SCORE! Top 20 Film Scores of 2012 (pt. 4)
Last year Cliff Martinez released Drive, a soundtrack that barely missed our top 20. This year a more muscular score in a similar vein shot all the way to the top – the vein being the Tangerine Dream / John Carpenter style of brooding ambient electronics, full of retro synths and melodies perfect for speeding down a darkened highway at 2am. Composer/DJ’s Alex Gopher and Xavier Jamaux are members of what’s commonly referred to as “French Touch,” and they’ve touched on something magical for this score to Motorway, a Hong Kong action film produced by Johnnie To and directed by Pou-Soi Cheang, about a rookie cop who takes on a veteran escape driver in a death defying motorway chase. Just writing that last sentence raised my testosterone levels. You can tell from the ” target=”_blank”>trailer this film is not messing around, action-wise – even if the officers are wearing some goofy day-glo safety vests (which I’m sure they’ll drop for the Hollywood remake).
Here’s track 7, “Night Theme”:
Here’s track 8, “Lessons”:
Here’s track 14, “Hide and Seek”:
Sounding like it was performed by a drunken Italian orchestra seated in bombed out Fiats in some surreal back-alley, the score to director Silvio Soldini‘s Il Comandante e la Cicogna (The Commander and the Stork) is a feat of deconstructed beauty. Pots and pans clang alongside pianos and accordions, melodies sweetening before coming to an abrupt halt, creating an atmosphere that is at once both cacophonous and harmonious. You’ll find rich basslines, bold trumpets, and curious clarinets probing the tenuous silences before giving up completely, only to reemerge in fragile tangos that collapse under their own weight. It’s jazzy, schizophrenic and delicious, both confident and unsure of itself, steady and fragile. And it all culminates in a Russian vocal track that sounds as if it were being played on a bad Victrola. Like a beautiful mix of Tom Waits‘ Rain Dogs and Angelo Badalamenti‘s score for La Cité des Enfants Perdus (City of Lost Children), this is one heady brew that’s not to be missed!
Here’s track 3, “Tango Di Amanzio”:
Here’s track 8, “Garibaldi Osserva (Leopardi Version)”:
Here’s track 11, “La Cicogna (Strumentale)”:
Director William Friedkin‘s Killer Joe, adapted by Tracy Letts from his own stage play – sweeps all awards in the category of “boldest use of a drumstick” – and has a killer score to boot, supplied by Tyler Bates, who also scored Zack Snyder‘s Watchmen and 300. Here Bates gives us a loud and snarling beast of a score, with a heavy take on good-ol’ Southern twang, full of a grittiness that’s unshakeable. This is not background music – it’s jagged and bold and it taps into some serious darkness. The music serves as a character itself: an embodiment of the violence constantly hovering just over the trailer park in which our twisted characters (played superbly by Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple and especially Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church) find themselves. Harmonicas reverberate amidst Frampton-esque ‘Talkbox‘ guitar, and heavy bass stalks alongside plucked piano like creatures in the dark. A supremely engaging, brilliantly executed nightmare.
Here’s track 2, “Killer Joe”:
Here’s track 4, “Billiards Hall”:
Here’s track 5, “Texas Motel”:
A beautiful, varied, and truly haunting affair that ranges from rich & euphonious to downright chaotic, Dario Marianelli‘s classically inspired score doesn’t rest on its laurels or settle for prettiness. Marianelli – whose prior collaboration with director Joe Wright, Atonement (2007), earned him an Oscar – here crafts an unforgettable score, combining Russian orchestral music with folk music, and then adding a few quirky twists – like the sound of locomotives, whistles, balalaikas and garmon accordions, topped off with the incredible solos of British violin prodigy Jack Liebeck. The classic tale of a Moscow socialite married to a boring government official who falls in love with a cavalry officer and discovers the true meaning of love, it features waltzes which mirror the underlying themes of courtship and are extended to the overall construction of the score, as the motifs intertwine and separate as if mirroring the central figures in the story – and the many points at which their lives intersect. Adapted for the screen by Tom Stoppard and studded with the starpower of Keira Knightley & Jude Law, this is an Anna Karenina whose highbrow production comes with a breathtaking score to match its pedigree: Leo Tolstoy himself would be proud!
Here’s track 2, “Clerks”:
Here’s track 3, “She is of the Heavens”:
Here’s track 8, “The Girl and the Birch”:
Here’s track 10, “Can-Can”:
This sleeper indie directed (and co-written) by Benh Zeitlin caught everyone’s attention with its unique blend of Magical Realism with post-Katrina realism, highlighted by an incredible performance by its child star, Quvenzhané Wallis. Borrowing heavily from the Neil Gaiman / Hayao Miyazaki school of children’s fable, it was well executed, deeply emotional, and above all else understated – a rare feat indeed. Beautifully shot (by cinematographer Ben Richardson), there are many passages in which we glimpse the world through the eyes of our protagonist, with little to no dialogue. Music naturally plays a critical role in the failure and/or success of these types of films… and in that regards composers Dan Romer & Benh Zeitlin (this guy does everything!) deliver an even greater achievement than the film itself: a magical piece of music which builds emotional momentum through rhythmic passages brimming over with Cajun flavor, that pulsate and crescendo and brim over with life. Simply put, it’s an outstanding piece of music, uplifting without being overbearing, full of hope yet tinged with sadness, as small as a little girl yet as vast as the world beyond her tiny existence.
Here’s track 2, “The Bathtub”:
Here’s track 5, “The Smallest Piece”:
Here’s track 7, “End of the World”:
Here’s track 15, “The Confrontation”:
There you have it! The sounds and sights of another year over! Hope you’ll join us next year for more lovin’ of cinema on the Isle of Cinema. Don’t forget to give us some feedback so we can grow brighter and better in 2013! Check out last years’ countdown as well as the ridiculously ambitious and highly subjective countdown that started it all – our Top 150 scores of all time! And check out our companion list: 100 favorite albums of 2012, here!