Category — soundtracks
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!
January 9, 2013 1 Comment
At number 10 we have the score for W.E., a film directed by the queen of pop herself, Madonna. IMDB says this movie was released in 2011 but if you look at the fine print you’ll see its limited release was Feb. 3, 2012. So it’s kosher. And oh, how kosher! Lush, overflowing with emotion, Romantic to the Nth degree, and with a capital R! Right from the get-go, we get strings heaped upon strings, a beautiful melody building into a lyrical crescendo that crashes like a wave onto a gentle shore and then continues in rivulets of pizzicato between robust boulders of arco … in other words, it’s real purdy. Grandiose without being overbearing, it’s an incredibly satisfying score by a master musician, full of a variety of melodies, shifts in tone, and even the occasional waltz. The only misstep is the inclusion of a final song by the auteur herself, “Masterpiece,” where lyrics like “If you were the Mona Lisa / you’d be hanging in the Louvre / everyone would come to see you / you’d be impossible to move” sit like an ironic crap left by a spoilt Pomeranian on the marbled floor of an art museum. See what I did there? That was super-kosher.
Here’s track 1, “Charms”:
Here’s track 4, “I Will Follow You”:
Here’s the score to a very informative, highly recommended documentary by Brian Knappenberger that tells the story of the group known as Anonymous – and their evolution (some in the doc say de-volution) from a group of 4chan rabble-rousers to the powerful self-made protectors of human rights that they are today. There’s a wealth of musical diversity on hand, from quirky upbeat marches to introspective ambient passages to anthems reminiscent of something you’d hear by MGMT. Added to all the electronic synths, cycling piano, string orchestras and sequenced percussion are some other manufactured sounds as well – including what sounds like a Hawaiian lap steel guitar and swarming electronic insects (not as annoying as you’d think). All in all it’s a radical, shifting score that nicely mirrors its complicated subject matter, and no matter your opinion of the Guy Fawkes – masked Hacktivists, rest assured that there’s plenty for you to love here.
Here’s track 12, “In the Halls of /b/”:
Here’s track 16, “Heal the Sick:”
Here we have a whimsical, light-hearted score to Peter Hedges‘ film about a magical boy found by an infertile couple (played by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) who seems to have grown in their garden following a buried wish. Doesn’t sound like the typical stuff I go in for, but there’s something special about Zanelli’s music that separates it from this usual type of fluff. There’s a folksy, grass-roots feel to it, with crisp melodies and a memorable theme which Zanelli returns to in a variety of phrasings, featuring beautiful guitar work, piano, accordion and light percussion. It’s not a bombastic affair, but it does resonate emotionally. I haven’t seen the movie but if it’s as magical as its score, I’m definitely looking forward to it – even if the plot does sound like a Disney take on Swamp Thing!
Here’s the opening track, “You’re Gonna Find it Hard to Believe”:
Here’s track 4, “Our Kid”:
Our first animated film score, Jon Brion‘s work for this fun film about a boy who can speak to the dead (directed by Chris Butler & Sam Fell) got my attention right from the gate, in the way it references the great Italian schlock masters of the 70’s – sounding like Goblin‘s Buio Omega, Fabio Frizzi‘s work on Zombi 2 or any of those soundtracks those of us addicted to Midnight movies would instantly recognize. That fat synthy Argento bassline had me hella excited – and in a Children’s movie no less! And while Brion abandons the homage and fills the rest of the disc with the type of understated melodies that befit his work on Punch-Drunk Love and I ♥ Huckabees, it’s the man’s overall attention to detail and the way he balances between the sunshine-y, lilting tunes and the dark foreboding passages that make this such a memorable score.
Here’s track 1, “Zombie Attacks in the Eighties”:
Here’s track 3, “Norman’s Walk”:
The compilation soundtrack that came out in conjunction with RZA‘s directorial debut might have been better publicized – featuring the Wu-Tang collaborating with Kool G Rap, Kanye West, Pusha T, Corinne Bailey Rae, and The Black Keys – but this instrumental score featuring the actual music from the film is even better. Opening with a rocking version of “Shame on a Ni**a” that’s been busted up and put back together (used over the film’s title sequence) and continuing with 29 more tracks featuring some sick blends of Soul, Rock and Asian elements, this is a fantastic outing for RZA and co-conspirator Drossin – and is very likely the best thing about the relentlessly over-the-top movie! And just in case you wanted to get both albums – plus a compilation of old soul and funk originals sampled by the clan, there’s this ultra special limited edition 5 CD set. Go crazy, son!
