Readers Poll – Top 10 Film Scores of 2009

Over 150 people voted and over 1,000 votes were cast. Now the results of the first annual readers poll for the Top 10 film scores of the year are in. (Well, actually it’s the Top 11, since there was a tie.) While I expected certain scores to appear, it was interesting to watch the list form and morph over the two-week voting period. Out of the 174 scores listed, 139 of them received at least one vote.

While this list certainly doesn’t match my life (nor should it), there are numerous overlaps. What that indicates to me as the writer of this blog is that I occasionally cover subjects and scores that seem to click with you guys. (As always, if you agree or disagree, feel free to leave me a comment below of send one through the Contact page.) Of course, there is always room for improvement and I will continue to strive to provide you with even more film music coverage in 2010.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to vote.¬†Oh, by the way, if you’re expecting the same old audio clips, think again. These are all brand new. Enjoy!

10. THE RED CANVAS – James Peterson


18 Votes–James Peterson’s instant classic has obviously hit a nerve in the film music industry, and strictly through word of mouth. Outside of a couple European film festivals, this boxing film hasn’t even been released yet. So it’s reassuring to know that traditional orchestral film music that relies on full-blown themes still has a place not only in cinema but with film score fans as well.

9. KNOWING – Marco Beltrami


21 Votes–Nicolas Cage keeps making some of the most ridiculous movies around. And though it starts off promisingly with some knockout special effects and an interesting premise, KNOWING veers off into a preposterous sci-fi alien tale that serves no one well. Except for one person. Marco Beltrami’s excellent score runs the gamut from horror and action cues to inspiring choral cues for the final act of the film. Where Beltrami found the inspiration, I’ll never know. At least you readers wisely acknowledged his impact on the film.

8. CORALINE – Bruno Coulais


22 Votes–2009 has been a particularly strong year for animation and CORALINE jump started that trend. Though the film was more a favorite with critics than audiences, there’s no denying the effect that Bruno Coulais’s score has on the film. Along with the unique visuals, Coulais provides a haunting score and its very French-ness works to create a unique musical sound for this equally unique film.

7. COCO BEFORE CHANEL – Alexandre Desplat


24 Votes–Alexandre Desplat scored 7 films in 2009, and COCO BEFORE CHANEL is quintessential Desplat. Delicate orchestrations, memorable themes, and lilting rhythms seduce the listener. While I personally think Desplat had a better score this year, and has provided stronger scores in this style in the past, I won’t quibble with your choice to include it in your top 10. A very fine entry indeed.

6. AMELIA – Gabriel Yared (tie)


28 Votes–I doubt most of you voters saw AMELIA (and I count myself among that group as well). But you obviously responded to Gabriel Yared’s lush, old fashioned score. And why wouldn’t you? With long, sweeping melodies that soar, it’s hard to resist such a rich score that is so pleasant to listen to. If any music was ever meant to fly, this is one score that does so.

6. ANGELS & DEMONS – Hans Zimmer (tie)


28 Votes–A huge financial hit and a composer popular with film score fans and the general public. I am usually resistant to Zimmer’s music, but there was something in the pulsating rhythmic energy of the score that captivated me from the first track on the CD. Joshua Bell’s solos are sublime and though the movie is nothing more than pulp religious claptrap, Zimmer almost makes you believe it. That’s some feat indeed.

5. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON – Alexandre Desplat


29 Votes–For film score fans who were disappointed by Desplat’s last “big” film, THE GOLDEN COMPASS, with NEW MOON he definitely silenced those critics that felt he didn’t have the chops for a popular Hollywood film. I was surprised and delighted by Desplat’s work on this score and apparently he struck a chord with readers as well.

4. AVATAR – James Horner


38 Votes–If you’ve read my review, you know that I’m no fan of James Horner’s score. That being said, I would have been shocked if it had not appeared on your list. The film is a major success and Horner is a fan favorite. Obviously the score affected my readers more than it did me. If you’re an AVATAR fan, what about the score struck you as memorable?

3. DRAG ME TO HELL – Christopher Young


45 Votes–Christopher Young tends to get more recognition from film score fans than the general public. But it was hard to ignore his Gothic horror score for DRAG ME TO HELL. A veritable cinematic violin concerto, Young’s score hits the mark even when the film does not. This is the first film in which I truly heard what Young can do. I’ll certainly be paying more attention in the future.

2. STAR TREK – Michael Giacchino


67 Votes–2009 was definitely a banner year for Michael Giacchino. This was the first score of the year to actually give me goosebumps when I heard it. And it was the strength of Giacchino’s music that converted me into a raging teenage Trekker all over again. It’s nice to see fans embracing his new musical vision for the STAR TREK franchise. May it live long and prosper.

1. UP – Michael Giacchino


74 Votes–The top two slots on your list always alternated between STAR TREK and UP, and why not? Two of the most noticeable scores for two of the most popular films of the year. Anyone who has read this blog since May knows of my affection for both of them. I certainly won’t quibble about your selection. And I think you rightly chose the “best” score of the year.

Other popular scores with voters included:

  • 17 votes–A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Alan Silvestri)
  • 16 votes–BARRIA (Ennio Morricone), G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (Alan Silvestri), IN THE ELECTRIC MIST (Marco Beltrami), PONYO (Joe Hisaishi), TERMINATOR SALVATION (Danny Elfman)
  • 15 votes–FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Alexandre Desplat), HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (Nicholas Hooper), UN HOMME ET SON CHIEN (Philippe Rombi)
  • 14 votes–THE STONING OF SORAYA M. (John Debney)

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to vote. If you have any suggestions or comments of ways to improve future surveys, please let me know.

