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SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 15 (of 15)

Here it is! Finally, we have arrived at the top ten – and nothing will ever be the same again. Namely I will never take on a mega-post which takes months to complete. I mean, what was I thinking? 150 greatest soundtracks!? Wouldn’t 50 have been enough? Sheesh. Anyway, enjoy the creme de la creme- and drop me a line telling me what you would have changed!

10.) The Nuclear Observatory of Mr. Nanof (1985) – Piero Milesi

This rarely seen film directed by Paolo Rosa doesn’t even have an IMDB page, but the subject matter seems timely in lieu of the Oscar buzz around Bansky’s magnificent documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Rosa’s film documents an enormous piece of graffiti outside a mental hospital, engraved by mental patient Oreste Fernando Nannetti, who refers to himself as NANOF11, an “Astronautic Mineral Engineer of the Mental System.” Piero Milesi’s music is minimalistic, with lush electronic sounds repeating themselves in an almost fugue-like manner. But rather than becoming monotonous, the end result is melodic, meditative and beautiful, with synthesized themes unfurling in sublime variations on a theme. Released on the legendary Cuneiform label in 1992, this is a highly recommended score for fans of Philip Glass and Brian Eno. Check out track 2, “Tom Thumb”:

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and track 4, “Scene of the Madmen”:

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and track 7, “Graffiti”:

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09.) The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – David Shire

Joseph Sargent directs the original starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, not to be confused with the 2009 remake starring John Travolta and Denzel Washington. The story of a hijacked subway train is a classic of gritty 70’s cinema, aided by an incredible soundtrack which fuses crazy percussion, lush bass, and a full brass orchestra complete with blaring tubas to create a suspenseful backdrop. Shire also scored The Conversation, Return to Oz, and Short Circuit. Check out the awesome main title:

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and track 4, “Blue and Green Talk”:

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and track 10, “Mini-Manhunt”:

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08.) The Assassination of Jesse James (2007) – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Andrew Dominik directs from his own adaptation of Ron Hansen’s novel in a movie which stars Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and Sam Shepard. It’s the tale of Robert Ford, a 19 yr. old who’s idolized Jesse James since childhood, but who upon meeting him and joining his gang grows resentful of the man, ultimately betraying him for fame and fortune. Warren Ellis of the instrumental post-rock band Dirty Three and Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party had collaborated on the fine soundtrack for The Proposition in 2005 and went on to score The Road in 2009 but this moody score with its rumbling piano, chiming bells and sad violins is the best of the bunch. Check out track 1, “Rather Lovely Thing”:

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and track 2, “Moving On”:

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and track 3, “Song For Jesse”:

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07.) Kafka (1991) – Cliff Martinez

Steven Soderbergh‘s underrated quasi-biopic stars Jeremy Irons, Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Sir Alec Guinness and Joel Grey, and borrows heavily from The Castle and The Trial to tell the story of Kafka, a lowly insurance worker who finds himself entering into an underworld of conspiracies and terrorism when a co-worker is murdered, which ultimately brings him face to face with a shadowy organization that controls society. It’s a very enjoyable film along the lines of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, but with a style and feel all it’s own, thanks in large part to Cliff Martinez’s use of the Cimbalom, a Hungarian zither-like instrument which evokes a unique, dreamlike atmosphere. Martinez has worked on several of Soderbergh’s films (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, King of the Hill, The Underneath, Traffic, Solaris), but this soundtrack is his best. Check out track 1, “Eddie’s Dead / Main Title”:

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and track 6, “Goodnight Mr. Bizzlebek”:

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and track 15, “Son Of Balloon”:

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06.) Amelie (2001) – Yann Tiersen

Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s crowd pleasing love story for the ADD generation stars Audrey Tautou as the titular character, a wide eyed girl who lives in a fantasy world ruled by love, and La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz as the clumsy good-natured boy she ultimately falls for – after first dedicating herself to bringing the love of others to fruition. She’s basically an elf from the Brother Grimm’s The Elves and the Cobbler, only instead of shoes she delivers fulfillment to those lucky enough to know her. It’s beautifully shot, chock-full of colorful ideas, and populated by fantastic actors with memorable faces, but it’s also overly dependent on narration, hindered by flimsy characterization, and so sweet it’s downright cloying. Whatever your take on the movie, one thing’s for sure – it’s got a magnificent soundtrack, full of swelling accordions and harpsichords and punctuated by toy pianos, all courtesy of Yann Tiersen, who also gave us the superb soundtrack to Good Bye Lenin! Here’s track 4, “Comptine Dun Autre Ete La”:

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and track 5, “La Noyee”:

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and track 16, “La Redecouverte”:

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05.) Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Carter Burwell

