Top 10 Film Scores of 2010

Like many film music fans, I tend to lament the current state of film scoring. And then a year-end Top 10 list helps me refocus and appreciate the work that many composers are contributing to the art form. Sure, there’s still plenty of mediocrity and crap being written, often through no fault of the composer, but I had no trouble at all compiling a list of worthy scores for the year. You know it’s a strong list if I had to regrettably leave off a Rachel Portman score.

Once again, I’ve included new clips for the list. Look for the results of the readers survey tomorrow. Here are ten examples that refute the argument that all contemporary film music sounds the same.

10. TANGLED – Alan Menken

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As much as I enjoyed Alan Menken‘s latest Disney score on its own, the music takes on a new, richer life in context of the film. The songs are stronger, without overpowering the story, and the orchestral score generates genuine excitement and emotion. After all these years, Menken could probably compose an animated score in his sleep. And yet his music sounds just as timeless as it always has.

9. THE LEGEND OF SILKBOY – Alain Mayrand

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One of the joys of reviewing new releases are discovering new composers. And few scores this year have brought me such unbridled joy as SILKBOY. Alain Mayrand composed a rousing, old-fashioned superhero theme, some equally charming secondary themes and one exciting action cue after another. Energetic and buoyant, Mayrand’s score is a delight from start to finish.

8. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE – Howard Shore

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I don’t know how the composers of this franchise have found inspiration in this insipid series, but they have. Once again, Howard Shore provides an A-list score for a C-list (at best) property. Trademark action cues weave in and out of melodies and harmonies that are firmly grounded in Shore’s post-LORD OF THE RINGS orchestral palette. The combination of pop, electronics and Shore’s distinctive voice results in a score that is far better than the film deserves.

7. NORTH FACE – Christian Kolonovits

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Few people saw this harrowing film based on a true story of a pair of German Alpinists who get stuck on the most dangerous rock face in the Alps–the Eiger. Christian Kolonovits’ score swells with Wagnerian strum und drang as the two men and their Austrian counterparts battle the elements. Filled with memorable themes and dark orchestral timbres, the score assaults you with its bold musical strokes, displaying a memorable bravado.

6. BLACK SWAN – Clint Mansell

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I’ve never understood the appeal of Clint Mansell‘s music, perhaps because it’s usually attached to Darren Aronovsky’s pretentious flicks. So I didn’t hold out high hopes for BLACK SWAN, especially since I’m not a fan of Natalie Portman either. But the setting and the use of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake piqued my interest. Not only do I have to give Portman credit for her ballsy performance, but Mansell’s retooling of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet score is used to brilliant effect throughout the film. Would the score be half as good without Tchaikovsky’s memorable tunes? Maybe not. But Mansell reworks them in such clever ways, as well as adding his own stamp harmonically and electronically, that the score becomes one of the freshest adaptations of pre-existing material I’ve ever heard and a harrowing ride into dementia.

5. MOTHER AND CHILD – Edward Shearmur

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This small film has been forgotten in the year-end glut of Oscar bait, yet the memorable performances and Edward Shearmur‘s delicate score still merit attention. The fragile orchestrations never betray the emotions of the characters and Shearmur’s lovely themes are a pleasure to listen to on their own as well. I remain as moved as I was months ago.

4. INCEPTION – Hans Zimmer

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I recently watched this film again on DVD. While it loses something on the small screen, Hans Zimmer‘s score is just as powerful as it was in the cineplex. The belching brass chords (which also work well in Daft Punk’s TRON: LEGACY score) still define 2010 film music for me, for better or worse. The love theme is still as haunting and kudos to Christopher Nolan to allow Zimmer’s work to carry so much of the film on its own. Even without the nominations being announced yet, I’d bet money on Zimmer to take home his second Oscar.

3. THE GHOST WRITER – Alexandre Desplat

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Roman Polanski’s thriller wasn’t quite as clever as it wanted to be, but Alexandre Desplat‘s score helped override any of the film’s shortcomings. The score is pure Desplat from start to finish with his trademark rhythms, harmonies and orchestrations. The music creates the necessary tension and excitement and feels right at home in Polanski’s skewed view of the political realm. With the number of films Desplat does every year, you’d think he’d be running out of creative juice. Nope.

2. THE KING’S SPEECH – Alexandre Desplat

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This is one score that snuck up on me. Alexandre Desplat‘s memorable score is one that grows ever richer the more you listen to it. I was barely aware of the music (except for the classical excerpts) in the film, and yet it never failed to support the drama. The score provides a solid foundation for the growing friendship between Bertie and Lionel, Bertie’s stilted emotions and the ever-changing world drama unfolding around him. Yet another winner from the ever-talented pen of Desplat.

1. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON – John Powell

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My top selection was a no-brainer. I fell in love with John Powell‘s rousing score from the moment I heard it. But attach it to the film’s memorable story and images and it gets even better. This is one goosebump-inducing, emotional rollercoaster ride film and score, both of which soar far above the rest this year. Watch me breathe fire if the film or Powell are denied well-deserved Oscar nominations.

11 comments

  1. How to Train Your Dragon is my #1 pick too. It gave me one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had with a score. I never saw the movie in theaters, so I ended up listening to the score for several months until the movie came out on Blu-ray. As I’d listen, I could vividly imagine scenes in my head for every track. When I finally saw the movie, almost every scene was _exactly_ like I had imagined — it gave me so much more of an emotional connection to the movie, and really turned it into something special.

    Inception’s score is an AMAZING fit when you watch the movie. Probably the only time my father has ever mentioned a score to me, too, mentioning its role in ratcheting up the tension. I would not be surprised at all if it takes home an Oscar. I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but I find it rather dull for just listening. A few of the tracks are great, but overall it is just too blandly atmospheric and unoriginal.

    1. Smart choice, Cory. :)

      I can understand your issues with the INCEPTION score, at least on CD. Actually I understand all of the valid points that a lot of people have brought up about the score. But I found it haunting when I first heard it on CD and I thought it worked great in the film. To each their own, right?

  2. How to Train Your Dragon–absolutely! Such a great score. So many animated movies have fantastic scores, and they’re sadly under recognized works: in terms of both film and scoring. Great list, and honest too. Unfortunately many of the nominations these days are too predictable and biased.

  3. “You know it’s a strong list if I had to regrettably leave off a Rachel Portman score”.

    Jim, “Never Let Me Go” couldn’t be left out of the list, it’s a beautiful work, perhaps the best of the year. But I don’t want to complain, I love your website.

    1. Thanks for the nice words, Fabio. Yes, it hurt leaving Portman’s score out. But it’s just a list. Thankfully I can still enjoy the music whenever I want. :)

  4. I guess it’s no surprise that I also put How to Train Your Dragon as my #1 score (since i first heard it). Unfortunately, I think Inception is winning the Oscar for score.

  5. TOTAL AGREE. HONESTLY, INCEPTION SCORE IS OVERRATED. IT SEEMS THAT WHEN IT SHOWED UP, EVERYBODY FORGOT THIS EXTRAORDINARY SOUNDTRACK. ALL OF THEM ARE GOOD….I’M DISAPPOINTED THAT ALL JUST IGNORED THIS WORK.

  6. Pingback: Favorite scores of twenty-ten. | The Greiving Process
  7. Pingback: Alain Mayrand composer : Composition Journal

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