle Will Rock: Music From the Motion Picture Soundtrack" (BMG). Another period film about a work in progress, or, more correctly, a Work Project in distress. Tim Robbins's re-creation of the offstage drama surrounding Marc Blitzstein's 1936 agitprop musical makes use of original arrangements for theatrical tunes that were, in Blitzstein's own words, written in a style somewhere between "realism, romance, satire, vaudeville, comic strip, Gilbert and Sullivan [and] Brecht-Weill." The last is true of Audra McDonald's somber "Joe Worker" and songs like "Freedom of the Press" and "Reverend Salvation" (which could fit into "Chicago" as well). Some songs are simply archaic, but David Robbins's lively score evokes the political mood of the era and a Lower East Side locale by melding traditional jazz with strains of klezmer, Gypsy, Irish and Italian music. For contemporary tastes, there are two guest renderings of Blitzstein songs: Polly Jean Harvey on a somber "The Nickel Under Your Foot" and the lighthearted "Croon Spoon," a duet featuring Susan Sarandon and Eddie Vedder, the latter sounding very much like Leon Redbone.
"Sweet and Lowdown: Music From the Motion Picture" (Sony Classical). Another Woody Allen period film, this '30s melodrama revolves around Sean Penn as "the second greatest guitarist in the world" (behind Django Reinhardt). If Penn sounds convincing, it's because the playing is actually done by virtuoso Howard Alden and rhythm guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, who both deserve better billing. Working in varied small ensemble settings put together by Dick Hyman, a longtime Allen pal whose specialty is evoking classic jazz, Alden is engagingly languid on ballads like "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away)" and "Just a Gigolo," and a genial speed demon on hot tracks like "Old Fashioned Love" and "It Don't Mean Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." The Django comparisons come through on "Limehouse Blues/Mystery Pacific" and "There'll Be Some Changes Made." Jazz fan Allen fills the album out with classic tracks by Sidney Bechet and Bunny Berigan.
"The Talented Mr. Ripley: Music From the Motion Picture" (Sony Classical). Anthony Minghella turns to a frequent collaborator, Gabriel Yared, to score this thriller about naked ambition and murderous transformation set in the '50s, when American jazz ruled the Continent. Yared uses classically tinged orchestrations to suggest social constriction, and jazz to suggest liberation and the value of improvisation (which becomes central to Tom Ripley's nefarious machinations). Jazz dominates, either in the form of classic tracks from Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie or idiomatic re-creations of tunes by Davis, Sonny Rollins and Bobby Timmons by the Guy Barker International Quintet. Damon does a passable Chet Baker turn on the melancholy "My Funny Valentine" while the Ellington-ish "Tu Vuo Fa L'Americano," featuring the cast in a club mode, suggests the spiritual emptiness of indolent youth. There are two other intriguing performances: Sinead O'Connor on the fragile, shimmering "Lullaby for Cain" and John Martyn on a raspy, Louis Armstrong-style "You Don't Know What Love Is."
"Boys Don't Cry: Soundtrack to the Motion Picture" (TVT). The most haunting song in Kimberly Peirce's portrait of Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon is "The Bluest Eyes in Texas"; performed by the Cardigans' Nina Persson and Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think, it captures the emotional and sexual dislocation and languid sorrow of its subject. The Smithereens' "She's Got a Way" actually captures the double life even better with lyrics like "My girl's so different from the rest/ She's truth combined with fiction, a lovely contradiction." Several other songs fit the mood--the Isley Brothers' "Who's That Lady?," the Knitters' "Silver Wings," Tommy Thomas's "Why Can't We Live Together"--but others seem a stretch.