Joel & Ethan Coen’s masterpiece stars Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Jon Polito and John Turturro and perfectly captures the essence of pre-WWII gangster movies while building on the inherent themes of morality and loyalty and ratcheting the entire genre up a couple of notches. Byrne’s Tom Regan is the anti-hero to end all anti-heroes, who plays two rival gangs against one another and drives the twists (or dames) as crazy as he does the gangland bosses. The central question – whether or not he has a heart – is in the mind of every character he encounters, who all want something from him and will stop at nothing to get it. The characters are multidimensional, the humor jet-black, and the moments of violence are shocking, erupting out of human frailty, anger, jealousy and betrayal. It all adds up to an “intimate” epic, heightened by the soundtrack, which features a lilting, almost fragile clarinet swept along by strings like a hat carried on the wind – which is one of the central images, as memorable as any single image in any movie. Burwell also scored Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Gods and Monsters, Being John Malkovich, and recently Where the Wild Things Are, A Serious Man, and the as-of-yet unreleased No Country for Old Men. Here is the opening track:

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and track 3, “A Man and His Hat”:

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and track 11, “Nightmare In The Trophy Room”:

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04.) Mental Cruelty [Seelische Grausamkeit] (1961) – George Gruntz

Hannes Schmidhauser directs this movie which I have not seen, but which I have listened to repeatedly since acquiring the CD. Led by Swiss pianist George Gruntz, it features Kenny “Clook” Clarke’s incredible drumming and Barney Wilen’s cool tenor saxophone. Sometimes pensive, sometimes light and breezy, it’s full of tangos, waltzes, and rock n’ roll, all held together by a melodic motif woven into each short track (only 4 of the 18 tracks are over 3 minutes long). It’s an amazing jazz score that ranks alongside the works of Mingus, Davis, Coltrane and Ellington- which is saying something. Amazingly, only 100 LPs were printed at the time of its initial release (which fetched upwards of $1000 on ebay), but thanks to Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series it was reissued in 2003, giving Gruntz – who also composed the unreleased soundtrack to the film Steppenwolf – some long overdue exposure. Check out the main theme:

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and track 10, “Romance II”:

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and track 13, “Latin Stroll On Theme”:

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and track 15, “Spanish Castles”:

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03.) Invitation to a Suicide (2004) – John Zorn

Written & Directed by Loren Marsh, this dark comedy tells the tale of a young man living in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint (also known as Little Poland) who gets in trouble with the mob and is given a day to raise $10,000 or have his father killed, who in a fit of ingenuity decides to sell tickets to his own suicide to save his father’s life. The incredibly talented Zorn is one of the leading figures in modern jazz, emerging out of the 1980’s downtown scene which fused punk to free-jazz, and he’s always been heavily influenced by film – just check out 1986’s The Big Gundown, which re-imagines Ennio Morricone in an aggressive, up-tempo style complete with trademark freakout alto saxophone. Since 1990 Zorn’s been releasing soundtracks composed for indie and underground movies on Tzadik, his own private label, making him one of the most prolific composers in film. This score is one of his finest, full of bass harmonicas, dueling accordions, classical guitars, cellos, vibraphones and the occasional moog. Other soundtracks of note in his Filmworks series are volume XIV: Hiding and Seeking, Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse and Filmworks X: In the Mirror of Maya Deren. Here’s track 1, “Invitation to a Suicide”:

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and track 4, “East Greenpoint Rundown”:

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and track 16, “Final Retribution”:

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and track 17, “Aftermath”:

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02.) Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) – Bob Dylan

Sam Peckinpah directs from Rudy Wurlitzer’s script (don’t forget to read Quake!), in a film starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson that tells of the the death of the Old West and the emergence of the New West, one ruled by cattle ranchers and businessmen. It’s the story of Pat Garrett, an ex-outlaw who has become sheriff and is charged with assembling a posse to kill his old friend Billy the Kid, public enemy number one where the authorities are concerned. Firmly couched in the gray area between law and outlaw, morality and criminality, loyalty and betrayal, freedom and death, it’s a showcase for the talents of Bob Dylan (both off-screen and on). His magnificent soundtrack lends the proceedings a palpable sense of profound abandonment, as if the world were moving on and burying poor Billy in the past he helped make legendary. Full of guitar, wordless choruses that “ooh” and “aah,” and some fantastic original songs with goose-bump inducing lyrics: “There’s guns across the river ’bout to pound you / There’s a lawman on your trail like to surround you / Bounty hunters are dancing all around you / Billy they don’t like you to be so free.” That’s target=”_blank”>Pancho and Lefty quality imagery! All in all it’s a masterpiece of mood, highlighted by Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, a song which despite having been covered by everyone from Eric Clapton (decent) to Guns N’ Roses (meh) to Babyface (huh?) to Avril Lavigne (ugh) still retains it’s ability to mesmerize, and an album that proves Dylan’s storytelling genius extended far beyond pop music, and could turn a minor film in Peckinpah’s oeuvre into a must-see. Here’s track 5, “River Theme”:

