Friday, April 26, 2013

My Top 10 Film Scores of All Time


There are so many different ways to play a great film score. Maybe they seamlessly blend with the material, and you aren’t even aware of their presence. Maybe their thunderous resonance grabs you right away and never let’s go. Maybe they chill, maybe they encourage – whatever the case, few things are better than a fitting piece of original movie score.

I have tens of thousands of songs on my iTunes playlist, 65 percent of which are film scores. Most of the scores below cracked my top 10 because I can write to them so fluidly. I write to music, and I never write to songs containing actual lyrics. I write a lot, so, as a byproduct, I listened to a shitload of movie scores. Some picks are based on writability, others on nostalgia – all, however, are rated chiefly by inspiration.

10. Shame (2011)
Score by Harry Escott


Escott’s contribution to Shame lasts for a little over 19 minutes, but my god, how effective those minutes are. Anyone who has seen Steve McQueen’s masterpiece knows that Escott’s music is as much a character as any person in the film. Even though the score appears only twice in the film (and over the end credits) it propels the story in ways many contemporary scores simply do not. Since December 2011, I have not gone one week without listening to Escott’s work from this film.

Top Three Tracks: Unraveling; Brandon; End Credits

9. Beetlejuice (1988)
Score by Danny Elfman


Danny Elfman’s “Main Title” track to Beetlejuice is my childhood. I hear it, and I’m immediately thrown back to the countless afternoons I spent sitting in front of the television, letting Tim Burton and Co. transport me to a PG-friendly world of macabre.

Top Three Tracks: Main Title; The Fly; The Incantation

8. 25th Hour (2002)
Score by Terence Blanchard


I’m a huge fan of Terence Blanchard’s contribution to Spike Lee’s films over the years. It’s as fine a composer/director collaboration as we currently have, and nothing of their work captivates me more than Blanchard’s haunting cues for 25th Hour. These tunes are big, eerie, confident, and, most importantly, angry.

Top Three Tracks: Open Title; 25th Hour Finale; Fu Montage

7. Babel (2006)
Score by Gustavo Santaolalla


Gustavo Santaolalla holds a rare distinction of winning two consecutive Oscars for Best Original Score. His first was for his iconic and much parodied music for Brokeback Mountain, followed by his melancholic tracks for Babel. I love them both, but there’s something about the isolation of Babel that Santaolalla’s guitars suit so well. The music just feels lost, but in all the best ways.

Top Three Tracks: Tazarine; Deportation/Iguazu; Prayer

6. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Score by Jonny Greenwood


I knew from the beginning that this was going to work. When the announcement was made that Radiohead’s lead guitarist/keyboardist was going to score a Paul Thomas Anderson film, I expected greatness. And damn if he didn’t deliver. Odd, captivating, and utterly enthralling.

Top Three Tracks: Henry Plainview; Future Markets; Open Spaces

5. The Thin Red Line (1998)
Score by Hans Zimmer


Hans Zimmer is a busy guy. He is credited with more film scores than any musician on this list, and is known for cranking out big scores for big movies rather quickly. But for me, picking a favorite among Zimmer’s body of work is no contest. I can’t think of a better, more telling opening shot in recent cinema: as a massive crocodile slowly descends into the murky depths of a dirty pond, Zimmer’s “The Coral Atoll” cues up terrifyingly, in perfect unison with the image on screen. It’s as if we’re descending into hell, without a chance at getting out.

Top Three Tracks: The Coral Atoll; Journey to the Line; Beam

4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Score by John Williams


John Williams’ music is grandiose. We can all hum his most legendary tracks; many of which are synonymous with the film art form. There are many Williams scores to choose from, but I’ll always love his work for E.T. the most. Again, I hear the “End Credits” track for this film, and it’s as if I’m 4-years-old again. It’s just heavenly.

