Why nine, you ask? Because a Top Ten list is too predictable and because whittling the list down to this few was hard enough. And I still get to keep the alliterative effect in the title. In future months, look for other “9” lists, all posted on the 9th of the month. I hereby present my nine necessary film scores…at least for today.
9. LILI (1953)
Lili is not Bronislau Kaper’s finest score (that would be the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty), and I doubt Lili will make anyone’s list of “best.” But for shear melodic joy, nothing beats Kaper’s Oscar-winning classic. Forget that “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo” has been overworked to death. It’s still a charming tune. Combine that with some delightful dance music and a dramatic nine-minute final ballet, and you have a score that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
8. THE LION IN WINTER (1968)
This is a case of an excellent score made even better by the film it accompanies. John Barry’s Oscar-winning score provides an interesting listening experience on its own, but the performances of Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn sparring as Henry IV and Eleanor of Aquitaine add an extra level of enjoyment to the dark, choral music. The arrival of Hepburn’s Eleanor on the barge is one of the great entrances in film history, made even more regal with Barry’s female chorus as her musical ladies in waiting. (Look for a discussion of the cue in a later post.)
7. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
John Williams’ classic score makes a damn good case that there really is life “out there.” Thrilling action cues ride alongside an unstable harmonic palette propelling us into our first thrilling encounter with the unknown. With its clever interpolation of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” Williams’ music is arguably even richer than Star Wars, composed the same year. I’ve treasured this score ever since I received the original LP as an Easter gift.
6. THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978)
Another Jerry Goldsmith gem from an incredibly productive year that also included classic scores for lesser films such as Magic, Capricorn One, and Coma, The Boys From Brazil is a total guilty pleasure. If I happen to catch it on TV surfing through the channels, I’ll invariably stop and watch the rest of it, if for no other reason than watching two old pros like Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier fight for pieces of scenery to chew. And then there’s that score with its combination of syncopated, belching brass and a memorable, sweeping Viennese waltz. When Intrada released the complete score, as well as the original album, in 2008, a major holy grail of mine was fulfilled.
5. STAR WARS (1977)
Along with The Omen, this is the score that jump started my film score obsession. A classic in every way that put film music back on the map–and on the charts! It’s been quoted and parodied ever since, but that doesn’t diminish the thrill I still experience as John Williams’ main trumpet theme transports me back to 1977, truly a galaxy far, far away.
4. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)
Franz Waxman’s Oscar-winning score skewers the fake glamour of Hollywood as much as director Billy Wilder’s brilliant script does. Speeding chase music, a sinuous tango, and echoes of Richard Strauss’ Salome plunge Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond even further over the top. And yet Waxman’s grounds the music firmly in reality, even if Norma isn’t.
3. THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943)
Led by those divine Newman strings, Alfred Newman’s heavenly, Oscar-winning score wordlessly paints a picture of childlike innocence and religious devotion. Much as Jennifer Jones sees a “heavenly lady” in a grotto at Lourdes, so this heathen sees God in Newman’s music.
2. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
Americana to its core, Hugo Friedhofer’s Oscar-winning score musically portrays the conflicted emotions of battle-scarred veterans trying to adjust to life on the home front. Emotional and moving, Friedhofer’s music poignantly gets its point across without a trace of sentimentality. One of the few scores to be discussed in scholarly circles and one of the top scores in film history.
1. THE OMEN (1976)
Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score changed the way horror films are scored and was the first soundtrack I ever bought, at the ripe old age of 14. Thrilling, horrifying, and even beautiful, the music haunts me to this day. Though there have been numerous imitators, no one comes close to Goldsmith’s mastery. Through 30+ years of film music obsession, there’s rarely a week that goes by without The Omen belching into my ear buds.
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These are scores that I return to again and again, the ones that brighten my day and remind me why I love this art form.
What are your favorites?