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and track 7, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”:

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and track 9, “Billy 4″:

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and – drumroll please – the number one soundtrack of all time is:

01.) La Planete Sauvage [Fantastic Planet] (1973) – Alain Gorageur

René Laloux‘s animated classic won the special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and was distributed in the U.S. by legendary producer Roger Corman. It’s the tale of the Draags, giant blue aliens who view their tiny, human Oms as slave-like pets. When a domesticated Om escapes with the tools to educate the wild forest-dwelling Oms, war and revolution threaten to destroy Draag society. Populated with bizarre mating rituals, alien plant life and strange psychedelic landscapes, watching The Fantastic Planet is a consciousness-expanding experience, not unlike the one you get listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz. Essentially a morality tale of our Human inclination to view the “other” as inferior and threatening, it’s required viewing for people interested in out-there cinema, intelligent science fiction, or hallucinogenics in general. Composer Alain Goraguer was a jazz musician who arranged and produced for Serge Gainsbourg and France Gall before turning to film (The Dead Times, The Snails, Paris Secret), but none of his other works presage this eerie, one-of-a-kind album. With Fanstastic Planet he fuses bass-heavy blaxploitation-worthy beats with a prog-rock array of mellotrons, synthesizers, clavinets and wah-wah pedals to create something too funky to be Avant-Garde yet too complex and oftentimes cacophonous to be anything else. It’s an aural masterpiece which can still be felt in the work of bands like Portishead and Air and hip-hop visionaries J Dilla, MF Doom and Madlib. It’s hypnotic, psychedelic, electronic, angelic, and it’s number one on my list – so that’s saying something too I guess. I hope you enjoy it – here’s track 2, “Deshominisation I”:

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and track 4, “Le Bracelet”:

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and track 12, “Conseil Des Draags”:

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and track 15, “Mira Et Ten”:

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Click to see part 1 (OST’s #141-150) , part 2 (131-140),  part 3 (121-130), part 4 (111-120), part 5 (101-110), part 6 (91-100), part 7 (81-90), part 8 (71-80), part 9 (61-70), part 10 (51-60), part 11 (41-50), part 12 (31-40), part 13 (21-30), part 14 (11-20) and part 15 (1-10).

And don’t forget to comment! I want to hear about soundtracks I may have missed, and get your thoughts on the ones I got wrong! And don’t forget to tune in for the honorable mentions – scores which just barely missed the mark.

November 30, 2010   4 Comments

Visceral French Masterpiece – LA HAINE (HATE)

LA HAINE (HATE) is a movie packed wall to wall with the most incredible shots – all in service to the story.

Few films merge substance and style as seamlessly as this 1995 French film by Mathieu Kassovitz, the story of 3 French youths – one Jew, one Arab, and one Black – who plan to avenge a friend’s death at the hands of the police. It’s a powerful, lyrical masterpiece, and a treasure trove of exuberant camera technique, not one frame of which feels overindulgent or unnecessary. The ghetto of Kassovitz’s narrative is part black and white documentary, part over-cranked slow-motion flyovers, and between these two extremes anything can happen. Referencing Kurosawa’s Stray Dog in its “gun lost by a policeman” point of departure, the plot focuses on what happens when angry young men find a means of exercising (or is it exorcising?) their hatred. Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui are fantastic, but it’s Vincent Cassel who steals the show, with a performance that echoes Robert De Niro’s in Mean Streets, only amped up for an angrier generation. And yet the direction outshines even him, painted with deep shadows and shot construction that makes you pause, rewind, and marvel at what Kassovitz is up to. If you haven’t seen this movie you’re in for a treat, from the opening anecdote to Bob Marley’s bass-heavy “burnin’ and lootin'” accompanying the titles to the film’s final frame, it’s one hell of a ride which’ll leave the movie-lover in you breathless. In the 15 years since, Kassovitz has failed to live up to the promise of this landmark film, having directed a number of bigger-budgeted action movies (Crimson Rivers, Gothika, Babylon A.D.) and perhaps most notably starring as Audrey Tautou‘s love interest in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie. But as Joseph Heller once wrote, “when I read something saying I’ve not done anything as good as Catch-22 I’m tempted to reply, ‘Who has?'” – and Kassovitz should feel the exact same way about La Haine.

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June 30, 2010   No Comments

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