Mike’s Top Ten Film Scores of 2012

Today I’m gonna talk about my favorite film scores of 2012.

Film scores are a lot like cinematography for me — I love when they’re done well. I love a film score that works well within its film, is noticeable enough that I hear it and go, “Oh man, that’s a great score,” and can be able to listen to that score on its own, outside the film. Something like the Dark Knight Rises score — it’s good, but I’m never gonna listen to that as a score. And most scores nowadays are basically the same things. The only real difference between a lot of them is who the composer is, and even then you can pick out who did it by their normal tropes. (If you can’t hear a score and go, “That’s a Danny Elfman,” or “That’s a Hans Zimmer,” then we really need to have a talk about how you watch movies.)

And just so we’re clear on my tastes going into this thing, here are some of the film scores I’ve listened to most from the pas couple years: From last year, the film scores I listen to most are The Artist, Hugo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. From 2010, the ones I listen to a lot are Tron: Legacy and True Grit. 2009, I love the Fantastic Mr. Fox score. 2008, I love the Let the Right One In score. And of course Slumdog. 2007, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. And Sunshine. And Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. 2006, The Fountain. And The Departed. And of course Casino Royale. No joke, at any given time, on my iPod, there will be at least a couple tracks from The Artist, Hugo, Tron: Legacy, True Grit, Let the Right One In, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The Fountain and The Assassination of Jesse James. And I’m pretty sure I still have the entire albums of True Grit and Assassination of Jesse James on there.

So those are the kind of scores I like. I’m by no means an expert on the subject, but I do know what I like, and this is gonna be a list of what I liked this year. Here are my top ten film scores of 2012:

Let’s just get it out of the way now that the two film soundtracks I’ve listened to the most this year — by far — are Django Unchained and Les Misérables. It’s only been about two weeks since I’ve seen Les Mis and three since I’ve seen Django (and about ten days, maximum that I’ve started listening to the soundtracks), and I’m averaging about one listen a day for both of them. So just putting it out there… really like those two.

Now for my actual favorite film scores of the year:

1. Cloud Atlas, by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil

It may not be the score I end up listening to most this year, but it’s definitely the one I considered the most beautiful that I listened to. I loved every second of this score, and it starts with that “Cloud Atlas” theme that you heard in the trailer for the film. I bet legitimate music people, that is to say, people who know music and melodies and stuff, I bet they’d be the ones who also really thought this was one of the best scores of the year, just because you can hear everything being interconnected. There was just something transcendentally beautiful about this score, and even though I had no idea what was actually going on with it (kind of like the film), it still struck me on a very deep level. Hands down the best film score I listened to in 2010.

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2. Skyfall, by Thomas Newman

Well there’s a surprise. Of course this is here. This and Casino Royale are the best Bond scores since the 70s. If you’ve listened to all the Bond scores (which I have), after a while, they stop being interesting. GoldenEye is interesting, but the rest of the Brosnan movies — they’re just generic action scores with the James Bond theme thrown in. The only real fun parts of the Bond scores would be when they worked the theme song into the score. A lot of the 80s ones are like that. You listen to the Octopussy score, and nothing really grabs you until you hear a few orchestral notes of “All Time High” in one of the tracks. But, starting with Casino Royale, you can hear a difference in the music. It just got better. And this score really is one they just hit out of the park. And a lot of that has to do with it being Thomas Newman, who has scored all of Sam Mendes’s movies so far. He’s always done great work (from American Beauty, to Finding Nemo and Wall-E, to Shawshank Redemption and Road to Perdition and one of my personal favorites of his, Meet Joe Black), and he brings his style to the typical action score, and the whole thing just works perfectly. You know how I can tell this is a great score? I can listen to the tracks and go, “I know exactly what part of the movie that’s from.” You put on the Dark Knight Rises score… you’re not really gonna be able to tell what scene each track is from unless you look at the titles. This one, though, I heard some of those tracks, and I was like, “Yup, it’s that scene.” And then I’d see the title and know I was right. That’s the mark of a great score. (Also gonna say, that track from this, “Tennyson” — absolutely brilliant.)

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3. Anna Karenina, by Dario Marianelli

Oh this was so good. I was on board with this one from when the credits were rolling and the curtain opened. I’m not surprised. Marianelli wrote one of my favorite scores of the past decade in Atonement, so it’s no shock that he was able to do what he did with Anna Karenina. It’s just a joy to listen to. It has that jauntiness of the Doctor Zhivago score. It’s quintessentially Russian-sounding, without being overbearing in those familiar sounds. It’s one of those scores you put on and sway your head side to side as if you’re listening to a waltz. It’s such a beautiful piece of work, this one. And it’s a shame that the movie didn’t get more notice, because this is one of the best scores of the year.