Here’s track 2, “Jungle Village”:
Here’s track 11, “Zen Yi Rides In”:
Here’s track 18, “Jack Up the Street”:
We conclude our look at the sounds of 2012 – and close the book on 2012 once and for all – next week. In the meantime you can 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 look at our companion list: 100 favorite albums of 2012, here!
And please leave us a comment telling us your favorite score of the year!
January 4, 2013 No Comments
Happy New Year! It’s 2013 but we’re not quite done looking back at 2012, with our year-end Top 20 Film Score Countdown. We’re moving now into even more emotional territory – exploring sounds which will surely stir your soul!
I don’t know much about this French film by Director (and Starship Enterprise captain) Luc Picard, and the un-subtitled trailer doesn’t help matters much either. What I do know is that it seems to be a visually stunning fable about a magical village. And that the soundtrack, which I found on emusic entirely by chance, kicks a whole lot of ass. Lyrical, beautiful, it’s simply a well crafted piece of music the whole way through, with intertwining melodies full of guitars, piano, the whole shebang. Emminently listenable without having even seen the film, it’s an emotional journey which conjures all sorts of fantastic feelings. Let’s hope the visuals live up to the music!
Here’s the opening track, “Sur ses épaules”:
Here’s track 3, “Marie”:
More music from a film I haven’t seen or even know much about, with another (this time German) un-subtitled #” target=”_blank”>trailer to pique our interest. This tale of a family’s disastrous trip into the woods by Mathieu Seiler is a low-budget affair, making the soundtrack even more important – since ambiance and mood can heighten production value and make any film look great. Enter Beat Solér, who’s crafted a dark and ominous fairy tale score full of gongs, dissonant piano trills, ethereal vocals and steady low end strings – but plenty of beautiful passages too, which we know from Prokofiev‘s Peter and the Wolf is a perfect way to build tension: when the melody is sweet you can just sense something terrible lurking beneath. Not the scariest score of the year (Christopher Young’s Sinister score is scary to the point of being nearly un-listenable) but very good, especially if you enjoy synthy low-key Goblin fare from the 70’s.
Here’s track 1, “Der Ausflug Main Theme”:
Here’s track 8, “Enter the Forest”:
The score to David Ayer‘s End of Watch opens with Public Enemy‘s awesome “harder than you think,” a hard anthem to follow, but composer Sardy is up to the task, with a score full of muscular riffs breaking down into fragile piano before exploding again, emulating the start-stop suspenseful nature of this fantastic film. Percussion melds with electronics to create a ticking time bomb of adrenaline you’d expect from a Muse or Tool album, and even at just over 20 minutes of original material (complete with Joshua Homme‘s accompanying vocals on the last track) it leaves you emotionally exhausted. Lots of 2012 scores did this “warped industrial” sound well – from Paul Leonard Morgan‘s Dredd to tomandandy‘s Resident Evil: Retribution – but there’s a quality which elevates David Sardy’s score and earns it a place on our list.
Here’s track 2, “I Am the Police”:
Here’s track 6, “Heroes”:
This time it’s obscure 60’s rock band Ten Years After‘s “50,000 Beneath My Brain” that sets the tone, and composer Antonio Pinto who follows up with a fantastic score to Adrian Grunberg‘s Get the Gringo. If you enjoy Joe Strummer‘s score to Alex Cox‘s Walker, Ry Cooder‘s spare guitar on Wim Wenders‘ Paris, Texas and Neil Young‘s atmospheric Dead Man score for Jim Jarmusch you’ll love this low-key affair, peppered with a variety of guitars, tempo shifts, percussive nuances and the occasional echoey reverb. But if you’re like the many haters on Amazon who expected this to be a compilation of tunes more like track 2, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs‘ “Padre Nuestro,” you’ll want to move along.