Now that the results are in, what do you think?


  1. Notable exception (although probably because nobody’s seen it): Nathan Johnson’s score for “The Brothers Bloom” contributed to a tremendously delightful film with an array of jazz, orchestral, and indie colors all built around three simple but immutable themes. For anyone who appreciates what Burwell does for the Coen’s or what Desplat/Mothersbaugh do for Wes Anderson, please take the time to check out what Nathan does for his brother Ryan. This score is not to be missed.

    My Top 10 (still in flux):
    1. Nathan Johnson — The Brothers Bloom
    2. Michael Giacchino — Up
    3. Joe Hisaishi — Ponyo
    4. Phillippe Rombi — Un Homme et Son Chien
    5. Carter Burwell — Where the Wild Things Are
    6. Marvin Hamlisch — The Informant
    7. Alexandre Desplat — Fantastic Mr. Fox,
    8. Bruno Coulais — Coraline
    9. Michael Giacchino –Star Trek
    10. Clint Mansell — Moon

    1. Hey Andrew. I knew THE BROTHERS BLOOM would be on yours. :) I enjoyed it also, and it was on my preliminary list. I tried MOON but I think I need to hear it with the visuals. The DVD comes out in a couple of weeks and I think I’ll have a greater appreciation for it then. I think I’ll also Netflix TBB to give that another shot too.

  2. For sure — I still need to see RED CANVAS (as well as a few on my list), but I think the best way to judge a score is how it serves the film. Without that context, certain compositional choices may seem counter intuitive or even nonsensical, while in context a deceptively simple piece can have vastly more meaning and impact when set to picture.
    .-= AB´s last blog ..Wading @ Nihilist Film Fest Santa Monica =-.

  3. I really can’t argue with any of the inclusions on that list, Jim, but just for the heck of it here are my own Top 10 choices:

    01) Mao’s Last Dancer (Christopher Gordon)
    02) Un Homme et Son Chien (Philippe Rombi)
    03) The Informant! (Marvin Hamlisch)
    04) Cheri (Alexandre Desplat)
    05) Astro Boy (John Ottman)
    06) Amelia (Gabriel Yared)
    07) The Red Canvas (James Peterson)
    08) Up (Michael Giacchino)
    09) The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Alexandre Desplat)
    10) Drag Me to Hell (Christopher Young)

    1. Hi Michael, thanks for commenting. I could have predicted your #1. LOL Good choice nonetheless. Also, I like that you added ASTRO BOY. It obviously didn’t make my list. But I thoroughly enjoyed it when I heard it. Definitely a step above what Ottman has done lately.

  4. I believe the exact piece which is above off of Star Trek is the best piece of music scored this year!, I would say it even is in contention for one of my favourite single pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s so emotional, the entire 12 minute sequence of the destruction of the U.S.S Kelvin is one of the greatest pieces of cinema I’ve seen in my lifetime. Everything just combined and connected right to make that scene tremendous!

    I would have wanted Nicholas Hooper’s Half Blood Prince Score on the top ten because frankly I believe he produced the best work he ever has and the greatest Harry Potter Score yet. He just out-did John Williams’ magnificient scores from the previous and Patrick Doyle’s for Goblet of Fire. His ‘Dumbledore’s Farewell’, ‘Into the Rushes’, ‘Friends’, ‘Journey to the Cave’, etc etc pieces are unforgettably Beautiful!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Lee. While I don’t necessarily agree with your HARRY POTTER assessment, especially in comparison to Williams’ work on the series, I will agree that at least Hooper made a step forward from his last HP entry. I’m not familiar enough with his work to know if it’s his best work.

      As for the STAR TREK clip, that “Labor of Love” moment was when I knew we were in for something special in the film. I couldn’t believe that J. J. Abrams dropped out all the sound for such a dramatic moment and just let the images and Giacchino’s beautiful cue take over. A lesser director would have relied on the sound effects, but Abrams wisely focused on the emotion of the moment, setting up everything that was to follow. An absolutely stunning moment.

  5. I know this is a late comment, but I wanted to answer the question of what I found memorable about Avatar. The whole movie was a sensory phenomenon. James Cameron created a world that captivated me from the first frame of the film. Even without the 3D glasses, I was hooked. The story, although familiar, was poignant to me because I identified with the characters and I shared their wonder on the world of Pandora.

    Regarding the score, I consider it yet another magnum opus from Horner because it aided in that sensory immersion. I know there are themes galore from other works, but I believe that familiarity helps to ground the story. And sometimes the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rings true.

    Maybe this means little because I’m pretty much a Horner loyalist/apologist, but I cannot imagine the film without Horner’s score. This explains my utter disappointment that the film won neither Best Picture nor Original Score at the Oscars. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of my all-time favorite films with one of my all-time favorite scores to complement.

    1. I believe Horner commented in numerous interviews that he wanted the score to ground the story. I don’t buy that for a minute. A new world deserved a “new” score, not rehashes of old works. And unfortunately, until Horner stops out-and-out quoting Prokofiev (which he’s done since BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS), it will continue to be “broke” for me and I’ll rip into him each and every time. Not that my opinion matters to him, nor should it. I did, however, enjoy his work on THE KARATE KID, which was a big surprise to me.

      I will definitely agree with you about AVATAR not winning Best Picture. It wouldn’t have been my personal choice, but for pulling off such a risky venture and turning into such a cultural zeitgeist for the year, it deserved the award over the snore that was THE HURT LOCKER. Oh well, a year later nobody even remembers THL, where AVATAR will continue to be discussed for years.

      1. Yes, 10 years from now, we’ll be discussing Avatar in the same way that we discuss Star Wars now, just for what it’s done for film.

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