Top Three Tracks: End Credits; Escape, Chase, Saying Goodbye; Main Titles

3. The New World (2005)
Score by James Horner


The film score I have written to the most is James Horner’s whimsical, transcendental music for Terrence Malick’s The New World. I’m typically not a fan of composers fusing natural sound elements into their music, but Horner’s seamless use of birdcalls and other voices from nature work perfectly here. When this music plays, it’s as if my mind becomes relaxed and focused, and my fingers want nothing more than to dance. The crescendo of the soundtrack’s best song, “Of the Forest,” is otherworldly.

Top Three Tracks: Of the Forest; The New World; Pocahontas and Smith

2. Psycho (1960)
Score by Bernard Herrmann


This one really has it all. It’s loud and purposeful, restrained and subtle, frightening and iconic – it’s as faultless and well known a film score as we’re ever going to have. Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano told a funny story about the first time he screened Psycho. He watched a rough cut, which was void of musical score, in the presence of Alfred Hitchcock and a few studio executives. When the film was done, Stefano looked mortified. Hitch leaned over, patted him on the knee and said, “Don’t worry, it’s just a rough cut.” The next time Stefano saw the film, Herrmann’s strings were there to motivate it. I think it’s safe to assume that Stefano liked the picture much better after that.

Top Three Tracks: Prelude; The Murder; The Rainstorm

1. Taxi Driver (1976)
Score by Bernard Herrmann


Who better to occupy the top two spots of this list than Bernard Herrmann? The man was a pure legend, and, in my opinion, his finest achievement was also his last. I have a difficult time putting Herrmann’s work for Taxi Driver into words. Its drums foreshadow the clouded depths of hell while its horns suggest a hidden beauty. It’s as schizophrenic as the man in which the film chronicles, and it works to thrilling results. Although Herrmann died mere days after he concluded the score for Martin Scorsese’s urban nightmare of a film, you can be sure its legacy will outlive us all.

Top Three Tracks: Main Titles; The .44 Magnum is a Monster; Assassination Attempt/After the Carnage


Click here for more lists from And So it Begins, including:

44 comments:

  1. Nice work Alex. I can't say I'm overly familiar with all the scores here, but there are some excellent ones. I'd probably put the Drive score on my list, it's superb.

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    1. Thanks man. I really wanted to include a Cliff Martinez score. The man is a true genius. I think my fav would be Traffic, followed by Drive. Great stuff.

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  2. Good list here. I have to say that I have a clear personal favorite - "The Last of the Mohicans". It's such a big part of the film and I loved it so much I even incorporated it into my wedding. What a movie geek, right?

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    1. Dude, movie geek or not, I think that is AWESOME! That's a really great score, Edelman and Jones did solid work there.

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  3. So many great ones here! I don't know if I could possibly narrow down my favorite scores. My son loves the Flying Theme from E.T. He's always so calm when he hears it.

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    1. Thanks! I didn't know you were a mommy... that's so cool :)

      Your son and I have something in common. I love that track. So very calming.

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  4. Great job man. I hear a lot of The Thin Red Line in Shame's score, so it's interesting to see both of them on here. Love all of these, though. Psycho and The Thin Red Line would likely crack my top 10, if ever made a list.

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    1. Thanks dude. Yeah, the scores are definitely similar, but Shame has a very significant crescendo that I'm particularly drawn too. Either way, both are damn fine.

      You should make a list!

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  5. What about the score from Requiem for a Dream(the one that plays at the end)?

    I personally found it pretty damm powerful

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    1. Oh hell yeah, Clint Mansell is a genius. Really wanted to include one of his scores here as well. But there was only room for 10!

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  6. Nice list. I have some of these scores on my iTunes.

    Here's my top 10:

    1. Ennio Morricone-Once Upon a Time in the West
    2. Ennio Morricone-The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
    3. Eduard Artemyev-Solaris (1972 film)
    4. Kevin Shields-Lost in Translation
    5. Jonny Greenwood-There Will Be Blood
    6. Ed Tomney-Safe
    7. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross-The Social Network
    8. Bernard Herrmann-Psycho
    9. Zbigniew Preisner-Trois Couleurs: Bleu
    10. Ennio Morricone-Once Upon a Time in America

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    1. Great list. It felt criminal to not include a Morricone score, but I guess that's just how my rankings fell. Love all of your picks - Reznor and Ross' score was this close to making my list.