Here’s track 4, “Driver Sets Fire”:
Here’s track 12, “Sunny Day in Mexico”:
For the score to his controversial and star-studded flick starting MMA fighter-turned actress Gina Carano, Steven Soderbergh enlisted David Holmes, a name familiar to anyone around in the late 90’s (his Let’s Get Killed was on record store end-caps everywhere). Many were turned off by the film’s seemingly in-congruent minimalistic aesthetic and slow pace, but I found it enjoyable, in large part due to the music. Bass-heavy and incredibly funky, it’s propelled by a driving beat and filled with little nuances – like bass clarinet, warped electronics, and voices buried deep in the background. It’s an ironic and self-aware piece of music, nodding heavily towards its influences – from lifting the Western genre’s rattlesnake-percussion to borrowing Italian crime score elements (the work of Riz Ortolani springs to mind) and of course quoting funky keyboards and guitars from old-school Blaxploitation flicks – all in all it sounds like an updated J.J. Johnson‘s Across 110th Street, full of brass and a robust horn section. Give it a spin and see what you think!
Here’s track 9, The Drive Rossbourgh”:
Here’s track 10, “Looking for Clues”:
And so concludes part 2 of our celebration of the sounds of 2012. Check out part 1 here and tune in for part 3 on Friday – and 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 be sure to leave us a comment telling us your favorite score of the year!
Ooh-ooh! Almost forgot! We also posted a list of our 100 favorite albums of 2012 here!
January 2, 2013 No Comments
For writer/director Craig Zobel‘s tense workplace drama about a middle aged fast food manager (played superbly by Ann Dowd) who takes a prank caller too seriously, Zobel (one of the founding fathers of the awesome Homestar Runner website) enlisted Heather McIntosh, an Athens, GA cellist who’s worked with Circulatory System, The Instruments, Japancakes and Animal Collective to provide the atmospherics his narrative inspired by true events needed. Full of brooding cellos (natch), ringing vibraphone, a pulsing tempo and an overall ominous quality, McIntosh’s first soundtrack is a winner, a chamber piece which helps build the suspense while feeling as indie as the pedigree and subject matter would indicate. Have a listen.
Here’s track 1, “Compliance Theme”:
Here’s track 3, “The Investigation”:
This time it’s the score for this indie documentary about a duo of fly-fishermen friends directed by Kahlil Hudson & Tyler Hughen that’s got our attention, an eclectic affair that mixes banjo-like steel guitars with electronics to great effect. Pianos phase in and out, synths almost blow the speakers and wooden blocks join the fray to create a meditative yet melodic sound-scape full of surprises.
Here’s track 6, “J.T. Tracking Down the Canal”:
Here’s track 21, “Xenie’s Theme”:
Desplat was a busy man in 2012, giving us the score to Rise of the Guardians, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Rust and Bone, and of course pitching in memorable vignettes alongside the posthumous work of Benjamin Britten and others in Moonrise Kingdom, a fantastic compilation soundtrack which despite being ineligible for our list is a must-have for any discerning hipster. Here Alexandre crafts a lilting surreal score for a film by Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone. Featuring wind chimes, strings, and a choir of caroling voices straight out of Christmas and punctuated with bells a’la Danny Elfman on a subtle and restrained day. Pay close attention and you’ll spot some pipe organ, oboes and weird whirling electronic “chortling!”
Here’s the opening track, “Reality”:
Here’s track 5, “L’Illusione”:
Writer-Director David L.G. Hughes’ hard-nosed British indie crime thriller gets a big boost from this exciting score full of loud guitar riffs, a choir of wordless angelic voices, and enough wah-wah pedals and effects to fill a high school basement. All this is spelled by some tension-filled ambient tracks featuring bleeping and blooping electronics, creating an overall score that’s truly unique – complete with track names like “Gobstopper,” “Fruit Bonbon” and “Chocolate Lime.” Must keep an eye on this composer!
Here’s track 1, “A Girl and a Gun”:
Here’s track 13, “The Chocolate Lime”:
Frequent Luc Besson collaborator Pierre Jolivet‘s police thriller gets a haunting and propulsive soundtrack straight out of a Michael Mann movie, capturing that perfect 80’s late night atmosphere. Thick bass-lines and moody synthesizers build with hints of flamenco guitar peppered underneath, creating a familiar yet exotic backdrop. Singer Laetitia Bourgeois adds vocals to 2 tracks. Think Tangerine Dream by way of Ottmar Leibert – only endlessly better than how that sounds.
Here’s track 3, “Highway Lunch”:
Here’s track 6, “Cocteau”:
And so concludes part 1 of our celebration of the sounds of 2012. Tune in for part 2 later in the week – and 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!
Oh yeah – and don’t forget to leave us a comment with your favorite soundtracks of the year… perhaps yours will make our list!?
December 31, 2012 No Comments