Top 10 Film Scores of 2009

I love lists. I love making theme, I love reading them, I love their pathetic attempts to keep me organized while I ignore the “to do” topics that are on them. But nothing is better than a Top 10 list.

The past year in film music was an interesting one for me. Because of this blog, I’ve probably heard more new scores than in the last 10 years combined. The challenges for today’s film composers seem to become more and more insurmountable with shrinking fees, shrinking budgets, and the dwindling willingness of directors and studio executives to allow an artist to ply his craft. But while there is still an awful lot of mediocrity masquerading as film music, the year offered some excellent scores nonetheless.

I can wholeheartedly recommend each and every score on this list. And each, in its own way, has surprised me and rejuvenated my love of film music. May the next decade continue that trend.

10. ANGELS & DEMONS – Hans Zimmer

[audio:160bpm.mp3]

Dan Brown knows how to spin a yarn and Ron Howard knows how to film slick, reasonably entertaining flicks based on those page turners. While ANGELS & DEMONS is just as empty as its predecessor, THE DA VINCI CODE, its combination of science and religion, as well as some ridiculous set pieces allowed Hans Zimmer the chance to ramp up the excitement a bit more. The pulsating, churning “160 Bpm” gets things off to a rousing start and sets the tone for the numerous chase scenes. Chorus and Joshua Bell’s beautiful violin solos also enhance one of Zimmer’s best scores in years.

9. DUPLICITY – James Newton Howard

[audio:duplicity.mp3]

Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, and the writer/director of the acclaimed MICHAEL CLAYTON should have added up to box office gold this past spring. Instead, audiences had no interest in this entertaining and intricate crime heist. Too bad. They missed some well-written dialogue, the undeniable chemistry of the two stars, and James Newton Howard’s lively Latin, jazz, funk score. There’s nothing deep or meaningful in the music, but it is consistently entertaining and a lot of fun to listen to, perfectly echoing the film’s many shifts in gears.

8. AMELIA – Gabriel Yared

[audio:amelia1.mp3]

The always fascinating tale of vanished aviatrix Amelia Earhart should have been a return to the grand old days of Hollywood filmmaking. Alas, that didn’t seem to happen. What it did do was inspire one of Gabriel Yared’s loveliest scores. The long, flowing melodies seem to glide and hang suspended in the air. In days gone by, AMELIA would have been instant Oscar bait, no matter the reviews. But those days are gone and the awful reception for the film may dim Yared’s chances at an Oscar nomination, which would be a shame.

7. PONYO – Joe Hisaishi

[audio:ponyo.mp3]

The partnership of director Hayao Miyazaki and Joe Hisaishi are every bit as important in the world of Japanese anime as the collaborations between Steven Spielberg/John Williams and Alfred Hitchcock/Bernard Herrmann are in the world of live action films. Hisaishi’s lush, orchestral scores give depth to the 2D unique animation style. PONYO once again features Hisaishi’s seemingly bottomless well of gorgeous melodies. Even if you have no interest in anime, you’d be a fool to miss Hisaishi’s symphonic beauty.

6. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON – Alexandre Desplat

[audio:newmoon.mp3]

Alexandre Desplat did what I thought no one could do. He gave the popular tween vampire franchise a dose of good old fashioned Gothic romance. Instead of brooding understatement, Desplat goes for the jugular with a full-bodied orchestral score that churns with lush melodies, unexpressed emotion, and teenage angst. Desplat doesn’t totally abandon his delicate French sensibilities, but he sets the musical stakes higher and succeeds. Out of his 7 (count ’em, 7!) scores for 2009, NEW MOON seems Desplat’s best chance at an Oscar nomination, if the voters can let go of the stigma surrounding the franchise.

5. THE INFORMANT! – Marvin Hamlisch

[audio:meetmark.mp3]

No score brought me more unadulterated joy this year than Marvin Hamlisch’s buoyant THE INFORMANT. Director Steven Soderbergh hired the composer after hearing his score for Woody Allen’s BANANAS. Sure, the two scores bear some similarities, but to dismiss the latter as a rehash, as some critics and film score fans have done, is foolish. Because of the main character’s bipolar nature, the score travels through numerous moods, each one a delight. It’s heartening to see that Hamlisch has lost none of his polish, his gift for melody, nor his sense of humor. Welcome back, Marvin!

4. THE RED CANVAS – James Peterson

[audio:redcanvas.mp3]

If you don’t know who James Peterson is, with his score for the boxing film, THE RED CANVAS, that will all change. Critics and others in the industry have been quick to point out the Miklos Rozsa influences on the score, but this is no hack throwback to the Golden Age. The large orchestra with its massive brass and string (60 pieces) sections convey a world of emotions in this adrenaline pumping score. The closing 11-minute “Ballet for Brawlers” is the single most impressive cue I’ve heard all year. The CD also includes Peterson’s 8-movement concert work, “Moving Images Suite,” which further shows Peterson’s incredible range. This is the breakout score of the year. Now get this young man a major Hollywood contract!

3. STAR TREK – Michael Giacchino

[audio:enterprisingyoungmen.mp3]

Once the initial comparisons to Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score for STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE died down, film score fans and critics were able to take a more objective look at Michael Giacchino’s score for the new Trek franchise. And I think more people are finding what I’ve been trumpeting ever since the score was released in May. This is a score rich in excitement, emotion, and one particularly memorable new theme. While the Varese Sarabande CD skimps on the running time (45 minutes), Giacchino’s fantastic score still makes it mark. I look forward to hopefully hearing what he does with later installments of the franchise.