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    2. I've never sat down to write a list like this, but I guarantee you it'd consist almost entirely of Herrmann and Morricone scores. Morricone has to be my favourite - the idea that the same guy who scored TGTBATU with such bombast could also create the creepy, future-horror atmosphere of The Thing and the somber loss of OUATIA is almost unbelievable.

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    3. Definitely don't want to give the impression that I don't love Morricone, because I LOVE Morricone. Man is a genius.

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    4. I knew you didn't think as much of Leone's films as me but yea the lack of Morricone was a surprise- good thing all of these are worthy as hell. For me I gotta love Goldsmith's worth in Chinatown and of course The Third Man. Once Upon A Time In America's music is probably my favorite tho- so moving.

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    5. I'd definitely make some changes to the list today, perhaps adding Chinatown and The Third Man to the list. And, yeah, feels like you gotta have some Morricone in there somewhere.

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  7. Man, I just wanted to say that I really dig your choices here, especially 25th Hour, that score gets into your bones. Blanchard puts together a score that is so very evocative of the frustrated nature of Benioff's characters. Taxi Driver is a masterwork, I'd argue Hermann's greatest and that's saying a lot from the guy who gave us Cape Fear, Psycho, Obsession and many other outstanding scores. It makes you feel Travis' alienation first hand, shifting seamlessly from romantic, dreamy, surreal to sinister and all too realist. And that tapping during Unraveling, made me want to vomit the first time I heard it. I cannot believe Shame was so overlooked in EVERY REGARD! Great post man. Although this may be a tad self-indulgent I want to share my top 10:

    1. Taxi Driver
    2. The Deer Hunter
    3. A Clockwork Orange
    4. Enter the Void
    5. Mulholland Dr.
    6. Once Upon A Time in the West
    7. Escape from New York
    8. 25th Hour
    9. The Master
    10. Mean Streets

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    1. Wow man, thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such a kind, insightful comment. As for the reasoning behind why you like the scores for 25th Hour, Taxi Driver and Shame: couldn't have said it better myself. Well done!

      And hey, as long as you're commenting on this site, PLEASE feel free to share your picks. I love reading everyone's lists.

      Love that Taxi Driver is tops for you as well. Mulholland Dr. was my 11th pick. I so wanted Badalamenti represented in my picks. That score is amazing.

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  8. I've recently gotten fond of Clint Mansell's score for The Fountain.

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    1. Mansell's score in that movie is one of my favorite things about The Fountain. Perfect, haunting work.

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  9. Superb list. Glad to see Shame and Psycho on here, definitely two of my favourites as well.

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    1. Thanks man! Two classics right there.

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  10. Wait...the score in Shame appears twice?! That's insane, I would have guessed 5 or 6 times...I guess it just shows how insanely memorable and rich it is, what a great work.

    I still cannot believe some people persisted that McQueen used Zimmer's score from Thin Red Line there - there are some who even wrote that in their reviews and when I pointed out it's not Thin Red Line music, they actually argued with me :P

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    1. Yeah isn't that crazy? Plenty of classical music cues in the flick, but Escott's only comes on twice.

      I remember reading some persistent comments that the Shame and TTRL music was the same. Similar, sure, but the same...? Nah.

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  11. Some great picks here, man. I love that you included There Will Be Blood. Greenwood's score for The Master was pretty stellar as well. Would love to see them continue to collaborate.

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    1. Thanks dude! I would love for Greenwood and PTA to continue working together. Their work suits each other so damn well.

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  12. BTW, thanks for fixing your comments! It worked like a charm this time.

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    1. Thank YOU for bringing it to my attention! Damn fault of Blogger: apparently if you ban Anonymous and Name/URL comments, that blocks most all Wordpress comments. All or nothing. Lame.

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  13. solid list. New World is such an underrated film. I have most of these movies in my collection, but the amount of film soundtracks I have on my ipod is tiny in comparison. this post makes me want to change that. kudos.

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    1. Thanks man. I love finding other fans of The New World. That flick really gets shit on a lot.

