Best Soundtracks of 2012 (part one)

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Django Unchained

Traditionally, Quentin Tarantino’s films recycle older pop tunes and soundtrack snippets, helping to build up his image as a sort of “cultural DJ” as opposed to a traditonal filmmaker. Django Unchained might signal a change in approach  Favoring a style-hopping mixtape feel that careens from country to gangsta rap, the Django soundtrack also features several original contributions from the likes of Ennio Morricone (who contributes some brief original themes), John Legend, and Rick Ross, as well as a (slightly superfluous) James Brown/2Pac mashup. It’s a melting-pot approach that complements Tarantino’s cinematic style perfectly.

Listen to the full soundtrack here.

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Man With The Iron Fists

By most accounts, GZA’s directorial debut was a bit of a mess, but the expertly arranged soundtrack was just as solid as anyone could have hoped. From killer Wu posse cuts to a mini-Blackroc reunion courtesy of The Black Keys to well-placed soul tunes, it’s likely more successful than the movie itself. Bonus points for Kanye West’s sweet “White Dress,” easily his best (read: least obnoxious) individual track in many moons.

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Moonrise Kingdom

While I was less enamored with Moonrise than most Wes Anderson devotees, the soundtrack selections are just as idiosyncratic and wonderful as ever, perfectly suited to the film’s arch-but-innocent vibe. From the deployment of pieces by Leonard Bernstein and Benjamin Britten, to the Francoise Hardy tunes that accompany our your protagonists’ tempestuous love affair, and even some Hank Williams suuitable for trekking and acts of derring-do, Anderson’s curatorial sense is a spot-on as ever here.

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Holy Motors

No movie in 2012 boasted as many jaw-dropping musical moments as Leos Carax’s wild, wonderful Holy Motors. The “en’tracte,” featuring a live horn-and-accordion take on R.L. Burnside’s “Let My Baby Ride,” is one of the most winning cinematic interludes in years. But it’s Kylie Minogue’s twin appearances that are the most memorable: first, in teasing form, as “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” blares from a distant house party (hinting at her appearance later in the film, not to mention bolsterin the film’s pop-art bona fides), and second, as she croons an original song co-written by Carax and the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, “Who Were We,” which serves as both the emotional heart of the movie and a pre-emptive one-upping of Les Misérables‘s much-ballyhooed live-take vocal performances. Suck it, Hooper.

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The Hunger Games

Just as The Hunger Games functions as a classier, less patronising alternative to the Twilight series, its soundtrack album, Songs From District 12 And Beyond, imrpvoes upon that series’s grab-bag approach to “inspired by” soundtracking. Where the average Twilight soundtrack sounds more or less like a collection of those (often stellar) bands’ c-sides, the Hunger Games album boasts thematically and sonically appropriate original songs that complement the film’s righteous tone. Even the choice of artists seems shrewd, especially the likes of Neko Case, Miranda Lambert, and Arcade Fire, whose fiery repurposing of the film’s rebel theme (which they actually penned) has more epic portent than the movie itself.

– Simon Howell

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