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4. Brave, by Patrick Doyle

Any score that features bagpipes is automatically my favorite. Seriously. Listen to this score and try not to be incredibly happy. You can’t do it. This score is so joyous I had to put it here. Seriously, though — bagpipes. It’s just one of those things for me.

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5. Wreck-It Ralph, by Henry Jackman

Any score that sounds like video game music is automatically gonna make my top ten list. I loved this score. Seriously — video game music. How could you not love it? (The only thing I docked it for was for veering away from the video game sound for too many tracks. It turned into John Williams’s Home Alone score for a while. Also, no bagpipes.)

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6. Lincoln, by John Williams

Please. Dude is a master. Of course this was gonna be here. I tried not putting it here, but I couldn’t. Even doing basically the same thing he did last year with War Horse, John Williams is still better than almost everyone else. It’s your muted John Williams like we’ve been getting for a few years, but it’s still terrific.

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7. The Master, by Jonny Greenwood

This is a weird score, but it’s fascinating. I couldn’t not put it here, because it’s a score that’s just like Joaquin Phoenix in the movie — it’s so messed up you just have to watch. It’s bizarrely captivating. That’s what this score is. I loved the There Will Be Blood score, but when I first heard this one, I went, “Well now you’re just being weird for the sake of being weird.” But honestly, I forgot about the score after the first twenty minutes. It just sort of works its way in there nicely. And when you listen to it, it’s very dysphoric, yet it’s still interesting. And I prefer this than something that’s one of those generic action movie/thriller/whatever score. You remember it more.

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8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, by Howard Shore

This is the sound of Middle Earth. There was really no way this wasn’t gonna end up here. It just makes me feel at home. Though I will say… there’s something about this score that pales in comparison to the Lord of the Rings scores. It just doesn’t have those hooks the other one does. And the high points of this score are when it does call back to those. It’s still a terrific score, and makes me feel right at home in Middle Earth again. It’s just… like the movie, there’s something about it that’s not quite there. And it’s a shame. I was hoping this would be a top-fiver for me.

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9. Life of Pi, by Mychael Danna

This score is the best part of this movie. It’s just beautiful music. This is why I listen to scores outside the movies. Because even if I don’t love a movie (like I did with this one. I just liked it), I always give the score a shot. And here, you can tell. This score is really, really strong. Big fan of this one.

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10. Moonrise Kingdom, by Alexandre Desplat

Alexandre Desplat is one of my favorite working composers because all his scores have these themes to them that just work. They sound great and they make me enjoy listening to them on their own. This one isn’t so much of a score, since Wes Anderson typically includes a lot of music on his own, but, like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Desplat has enough of a score interspersed throughout the film to make an impact. Here, he gets about five tracks (all one piece of music — title-wise — broken down into parts, the way “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” is broken into parts). And it’s just enjoyable as hell. I couldn’t put it higher, because it is a very limited score, time-wise, but it’s still terrific. His stuff is just so rich, thematically, and you can hear all these different instruments getting their own moments to shine. It’s kind of like the “Peter and the Wolf” aesthetic — where he introduces these themes with different instruments, and you hear them do their thing, and then he weaves them together into this symphony of music. It’s quite wonderful. That’s why I had this here over some other scores.

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2 responses

  1. Chinoiserie

    I agree with you about The Hobbit score. Actually about everything you have said about it, I had hoped I would love it, but that does not mean it is as bad as some make it out to be. The source material is just not as epic and Peter Jackson is horrible at editing
    (It is ovious now to everybody, but I have always known that since I watched the extended editions of Lord of the Rings witch is why I was so worried about this since I heard there would be tree films so now I am actually relieved when I saw it).

    And I love Alexandre Desplat. You know since when? Since I heard the score of Twilight: New Moon. Yep. I heard the main score New Moon/ Full Moon from the trailer and just loved it. The score one of my favorite sad scores altough it is not something I would usually admit. It is almost only reason I saw the movie (peer pressure was the another). I oviously have heard a lot of his music since and I love it but thats when I became awere of him. But I just can not believe he made me love something that came out of Twilight.

    January 12, 2013 at 2:10 pm

  2. Michael

    What did you think of the Beasts of the Southern Wild score?

    January 12, 2013 at 9:19 pm

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