      Hope you have fun tracking down more film scores!

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  14. Thin Red Line, 25th hour and anything by Hermann would rank high on my own favorite movie scores. I doubt Zimmer will ever top the brooding, violent but ironically calming rythmes of his work on TRL. 25th Hour's score is a like a great symphony, every movement is a variation of the main theme. Slowed down, sped up, 'jazzed up' etc. What else needs to be said about Hermann? Easily, the most underrated film composer ever.

    Let's see, the soundtracks to Master and Commander, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and Chinatown would also be on my own list.

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    1. Awesome man, so glad to hear you're a fan of many of my picks. I can listen to all of those on repeat. So memorable for such different reasons.

      I like your picks as well. Zimmer is on point when he works with Nolan, and Goldsmith did superb work for Chinatown.

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  15. I know space is limited on a top ten list, and you want to cover territory you love. Morricone in the Sergio Leone films feels essential. Erich Wolfgang Korngold invented so much of what movie music is, that it is a shame his classical roots seem to sideline him on lists like this. Someone finally mentioned my favorite film composer, Jerry Goldsmith. Chinatown is terrific, but I think his masterwork is The Wind and the Lion. I look forward to hearing many of the film scores you listed, I still need to see several on your list. I may just listen to The Thin Red Line because Malick is not my cup of tea. Shame sound so depressing, I don't know if I can make it, but I will enjoy the link.

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    1. Korngold was such a great talent. I think his favorite of mine would be The Adventures of Robin Hood. Haven't heard The Wind and the Lion, definitely need to give that a listen. Just listening to TTRL (and Shame) will be worth your while. Great music there.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I'm curious, what would your Top 10 be?

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    2. The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Wind and the Lion, Psycho, The Untouchables, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, How to Train Your Dragon, Planet of the Apes, Patton, and maybe The Dark Knight. This is just thinking off the top of my head. More Herman is needed (Vertigo, Taxi Driver) and more Morricone (The Good the Bad and the Ugly, The Mission). I could also add more Goldsmith but there are three on the list already.

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    3. Good shit. I've actually heard nothing but great things about Powell's work for How to Train Your Dragon. I haven't seen the film, but maybe it's worth a listen on its own...

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  16. My all time favorite score is Mychael Danna's for THE SWEET HEREAFTER. If you haven't seen it, do. If not, continue your life the way you've been living it. The film is as good as its score too. It's one of those rare filmic occurrences in which all the elements are working together on the same plane. I actually bought the DVD solely based on the music-only track listed in its special features.

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    1. Wow, what a spirited choice there. I actually own The Sweet Hereafter. I love that film. But I have clearly not been paying enough attention to Danna's contribution to it. A rewatch is due very, very soon.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  17. OK, I was looking out for some scores, as I'm a big fan and like nothing better than hearing some amazing piece of music in a film, here's some of my faves:

    Hans Zimmer - Time (Inception)
    Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - Hand Covers Bruise (Social Network)
    John Murphy - Kaneda's Death Pt II - (Sunshine)
    Clinton Shorter - District 9 (District 9)
    Aaron Zigman - On The Lake (The Notebook)
    Max Richter - On the nature of daylight (Shutter Island)
    Max Richter - Luminous (Perfect Sense)
    Clint Mansell - The Nursery (Moon)
    Clint Mansell - The Last Man (The Fountain)

    I could go on and on, if you havent heard any of these, I implore you to look them up!

    There are more but I'm tired of typing! Good choices by the way especially Beetlejuice, that took me way back!

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    1. GREAT picks there. Reznor/Ross' Social Network score is remarkable. So happy that won the Oscar.

      When I initially wrote this lost, I forgot to include Beetlejuice. Then I remembered Elfman's tunes and I couldn't NOT include it. Love that.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  18. Yes, all are very good but for my aren't just ten. For me are: Awesome scores (James Bond), great scores (Chariots of Fire),horror scores (The Exorcist) and hipnotic/strange scores (Taxi Driver).

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    1. Love the score for The Exorcist. So iconic.

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