Thursday, July 10, 2008

10 Great Film Scores

Since I won't have a movie to review until after I've seen Hellboy II: The Golden Army tomorrow night, I'd thought I'd keep going with the lists. Why not? I mean, it's my blog, right?

Film scores are the new classical music, using themes and orchestrations unlike any other modern musical style. Film score composers have an additional challenge in matching their music with what's happening on screen (not to mention matching the director's vision); accenting and complimenting the film, without overpowering it. It's a delicate balance that's hard to achieve. My personal music collection, while fairly large and very ecclectic, is dominated by film scores and soundtracks and they are what I listen to when I need artistic inspiration.

So, here are my 10 favorite film scores, not in any particular order:

The Fly - Howard Shore. David Cronenberg's remake of the classic Sci-fi/Horror movie speaks on so many subjects - madness, cancer, AIDS, relationships, technology gone wrong - the audience is swept along on an emotional rollercoaster unrivaled by any horror movie before or since. Shore's stunning score is near-perfect, evoking emotional responses that rival the powerful images (and superb performances from both Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis) on the screen. Shore and Cronenberg recently turned The Fly into an opera, which has critics raving. I can't wait to both hear and see it.

Braveheart - James Horner. Mel Gibson's flawed epic may be historically inaacurate and homophobic, but Horner's soaring, heroic score is nothing short of breathtaking. While playing Ross in a production of "Macbeth" a few years ago, I listened to it on my way to the theatre every night for inspiration.

Titus - Eliot Goldenthal. Julie Tamor directed one of the best Shakespearean films ever made and her husband's ecclectic and violent score is both hilarious and touching, evoking classical opera, war-chants and anarchistic punk jazz in a fusion of styles as varied as the visual styles on screen.

Vertigo - Bernard Herrman. Herrman was Hitchcock's go-to guy when it came to scoring his classic thrillers. It is Herrman who is responsible for what may be the most iconic movie music of all time; Psycho's "screaming violins." But Vertigo finds both director and composer at the top of their games. Herrman's dizzying and suspenseful score is probably one of the best ever.

Edward Scissorhands - Danny Elfman. Elfman gets a lot of grief; his prolific output (mostly for the films of Tim Burton) is the butt of jokes from the likes of the MST3K gang and movie and music bloggers everywhere. But his lush, mournful score for Burton's second-best film (after Ed Wood, which Elfman did not score) is simply gorgeous and it evokes the movie's romance and pathos quite perfectly.

Gladiator - Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard. Hands down, Zimmer is simply the best film composer working today, and his score (along with wife Lisa Gerrard) for Ridley Scott's sword and sandal epic is nothing short of Wagnerian. Evoking themes from Holst, Vivaldi, Beethoven and more; Zimmer and Gerrard's music soars and inspires, both emotionally and spiritually. The husband and wife team are also the only members of the new-agey ambient band, Dead Can Dance.

Star Wars - John Williams. Come on. I mean, really now. Talk about iconic. Williams' themes are instantly recognizable; whether its the pulsing bass of Jaws, the soaring sounds of E.T. or the racing thunder of Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know a Williams score when you hear it. But the first Star Wars soundtrack will always hold a special place in this perpetual teenager's heart.

King Kong (1933) - Max Steiner. Steiner created many memorable movie themes in his day, including the famous score for Gone with the Wind, but his score for the original giant ape movie (the first ever written specifically for a movie) is without a doubt, his best. Ranging from the towering, operatic opening credits to the passionate jungle drums of the sacrifice scene to string-filled romance, Steiner's sweeping score is undoubtedly a modern classic. On a side note - I have at least one thing in common with the amazing Peter Jackson: King Kong is the film that made me fall in love with movies when I was a kid. James Newtown Howard wisely included some of Steiner's themes in his own score for Jackson's version, including a re-creation of the original sacrifice scene as part of Kong's New York show.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch - Stephen Trask. Okay, officially this was an Off-Broadway musical before it was a movie, but Trask and co-creator John Cameron Mitchell created a Rocky Horror for the new millennium. Trask's funny, punky rock score manages to be touching and thought-provoking at the same time, and I've never heard a song that explains Plato's creation theory better than "The Origin of Love."

The Omen (1976) - Jerry Goldsmith. The late, great Jerry Goldsmith was one of Hollywood's most prolific composers, but few of his scores are as memorable (or frightening) as the demonic chants he wrote for this Richard Donner thriller. Creepy, exotic and very Catholic, Goldsmith's score never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

Honorable Mentions: The Bride of Frankenstien (Franz Waxman); Bram Stoker's Dracula (Wojciech Kilar); Elizabeth (David Hirschfelder); Fargo (Carter Burwell); House on Haunted Hill - 1999 (Don Davis); The Others (Alejandro Amenabar); Passion: The Last Temptation of Christ (Peter Gabriel); Pirates of the Carribean; The Curse of the Black Pearl (Hans Zimmer as 'Klaus Badelt')

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