As we welcome the New Year it's time to reflect back on last year's film music. 2011 was a good year for film scores, with a wide variety to chose from. Here is our top 10 film scores of the year.
The greatest film score of 2011, Mark McKenzie delivers a masterpiece with The Greatest Miracle. Famed for his sensitive touch as an orchestrator, working with the likes of Danny Elfman and Jerry Goldsmith, McKenzie brings his years of experience to bear on a score that brims with spiritual, often ecclesiastical, beauty. Calling to mind Ennio Morricone's greatest work (The Mission; Padre Pio et al), it's the sort of profoundly beautiful film score one doesn't hear often nowadays. The opening track, "Entering the Cathedral" is as heavenly a piece of film music as we're likely to hear. The Greatest Miracle is available at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Terence Malick famously discarded most of Alexandre Desplat's score from the theatrical cut of The Tree of Life but nevertheless, the composer captures the director's intentions beautifully. Flowing and ebbing away in hypnotic cells that inevitably call to mind Philip Glass, the music brilliantly reflects Malick's central theme of life as a river. Juxtaposing light and dark, and daring to fade away into nothingness at the end, it's an intellectual and demanding score (and certainly not the most accessible of Desplat's efforts in 2011), but a stunning achievement nonetheless. The Tree of Life is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
A shamefully underrated composer, Marco Beltrami is perhaps best known for his horror scores (Scream, Mimic etc). However, he's always had a great capacity for melodic beauty, and none of his scores demonstrate this more effectively than Soul Surfer. The story of surfer Bethany Hamilton's journey to recovery after she lost her arm in a shark attack, Beltrami paints a beautiful picture of Hawaiian culture courtesy of the authentic "mele" chants that are woven throughout the score. It also carries a profoundly spiritual tone, reflecting Hamilton's own faith and lingering long in the listener's mind. Soul Surfer is available at Amazon.com though unfortunately Beltrami's score is not available from Amazon UK.
Many listeners approached John Williams' first Tintin score with hysterical expectations, expecting to be blown out of the water with a plethora of memorable themes to rival the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, it's not so much the memorability that's important as the intricacy of the composition. Tintin is blessed with several themes but more compelling is how Williams weaves them around each other in remarkably intricate fashion. It's tempting to write off Tintin as Williams on autopilot but nothing could be further from the truth: even in his advancing years, he's still light years ahead of the competition. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
In spite of the recent glut of superhero pictures, it doesn't seem trendy to manipulate audiences with big, bold themes a la Danny Elfman's Batman. This is a real shame, as memorable themes can add so much more to their respective films. Thank heavens then for Alan Silvestri, who, in his first collaboration with director Joe Johnston, has come up with the best hero theme in many a year: the Captain America March. Brassy, OTT, in your face, this is music that doesn't idle away anonymously in the background. Fingers crossed it will mark a sea-change. Captain America: The First Avenger is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Christopher Young returns to his jazzy roots with his score for The Rum Diary. The score for the Hunter S Thompson adaptation is hugely entertaining from start to finish, Young clearly relishing the playful intimacy afforded him by a small jazz ensemble. Reflecting both the film's tropical location and the twisted streak of surreal humour running throughout, the score is an intensely personal work, and the composer even has time to include collaborative material. Yes, star Johnny Depp and even Depp's bluegrass band get in on the act, adding to the wonderfully laid back nature of the score. The Rum Diary is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Much like Alexandre Desplat's The Tree of Life, Dario Marianelli's Jane Eyre demands patience from the listener but rewards it tenfold. Gradually transforming from a dour, earthy sound into a heartrending depiction of love (reflecting the on-screen relationship between Jane and Rochester), Marianelli's work is a subtly crafted delight. Possessed of a classically "English" sound courtesy of Jack Liebeck's exquisite violin solos, it further solidifies Marianelli's reputation as the finest composer of period dramas in the biz. The CD of Marianelli's score for Jane Eyre is available at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.
The best film in the Mission Impossible franchise so far also receives the best score, courtesy of Michael Giacchino. The first score in the series to properly integrate Lalo Schifrin's original TV themes to consistent and dynamic effect, Giacchino's second score in the series blends terrific action material and inventive suspense interludes, all woven together with exotic instrumentation befitting the film's globe-trotting nature. A remarkably entertaining listening experience, Ghost Protocol is one of the best scores of Giacchino's career, and pleasingly carries the retro sound of the TV series into the 21st century. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Michael Giacchino introduces a plethora of engaging thematic ideas in Super 8 but the score really takes off at the end. The lovely central theme channels old school John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, and additional themes crop up for the burgeoning relationship between kids Joe and Alice; the monster; and the Army. It all leads up to the simply magnificent finale, in which the orchestra soars to the heavens in the manner of Williams' E.T., one of the most memorable film music moments of recent years. It's joyous to realise that composers such as Giacchino are keeping old fashioned film scores alive. Super 8 is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is a black and white silent film which focuses on the shift from silent cinema to "talkies". A massive hit on the awards and art-house circuit, the score by Ludovic Bource has also drawn massive acclaim. Channelling the spirit of Max Steiner, Franz Waxman and others, the score brings the classic Golden Age sound roaring back to life, a terrific bit of pastiche work that will hopefully introduce a whole new audience to the importance of early film soundtracks. Its overwrought nature may exclude casual listeners but it's a significant work nonetheless. Ludovic Bource's score for The Artist is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.