The guitar riff that ignites an epic road trip. The twee-pop backdrop of an indie darling romance. The hushed, lonely ballad for a spurned partner. You never quite know when you’ll fall in love with a movie soundtrack, but when it happens, the songs become yours alone.

In 2009, that soundtrack may be (500) Days of Summer. Despite the film’s limited release, the music is already firmly ingrained on the earbuds of star-crossed teenagers everywhere. Like numerous indie romances before it, the soundtrack possesses three key ingredients to endear itself to generations of listeners: alt-rock credibility (The Smiths), wistful, quirky pop (Feist’s “Mushaboom”) and anything by Simon and Garfunkel.

But winning soundtracks are much more than mere formula — they transcend the scenes they amplify and begin to score the lives of viewers. They connect cherished characters and emotions to everyday living, and grant us center stage in our own cinematic romances and misadventures.

Clamp on your headphones. Here are five important soundtracks from the last 10 years:

1O Brother Where Art Thou?
Welcome to the Deep South, where an Odyssean tale of escaped prisoners navigating through lynch mobs and sirens becomes the backdrop for a blockbuster soundtrack. The music, drenched in Southern bluegrass picking and wistful gospel melodies, topped the Billboard charts, captured the Grammy’s most coveted award, Album of the Year, and spawned a mini revival of old-time blues. But the true gem of the soundtrack is Alison’s Krauss’s “Down to the River to Pray,” a hauntingly beautiful choral performance that stills the heart.

2Almost Famous
“It’s just a shame you missed out on rock ’n’ roll,” chortled Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lovable loser music critic, Lester Bangs, as he leveled with a young writer. “It’s over; you got here in time for the last rattle.” In truth, rock’s vital spirit courses through the veins of every sequence in Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece. On showcase is its potential to thrill arenas, save the world and, of course, make girls swoon. Featuring B sides, rare takes and hits from rock gods Led Zeppelin, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Elton John, the soundtrack strips the music to its essence: simple chords, iconic riffs and heaps of charisma, ambition and endurance. 

3The Darjeeling Limited
“I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people,” Jason Schwartzman deadpans.  So begins the quixotic journey of three brothers as they attempt to mend familial ties while bumbling across the Far East. While the 2007 film had an equal number of admirers and detractors, its soundtrack was unanimously praised for weaving theme music from obscure Bengali and Hindi films together with dusty gems from The Kinks and Rolling Stones. But outshining them all is Peter Sarstedt’s 1969 UK hit, “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” a rollicking, lyrical and catchy ode to a rich Parisian girl that only Wes Anderson could make cool again.

4Garden State
“You gotta hear this one song; it’ll change your life, I swear,” entreated Natalie Portman as Zach Braff stared back quizzically. Garden State, the 2004 indie film sensation, roused a new generation of hipsters and lovelorn teenagers everywhere while paying homage to the film it most closely resembles — The Graduate. Coldplay’s semi-acoustic “Don’t Panic” replaces Simon and Garfunkel’s iconic “Sound of Silence” during the opening existential crisis, while The Shins’ “New Slang” drapes the film’s more romantic moments in a whispery intimacy. The result is a perfect mix tape: reflective, moving and slavishly compiled with love.

5Slumdog Millionaire
A.R. Rahman’s thunderous Oscar night performance of “Jai Ho” is still reverberating through the gilded halls of the Kodak Theater. The film, a critical and commercial smash, was buoyed by Bollywood theatrics, stirring pop melodies and rapper M.I.A.’s spitfire rhymes. But even the splashiest show tunes pale in comparison to the gutter hopping “O . . . Saya” which was grounded in the heart breaking reality of slum life. Like the main character, Jamal, the soundtrack dashes through the glitz, glamour and stark poverty of modern India. It’s an exhilarating, eye-opening journey.