If you’ve been following my posts all week, then you know that I’ve been celebrating my impending 50th birthday on the 19th (last pathetic notice, I promise) with 50 of my favorite film scores. The list, months in the making, turned out far different than I thought. It’s been educational, emotional, illuminating and, on occasion, stressful.
You can hear and read more about the previous 40 scores here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. If you don’t want to bother or if you just want a refresher, here is the list so far:
50. THE SUN COMES UP (André Previn) 49. THE FURY (John Williams) 48. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (Elmer Bernstein) 47. TWO FOR THE SEESAW (André Previn) 46. THE RED VIOLIN (John Corigliano) 45. THE MIRACLE WORKER (Laurence Rosenthal) 44. LILI (Bronislau Kaper) 43. ALL ABOUT EVE (Alfred Newman) 42. BALLAD OF A SOLDIER (Mikhail Ziv) 41. CITIZEN KANE (Bernard Herrmann) 40. GONE WITH THE WIND (Max Steiner) 39. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (Richard Rodney Bennett) 38. SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (Edward Shearmur) 37. THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (Dimitri Tiomkin) 36. THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR (Dave Grusin) 35. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (John Powell) 34. THE WIND AND THE LION (Jerry Goldsmith) 33. THE ARTIST (Ludovic Bource) 32. JAWS (John Williams) 31. IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (Ernest Gold) 30. TARAS BULBA (Franz Waxman) 29. THE LION IN WINTER (John Barry) 28. HAWAII (Elmer Bernstein) 27. EXODUS (Ernest Gold) 26. THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (John Williams) 25. UNDER FIRE (Jerry Goldsmith) 24. STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE (Jerry Goldsmith) 23. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (Maurice Jarre) 22. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (John Williams) 21. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (Bernard Herrmann) 20. THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (Bernard Herrmann) 19. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Elmer Bernstein) 18. SPARTACUS (Alex North) 17. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (Alex North) 16. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (Bronislau Kaper) 15. RETURN TO OZ (David Shire) 14. THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (Jerry Goldsmith) 13. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (Erich Wolfgang Korngold) 12. THE BIG COUNTRY (Jerome Moross) 11. BEN-HUR (Miklós Rózsa)
And now…drum roll, please…the moment you’ve all been waiting for (tongue firmly in cheek), my Top 10 favorite film scores…at least as of today.
10. THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001–2003)
Am I cheating putting all three scores into one? I don’t think so. Whether you like the scores or not, there’s no denying that Howard Shore’s accomplishment is one of the crowning achievements of film music…ever! (And you know I mean it because I used an exclamation point, a punctuational tool I loathe.) The timelessness of Shore’s music will last long beyond my lifetime. If there was one score—or scores, depending on how you categorize them—to rule them all, this/these is/are it/them.
9. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
I seldom see movies more than once in the theater. I saw E.T. ten times. If you were around for this cultural phenomenon in 1982, and if you know how much I hate crowds, then you might get some idea how much of a big deal—and a torture—it was to deal with the hordes of moviegoers flocking to this touchstone of a film that summer. Few movies have that rare gift of cinematic magic. E.T. is one of them. It’s not perfect but it’s an awe-inspiring, emotional ride capped off by one of John Williams’s finest scores. A staple in pops concerts, few things are more thrilling for film music fans than hearing the 15-minute finale played live. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. No surprise there.
8. THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1959)
Anne Frank’s innocent, yet cautionary, tale of life in hiding still evokes emotions of horror and empathy today. George Stevens’s film captures the tension and claustrophobia of those dangerous times, while Alfred Newman’s beautiful score resonates with warmth, innocence, and longing. Not nearly so dire as the circumstances surrounding it, Newman’s music is the epitome of the composer’s style. And those inimitable Newman strings have never sounded more lovely. A heartbreaking work.
7. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)
Franz Waxman’s Oscar-winning classic is a model of dramatic eccentricity. Much like Gloria Swanson’s unhinged Norma Desmond, Waxman’s music takes us through a variety of moods and styles—from silent movie comedy and dramatic chase music to jazz and Straussian madness. From its opening chords to that final descent down the staircase, Waxman’s score captures the underbelly of Hollywood and fame like no other.
6. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
The fear and tension, loneliness, heartbreak, and joy of veterans returning home are at the heart of Hugo Friedhofer’s Oscar-winning score. Though the setting is post-WWII, the music still feels fresh and alive. With spare, open harmonies, Friedhofer keeps the sentimentality at bay without forsaking any of the emotion inherent in the drama. A beautiful, moving score that kicks you in the gut.
5. PEYTON PLACE (1957)
The lush, Americana—or should I say New England—of Franz Waxman’s score is the epitome of 1950s soap opera. Though its lush strings and rich harmonies could easily have tipped into sudsy bathos, Waxman is far too strong a composer for that. The music captures the innocence of the white picket fence and the underlying tension of a town about to be uprooted at its core. A stunning, emotional score that never fails to wring buckets of tears from my eyes.
4. THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943)
For a heathen like me, this is as close to heaven as I’ll probably ever get. Alfred Newman’s Oscar-winning classic is a two-hour reflection on the power of faith and fear. Newman’s music captures young Bernadette’s innocence and belief as she sees the vision of a beautiful lady in a French grotto. Newman paints visionary musical pictures rich with emotion. As the title card says, “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”
3. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
The score that sealed the deal with my love of film music. My parents bought me the soundtrack LP for Easter and hid it in a bookshelf. I can see the books and surrounding figurines with stunning accuracy 35 years later. Such was the impact of this film and this music on my 15-year-old self. Out of five simple notes, John Williams created a musical language that spanned the galaxies. Few compositions—film or otherwise—illuminate the illusive power of music like CE3K. Re, mi, do, do, so…
2. STAR WARS (1977)
My first film and film music obsession. Like many film music fans, I wore out the original double-LP of John Williams’s classic score. The pops, hisses, and scratches are still emblazoned on my brain even today (and probably taking up some valuable brain space). One of the few pieces of music that still infuses me with unadulterated teenage joy. Even as my body decays and my brain turns to mush, Williams’s music never gets old. May that force always be with us all.
1. THE OMEN (1976)
For anyone who has known me for any longer than five minutes, this should come as no surprise. THE OMEN was my first soundtrack purchase and a defining moment in my life. It looks ridiculous in print, but it’s true. Jerry Goldsmith’s bombastic Black Mass jumpstarted a passion that remains to this day and probably contributed to my pursuing of music in college and certainly my current career. Are there “better” Goldsmith scores out there? Arguably yes. That I define part of who I am by this Satanic masterpiece probably says a lot about me. But I’d rather not dig too deep to figure it out. Let’s just say, “You have been warned…”