Saturday, January 29, 2011

Music in Film: 2010

When it comes to my entertainment, I rarely know much about the music industry. I mostly see where it collides with film and television. So with that being said, here is a look at my personal favorite scores and soundtracks for films that came out last year. Apologies for any spelling or grammar errors, I'm typing this late as I got the idea for it a few hours ago and I spent a while listening to tracks from the films on Youtube and I also have a hard time going in depth when it comes to music. With those disclaimers out of the way, here it goes...


5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I by Alexandre Desplat
Something that helps me determine my favorite film scores are the emotions that the music creates and here, Desplat creates so many. He uses the Harry Potter theme created by John Williams in such an effective manner. For example, whenever anything remotely nostalgic occurs, Desplat returns to that theme and we flashback to those early moments in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone where Harry was just a boy and things weren't as dark and dangerous. The score gets to the point where each character and mood have their own themes and they often invoke darker feelings due to the subject material. The best use of music in the film is in the opening scene where we flash between Harry, Ron, and Hermoine. Without ruining the plot, I can just say that it is very powerful.

4. The Social Network by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
I have very little to say about the score because it is quite minimal. It is used when it is needed and it is therefore very effective. This is one of the most darkly ambient scores I've ever heard and the music alone just sends a chill down your back similar to how cold the subject matter of the movie is. The score is a great mix between organic and electric sounding music and almost feels experimental at times when it matches with the edits and imagery. Reznor and Ross announced that they plan to continue to work with Fincher by scoring his The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I just can't wait to see what they come up with. They went against the grain and the end result will probably win them an Oscar.

3. 127 Hours by A.R. Rahman
This score heavily relies on the use of the guitar (both traditional and electronic sounding) and it really speaks to the character for the score to rely so heavily on one instrument. Aron Ralston was a loner, so here we have his singular state of mind represented by a singular instrument. The score also avoids becoming too dark (when this is perhaps a darker movie than the two previous ones mentioned above) and that actually makes a lot of sense. Aron is not a dark character so the music therefore does what Rahman's score for Slumdog Millionaire did best, it becomes an extension of the character.

2. Black Swan by Clint Mansell
The film is about Tchaikovsky's ballet of Swan Lake and Mansell therefore decides for the score to be about Tchaikovsky's music. He takes important elements from the production's original music and then adapts it effectively. It's very complimentary of how Aronofsky uses Swan Lake to tell us another related story; Mansell uses the music to play with our emotions similar to how the storyline plays with the characters. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (they hand out the Oscars) ruled the score ineligible because of the use of unoriginal music. Well, if you actually listen to the score you hear the differences. At least 75% of the score is Mansell's own work and it's a shame that he won't be recognized for this achievement.

1. Inception by Hans Zimmer
The scale of the film is quite epic, so the score has to match that both in scope and emotion. The only other score I can think of that exudes such a grandiose feeling is either by Zimmer or I think of Ennio Morricone's score for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Now, the whole film isn't always thematically epic. There are some moments that are intimate and Zimmer, like any great composer, knows when to dial certain elements of the score down to their appropriate levels. My top two favorite film scores are by Zimmer- The Thin Red Line and Black Hawk Down. The man is the master of the reason why Michael Giacchino won the Oscar last year for Up. You just have to close you eyes and the music tells the story for you.


5. Greenberg
The soundtrack was supervised by James Murphy (the founder of DFA Records) and looking at the music he has been involved with, it makes sense for him to create such a soundtrack. The characters in the film played by Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig are music buffs. There is a fantastic scene where they discuss The Kinks that really serves to bring their characters closer and deal with the themes of the film. They both go back and forth on their similar and different tastes in music, but the best moments of the soundtrack come when Gerwig gets on stage and sings by herself. Her voice is like her character, youthful and still full of maturity.

4. Kick-Ass
The title song, sung by Mika, meets a very important criteria. It's self-aware at how cheesy it is similar to the movie itself. Kick-Ass is much more of an effective deconstructionist view of super-hero movies than say Zack Snyder's Watchmen. So therefore, the title song has to do for the movie what the movie is doing for its genre. All of the other songs in the soundtrack are about empowerment such as Stand Up or Bad Reputation. It reflects what the characters played by Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz are trying to achieve while still adding an element of fun and excitement to the soundtrack.

3. Get Him to the Greek
Jason Segel, Russell Brand, and Nicholas Stoller have come with several songs that are just as funny as they are legitimately well constructed. In a year that was not that great for comedy, this film provided some great musically comedic moments while still not being too much of a gimmick. One could compare this soundtrack to that from This Is Spinal Tap and I frankly hope Infant Sorrow continues to release some new music. The highlight from this movie for me is without a doubt, The Clap. It isn't actually as funny or perhaps catchy as the other songs, but it is used at the right point in the film for the right reason- as a way to put Aldous Snow back on everyone's minds.

2. 127 Hours
I talked about why the score was so great and the soundtrack is great for the exact same reasons. It reflects Aron's character while also still dealing with the themes of the story. The movie begins with Never Hear Surf Music Again as a way to really hype up Aron's personality and ego. In the middle of the movie, when Aron wakes up still stuck under the rock, Lovely Day by Bill Withers begins playing. Boyle and Rahman use that song both as a way to enlighten us with irony and to once again keep the energy high during this montage sequence. The film ends on the original song If I Rise by Dido and A.R. Rahman and it plays as Ralston comes out from under the rock and finally discovers both freedom and himself. Absolutely genius.

1. The Fighter
The film with the best ensemble cast of the year also has some of the best music. You can look at the soundtrack to see all of the songs that David O. Russell and his collaborators chose to bring us into the world of Micky Ward, but I want to focus on one song in particular. How You Like Me Now by The Heavy is used three times in the film. During the introduction where Micky and Dicky walk the streets of Lowell, in the middle of the film where the brothers are training, and towards the end of the film when Micky wins the title. Each time, the song is asking a question and each time the answer is different. It reflect Micky's journey while also still being as loud and ear-catching as it should be. Oh, and another great musical moment comes when Alice finds Dicky at his crack house. Dicky charms his mother by sitting her down and reminding her how they used to sing I Started a Joke by The Bee Gees and Christian Bale and Melissa Leo deliver a scene that will deservedly earn them both an Oscar.

On a side note, if you are a fan of any of the scores I mentioned above, please check out these chronological recommendations for each of the five composers...

Desplat- The Queen, The Painted Veil, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Ghost Writer, The King's Speech

Mansell- Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, Smokin' Aces, The Wrestler, Moon

Rahman- Slumdog Millionaire

Ross- The Book of Eli

Zimmer- Rain Man, The Lion King, As Good As It Gets, The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor, The Last Samurai, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Sherlock Holmes

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