Music is a huge part of the moviegoing experience, even if you don’t consciously notice it all that much. A film score can set the mood for each scene, add a rhythm and a pace to a film, and can inform our emotional reactions to what is on the screen. I have loved film scores and soundtracks since I was a kid, and I always love being able to walk out of a film viewing humming the score of the movie I just saw.
Here are my favorite scores from 2010 (in no particular order), and if you click here, there’s a playlist featuring music from each of these films (WordPress won’t let us put it right into the post).
1. Inception – Hans Zimmer
This is an astounding score. I loved it from the moment I first heard it, and that was before I got the key that unlocks what is really going on in this music. This score is really just one song, the Edith Piaf recording of Charles Dumont’s “Non, je ne regrette rien,” manipulated, slowed down, and blown out to suit an entire film. The song itself is a plot point in the film, as the characters use it as a signal to move between levels of the dream world. Once Zimmer confirmed this after the Internet figured it out, my mind was blown. It’s a great score with another layer underneath that makes it inspired genius.
2. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Jacob Groth
This Danish composer really hit this one on the head. I love the combination of traditional classical instruments with electronic music, and this is no exception. Both haunting and thrilling, reflecting the film itself, this score deftly combines the moody undertones of the story with the computer hacker badassery of the character of Lisbeth Salander.
3. The Social Network – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Probably the second “perfect pairing” of composer to film this year, this is a great score, and a great electronic album on it’s own, even superior to Nine Inch Nails most recent releases. Considered with all of the music I listened to this year, it was my sixth favorite album overall. From my Albums of 2010 post on Silberwhatever: “Under the prodding of David Fincher, the score for The Social Network is pitch perfect. It works well independently of the film, but the sum is greater than the parts. Fincher’s filmmaking has an innate rhythm to it, and that is captured beautifully in Reznor’s score, where it drives the film. And the boat race sequence may be my favorite scene in any movie all year.”
4. Tron: Legacy – Daft Punk
The absolute most perfect pairing of composer to film this year, this may be the film that the French DJ duo was born to score (they also have cameos in the film as media player programs. Again, I wrote on my blog that the score “is more Hans Zimmer-y than most had anticipated. Many of the tracks are incidental pieces, with percussive strings and flourishes of electronica, not unlike Zimmer’s Batman scores. However, tracks like “Derezzed” bring the full power of Daft Punk unleashed, and they are sublime.” I feel that ultimately this is perhaps the only part of Tron: Legacy that actually lives up to it’s full potential.
5. Black Swan – Clint Mansell
This score is extremely prominent in the film, and for good reason. The film, of course, parallels the plot of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet Swan Lake. Just as the film mimics the plot of the ballet, so does the score mimic Tchaikovsky’s original music. Given how familiar the original music is (trust me, even if you don’t know that you know it, you know it), this is quite an accomplishment.
6. The Last Airbender – James Newton Howard
Definitely the biggest disparity in quality between score and film on this list, The Last Airbender is an excellent score for an abysmally terrible movie. This is the seventh collaboration between the Zimmer protege and M. Night Shyamalan, and this may be a far more productive relationship than the one between Shyamanlan and his camera. It is easily the best ‘traditional’ summer blockbuster score, and if you’re looking for heroic fantasy themes, please don’t let the utter crap the film was hold you back from enjoying this wonderful score.
This year was not as strong a year for soundtracks as 2009 was, but that’s what happens when Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson both release movies in the same year. Still, these are soundtracks I will be listening for years to come.
7. The Runaways
I love rock ‘n’ roll films, and this may be the best one since Almost Famous. Besides being one of the most criminally under seen films of the year, it also had a kickass soundtrack. A great mix of period appropriate music from David Bowie, The Stooges, and the legendary MC5 with cast covers of Runaways songs, it’s a blast to listen to. Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning do a surprisingly great job in their roles here, and I for one wouldn’t complain if they quit film to do a Runaways musical a la Green Day. I only wish this film was a big enough hit to get a Volume 2, as this release only includes 14 of the 34 songs credited in the film.
Another movie that was terribly under seen (but extensively pirated, apparently), Kick-Ass also had a fantastic soundtrack. A mishmash of genres ranging from electro-pop to spaghetti western, this feels like a mix tape a friend would pass off to you. It’s great to just jam out to, and it’s one I pop into my car stereo frequently. While I have nothing but praise for the song selection and use in the film, there are two things I don’t care for in this release. First, I hate, hate, hate(!) when sound clips are included in the soundtrack but are not their own separate track on the CD. Seriously, it’s probably more work to edit them in, rather than just making a distinct track between the songs. Now if I want to include the “Banana Splits” on a mix cd, I have to buy another version of it (or cut it out myself) so people don’t get distracted by Hit Girl’s joke about a giant c**k signal. Secondly, the best musical moment in the film is easily Kick-Ass and Red Mist jamming out to Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” in the Mistmobile. Now, everyone should have the best single of the past decade anyway, but it would be nice to have on this collection, if only to not be disappointed when you don’t hear it.
9. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
I am certainly not a fan of the franchise as films, but I have to give props to the people who put the soundtracks together. From Thom Yorke to Muse to The Black Keys to Florence + The Machine, these collections are almost purely a catalog of a who’s who in indie rock. It also helps that current indie rock mostly fits with the tone of the films. Highlights from this installment are the first original contribution by Muse, “Neutron Star Collision,” and “Let’s Get Lost,” a collaboration between Beck and Bat For Lashes.
10. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
I am not overselling this when I say that Scott Pilgrim was the most sublime movie musical experience of the year. While two separate releases, the soundtrack and the score together are a monumental achievement. There are so many things that make the film great, but of course with a “Battle of the Bands” plotline, the music should be able to stand on it’s own as well. I’m not sure it does completely, but I think Edgar Wright’s decision to cast musicians to write music for a particular band in the film. It’s an inspired decision, and it pays off. Beck’s music for Sex Bob-Omb is wonderful, and totally fits the impression of the band in the comics. Sadly, Metric only has one song as The Clash at Demonhead, and Broken Social Scene’s music as Crash & The Boys is played entirely as a comedy beat, but overall, a great mix of new and preexisting music.
Elevating this to the level of monumental is the score by Nigel Godrich. For those of you who may not know, Godrich is the George Martin-esque ‘sixth member’ of Radiohead. What he brings to the proceedings is not only a clever and fun score, but his trademark production style, which involves dense layers of sound. This helps bring the mix of rock and electronic sounds to a nice synthesis. Taken together, they are just epic.