Best Movie Scores of 2010

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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.

1. Micmacs

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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  1. googergieger says

    Yeah, I know the list of 2010. Best one I heard was for I Saw The Devil. However again, Let Me In was so by the numbers. So, FEEL THIS. The scene where he confronts her with being a vampire, kept being overshadowed with a score that kept making me think of homeward bound. The score should never be used to overshadow a movie, and with the constant dramatic whispering from the actors and the constant THIS IS WHAT WE WANT YOU TO FEEL WITH THIS MUSIC was beyond distracting and downright annoying. Not to mention showcasing how many crutches the director had to lean on when remaking the original film. I don’t know, if you are judging scores on their own. Then indeed check out as many as you can and make a list on that. If you are judging them with the movie, then although I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone that could easily see the original. Watch Let Me In and see if the score isn’t distracting and over the top. With literally no pay off for it. Oh and if we are counting films that were released this year in the states/Canada/etc Mother(Madeo) would be ahead of I Saw The Devil.

    1. Kaitlin McNabb says

      I’ll be honest, as in the description, I just will never watch this movie, for no other reason then I am afraid, a chicken of sorts so I cannot comment on the overshadowing within a film. However, I do not think that this intrinsically impairs my ability to judge or discern what is great about a film score. Separately, it seems we both agree that it is wonderful and where a downfall may occur is that it, as you say, overshadows tense moments within the film. From the stance where I tried to view it, I thought it was very deserving of all the critical praise it has received as well as mine that I gave.I think with most scores, the idea is never to tell one what to feel, but more so enhance the already present feelings within a scene.
      Also, I do try to check out as many scores to movies as possible, I think it makes for the chance of a better list–one well rounded, unexpected and different–but it is beyond impossible for me to hear and listen to every score. This is not a cop out, it is a fact, so I am glad you can name more movies that I have not seen just to support this fact.

      1. googergieger says

        I wouldn’t consider the score wonderful. I’d just consider it not awful. Again it’s very by the numbers. Forgetful, really. Seriously in the scene where they try oh so hard to recreate the magic in the original, where Oskar(Owen) confronts Eli(Abbey) about being a vampire, the remake’s score is distracting. It’s very reminiscent of the Homeward Bound score for goodness sakes. Also majority of critics say the score and cgi are the apparent downfalls to the movie. The overwhelming majority say it’s good because the original is great, it’s pointless, and that the original is still miles ahead better. That’s the movie as a whole however. But yeah, agree to disagree I suppose.

        1. Kaitlin McNabb says

          that’s cool i get where you are coming from. unfortunately i haven’t seen the original or listened to the score–put that on the to do list. For myself, I liked it, but again I am not that well versed in horror movies so maybe my by the numbers radar is lower than some. I appreciate your time and input, always nice to get feedback and info about other scores, especially ones i am unfamiliar with. I suppose i will draw a hard line, stick to my guns, and all those wonderful sayings, and still consider it a good score to myself, but you are right, agree to disagree! haha! and i have definitely heard the original is way better than the remake–why hollywood feels the need to constantly remake movies whether classic or new foreign titles is beyond me. ridiculous even.

  2. googergieger says

    On the Let Me In score front. How many do you listen to? It’s beyond generic and phoned in. It’s so mind numbingly predictable, on the nose, and distracting in a hack movie. Tale Of Two Sisters had a heart wrenching yet very haunting score. Oldboy had an epic yet intimate score, chalked full of a feeling of new nostalgia and regular nostalgia when all was said and done. Let The Right One in had a very reserved score that is amazing when you listen to on it’s own, because you’re surprised you didn’t notice it more when you saw the film the first time. Let Me In is just so utterly predictable and generic, that any person could be impressed with it, brings to question how many scores they’ve listened to. Then again, “America F yeah!” mentality and all.

    1. Kaitlin McNabb says

      Maybe being Canadian has this effect, but I am not sure I hold true to the idea of ‘America F yeah’ with any regard, colour me patriotic.I am not of the persuasion of movies being remade in Hollywood, literally days later, basically for the sake of money is a good thing. But it is what it is. The score to me was great. I thought it evoked what descriptions of the movie and the clips that I have seen beautifully and interestingly. It creates a scope that would not have been provided if this score was not there. And just because music is accessible does not mean it is uninteresting or mundane–just because ‘any person could be impressed with it’ does not mean it isn’t impressive. And you’re right, the score of Oldboy and Let the Right One were surely great, but being that this was a list for Best Score of 2010, they did not make the cut.

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