Scores are different then soundtracks for obvious reasons but mostly because it is a personal compilation of instrumental music built around a movie. There is no past with the songs, just present and just designed for that movie. This year was apparently the year for famous musicians, very accomplished musicians in their own right, to lend their hands to projects mostly out of the realms of their expertise. Also, there are a few films that could technically be classified as 2009, but being that I live in Vancouver these weren’t actually released here until 2010. Vancouver may be a large city, but we’re still working on our movie release dates and the idea of getting more theatres that play lots of different movies as opposed to Sex and the City 2 for 13 weeks followed by Twilight: Eclipse for the next 14 weeks.
10. Alice in Wonderland
Marking yet another collaboration between composer Danny Elfman and director Tim Burton, the expounded tale of Alice and her friends is scored with a haunting choral sound, one worthy of the twisted and dark Burton film. I think I was one of the few who actually liked this film and aside from the terrible use of 3D overrunning Burton’s classical gothic and beautiful sets, I don’t think an argument can be made about the score. Elfman is always able to get in the mindset of films, but he is also able to capture each character used as his inspiration. ‘Proposal/Down the Hole’ is regal and curious inspired by the beginning of the film, and then suddenly thrown into the intensity of the descent paranoia and fear and ‘Into the Garden’ is dreamlike and startlingly abrupt much like the events of the tea party. Elfman is able to use his characteristic orchestral sound, full and thick with various instruments, but contorts it to Burton’s vision of an older Alice and what Wonderland feels like when it has ceased to produce any whimsical absurdities. The score allows the film to travel above contextual surfaces and give it the urgency and darkness that it demands.
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
The Harry Potter films have far evolved from their first outings of child-like fantasy and magical whimsy; they are now twisted and dark tales concerning the outcome of both the magical and real world. It is remarkable how the scores from each installment have altered the ever-present Harry Potter theme as well as survived each various composers’ interpretation. Alexandre Desplat has taken this challenge head on, tackling it with his characteristic textures and instrumentations, using dark writing to propel each scene as opposed to just minor sounding tones. Desplat makes a could be mundane score interesting by sacrificing obvious and easy style for this heavily layered depth. There is also a great use of volume and silence present within his tracks that illuminates the suspense and the horrific nature of the films underlying themes. Desplat’s composition is dark and devastating like the plot and keeps a sense of lingering overt for the next and final installation of the series and Desplat’s next contribution.
8. The Book of Eli
Atticus Ross lends his hand to another project this year with the post-apocalyptic set action film. The score matches the intense and dark mood of the movie, using distorted strings and eerie metallic sounding noises to create the feelings of isolation and despair so prominent in the film. There is a complex intent behind this film, more so then just the instant gratification of action movies, it is a thoughtful piece, an inspiration that Ross has incorporated into his work. Some songs are better then others, ‘Panoramic’ is stunning, but it is also favoured in the movie by itself unlike most of the others, but despite some missed cues, Ross has created another beautiful gem of a score that evokes his strong quality of workmanship as well as the inner thoughts and themes of the film.
7. Kick Ass
What the multiple composers bring to this score is the depiction of epic heroism and vigilantly justice surging through this film. Kick Ass is a strange movie; it is a departure from the normalcy of most comic book plots and the presence of Nicholas Cage now is always a bit bizarre. However, the score compliments this idea; some songs, The Prodigy ‘Stand Up’, are cartoon-ish and comical whereas others drum out the action and intensity within a fight scene. The varied use of composers on this film differs from the regular pattern most scores take of an individual composer, but here the random assortment works. Danny Elfman provides the boisterous orchestral sound and Marius De Vries along with the Prodigy bring the characteristic explosive, action sound. The mix allows the range of emotions to be displayed through various outlets, which makes the score more alive and more complete. In not every case can this approach work, but with such an offbeat film, heavy in action and the pains of heart, creation from many was definitely the best route.
6. Never Let Me Go
Composer Rachel Portman has created a score that evokes the sadness and disparity of humanity in this film, but also focuses on uplifting notes. Portman uses a simplistic instrumental arrangement, focusing primarily on piano, violin and heavy strings as the main points of melody. This creates an evocative use of space and sound—notes are drawn out and held but without being overshadowed by numerous other sounds or sheer volume present on most other scores. The idea to be minimalistic in composition is the key mark as to why this score is so haunting in its exposure of the dark undertones of this film. Portman has created yet another beautiful work, one easily capturing the themes and ominous presence of such a complex and eerie film.
5. Tron: Legacy
Tron: Legacy is all about a futuristic world, The Grid, designed and created by Jeff Bridges’ character Kevin Flynn, so it makes sense that electronic duo Daft Punk would be the composers of this score. However, what the two have created is far from their regular affair—it is the entanglement and clash of the 85-piece orchestra assigned to the project and their digital agenda. It is a map of the film, one shrouded in intricate electronic motion and compositional journey that drives the film. It is impressive that Daft Punk have revealed themselves as such masters of craft and created this great piece of work. Granted it is not distinctly different from their given genre, but what was created for the film is beautiful and interesting, something always expected from Daft Punk.
4. Let Me In
This score instantly gives me the creeps when listening to it—the room is filled with the echoes of ghosts, the presence of terror is all that fills the room. It is uncomfortable and frightening to the point where I have to turn off some of the songs because I become so paranoid. And that is a great, great mark of a score. I will be honest, and this should not be a surprise, but I will never see this movie given my chicken-like tendencies, but sometimes I wish I could because I know it will be great specifically from what this scores makes me feel. The usual suspects are here—shrill violins, deep, minor piano notes—all used to elicit the presence of suspense and fear. Tracks like ‘At Your Disposal’ make me fear for my safety, whereas ‘Neighbors of Love’ make me long for companionship. It is a remarkable score, one both frightening to revel in the fear but sincere and honest to reveal its heartbreaking underbelly.
3. Black Swan
The suspense and psychological horror Darren Aronofsky laces throughout his film is integrated furthermore with the remastered Tchaikovsky music and electronic pieces by The Chemical Brothers. The composition of this score is incredible; composer Clint Mansell’s success of his ingenious changes to the original music weaves the suspicion and fear from the script deeply into the emotion of the viewer and conveys the torment and torture present on the face of Natalie Portman. The original Swan lake music is classical and stunning and with the twists placed upon it by Mansell it becomes a hybrid of eerie strings and impressive time. One could argue the music is good because it was always groundbreaking, Tchaikovsky composed it that way; however, the manipulation of sound and contortion to fit Aronofsky’s intense plot makes Mancell’s score original to the audience. The score is one of the most interesting scores, one that tells a story through its music and emotions—both sinister and beautiful.
2. The Social Network
Created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch, the score to this movie is inventive and brilliant. This film has gained so much notoriety for so many different aspects—actors, script, directing—and the score is just another wonderful mark on the list. The amount that each track heightens and instills emotion within a scene through mere layering of tones is truly what building a score is about. Reznor and Finch have composed this through more then just instruments: sounds and noises are primary forces of substance as well as electronically modified instruments and beats. Each scene is seen as a different entity, one where the mood is dependent on the music and the sound crafts the intent. The architecture of tension and coldness, humility and defeat are built entirely in terms of character. Reznor and Finch have managed to design their score to match a compelling film and succeeded wonderfully.
I love this soundtrack. It is French surrealistic film embodied in music. To the modern soul it is Tom Waits meets French carnival meets Eastern European folk music. It is inspired by a wild and zany script and directorial style, letting the unexpected and fantastical become normal and needed. The boisterous sound and imaginative writing completely interprets the distinct nature of the film, but is also so wonderfully brilliant outside of the film. If this was to be released as an experimental album, it would be met with open arms and the fact that it is inspired by and made for such an incredible movie just makes one want to fall in love with what it can do. The mastermind Raphael Beau created this wonderful score while adding additional original tracks by Max Steiner to this film. It is quirky and charming and absolutely astounding.
Also take a listen to episode #247 of Sound On Sight Radio as Simon, Ricky and special guest Matthew Bell count discuss most of the score listed above and in addition play their favorite tracks from each. Enjoy.
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By Kaitlin McNabb
Kaitlin is the contributor to The Playlist on Sound On Sight. She also contributes articles to local Vancouver websites and magazines about music, disappointments, and vanishing casinos. Her favourite films are "Army of Darkness" and "Squid and the Whale", and when not completely consumed by life, she spends most of her time googling shark photos.