2. UP – Michael Giacchino

[audio:marriedlife.mp3]

The month of May belonged to Michael Giacchino with his one-two punch of STAR TREK and UP. In Pixar’s latest hit, Giacchino finds himself with the rare opportunity to have his music take over the visuals and serve as a character until itself. In the 4-minute “Married Life,” the film plays like a silent film and Giacchino’s music spans a variety of changing styles and carries the emotion of the montage as we experience an entire life without a single line of dialogue. If you feel anything for Carl, Russell and the dearly departed Ellie, a lot of the credit goes to Giacchino’s marvelous music. If Giacchino doesn’t win the Oscar for this, I’m going to be mighty upset.

1. UN HOMME ET SON CHIEN – Philippe Rombi

[audio:unhomme1.mp3]

Have you ever heard a piece of music that immediately hits you in the gut? One that so strongly releases pent up emotions that you have no idea where they came from? Such is Philippe Rombi’s theme from UN HOMME ET SON CHIEN. In this tale of an old man (Jean Paul Belmondo) and his dog, Rombi’s score, with its Ravel and Rachmaninoff influences, has enough beautiful melodies for ten films. The music (with Rombi’s lovely piano playing) goes for the tear ducts (at least with me) and doesn’t let go. Even with 16 years of film scoring under his belt, this is the first Rombi score I’ve heard. It guarantee you it won’t be the last.

TOMORROW: The results of YOUR favorite film scores of 2009. Don’t miss it!

22 comments

  1. Great list, Jim. I’m familiar with most of these (and applaud their presence on this kind of list), and am anxious to seek out the ones I haven’t heard (Red Canvas, Amelia, Duplicity). Is it just me, or was this a pretty darn good year in film music?

    Thanks for introducing me to Un Homme et son Chien! It’s easily the best new thing I’ve heard this year, and it deserves every bit of exposure and recommendation you can give it.

    1. Thanks Tim. Glad you enjoy the list. You definitely need to seek out THE RED CANVAS. As for UN HOMME ET SON CHIEN, well, it’s truly something special.

  2. Very good list….but no Avatar? Curious. I really enjoyed that, redundant as it may be. I actually liked it quite a bit better than Star Trek, even though I am certainly an unashamed Giacchino fan.

    I’m listening to your clip from UN HOMME ET SON CHIEN for the first time now, and wow, I really need to check this score out.
    .-= Colin Thomson´s last blog ..From the editor of Soundtracks Reviewed… =-.

  3. Hi Jim, nice list! I have heard many of the scores, but not all on your list. I concur in your choice for the number one spot. I’ve listened to film scores for just over 20 years and Un Homme was my first exposure to Rombi (and like you, not my last). For me the only glaring omission is Die Päpstin (Pope Joan) by Marcel Barsotti. Barsotti is another new composer for me, but his score to Pope Joan is simply wonderful.
    .-= Travis´s last blog ..MOVIESCORES: Die Päpstin (Pope Joan) by Marcel Barsotti is one of 2009’s outstanding film scores. http://is.gd/5Gafv =-.

    1. Hi Travis. I’ve heard “of” POPE JOAN, and I even think I have it here somewhere. But it’s in a rush of tons of scores to listen to here at the end of the year. I just couldn’t get to them all. But this one will now move to the top of the list on your recommendation. Thanks :)

  4. Very surprised at the inclusion of Angels & Demons. Didnt think it was your kind of score. Glad you enjoyed Un Homme Et Son Chien, a very good score.

    What do you think about Home, Agora, Ink, Moon, A Dog Named Christmas and The Lazarus Project? All worthy of a top 10 if you ask me.
    .-= Jorn´s last blog ..Soundtrack Review: Amelia (2009) =-.

    1. You’re right, Jorn. Usually Zimmer’s music is usually not my cup of tea. But for some reason ANGELS & DEMONS struck a chord with me and stuck with me all year long. AGORA was on my long list but it didn’t quite make it. Very good score though. The others on your list didn’t click with me but I’ll definitely give them some more listens on your recommendation.

      Are you going to do a list on your blog? I doubt there will be many overlaps but I’d love to read your choices. :)

  5. Thanks for providing the sample clips. I played them all and loved each one. I’m definitely going to buy them all! My favourite from your selection was Ponyo.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the clips. That’s what they’re there for, to stimulate purchasing and reward the composers for all their hard work. PONYO is a wonderful score. I think you’ll really enjoy it. Thanks for comments. :)

  6. Please tell me where I can listen to like on youtube or something. the one you voted number 1. UN HOMME ET SON CHIEN – Philippe Rombi. its one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve heard.

    1. Lee, I have no idea of where else you can listen to the score. I finally just had to break down and buy it once I heard that gorgeous theme. I Googled until my fingers were numb and couldn’t find anything online to listen or watch. Even though the film didn’t get a high rating on IMDB, I’m still hoping it either opens in the U.S. or makes it to DVD. I’d love to see how this lovely music fits with the film.

  7. Hi Jim,

    Great choices. However, my own N°1 choice for Best of 2009 is MAO’S LAST DANCER by Christopher Gordon–it’s a gorgeous score, full of lyricism and great writing. Check it out if you haven’t already!

    I like very much your website, keep up the good work!

    Best,
    Maurizio

    1. Hi Maurizio, thanks for commenting and thanks for your kind words. :)

      I’ve listened to MAO’S LAST DANCER but it didn’t do much for me for some reason. It definitely is full of lyricism and the writing is excellent. But it didn’t touch me as much as I had hoped. Still, it’s a worthy choice for any list.

  8. Pingback: December Recap | Film Score Click Track

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *