2011 has been an incredibly good year for film music. So, without further ado, let’s roll! Take pencil and paper and draw notes. More importantly, open your ears, eyes and heart to these wonderful gems.
15. THE IRON LADY (Thomas Newman)
The film: A film led by the trademarked striking performance of Meryl Streep is guaranteed to attract interest; especially when the film’s topic is as universal and controversial as this, i.e. how strict and powerful politicians manage to alter the lives of each and every citizen under their wing but also help to stir the wheel of history. Streep in this one benefits from outstanding make-up and makes for a clever casting choice as she breathes and feels like the real Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher , prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. During her time as prime minister, Thatcher’s strict conservative policies, hard line against trade unions and tough rhetoric in opposition to the Soviet Union earned her the nickname the “Iron Lady”. Although Thatcher’s family and ex-cooperators, colleagues and people who were close to her complained that she’s not as emotional or cyclothyme as portrayed in the movie, still Streep’s performance is the highlight of an otherwise lukewarm film; together with the score of course.
The trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1047305753/
The composer: One of the most prominent figures working in Film Music today, Thomas Newman needs no introduction as he’s considered as one of the greats of the genre. An American composer and conductor, best known for his many film scores and notably American Beauty, Road to Perdition, The Shawshank Redemption, Meet Joe Black and many others, with his trademarked marimbas-xylophone-piano&dark strings sound he’s made a very characteristic musical identity which is universally recognizable. A lot of his colleagues (contemporaries but also younger) have been continuously influenced by his sound. He is one of the more respected and recognized composers for modern film and has scored over fifty feature films in a career which spans nearly three decades. Newman has received a total of ten Academy Award nominations, although as of 2011, he has yet to win the award. He has however won a BAFTA, two Grammys and an Emmy, and has been nominated for a Golden Globe. Newman was honored with the Richard Kirk award at the 2000 BMI Film and TV Awards. The award is given annually to a composer who has made significant contributions to film and television music.
Oh, and did i mention he has no official page, yet?
The score: The opening cue is under the standard Thomas Newman approach (MT) with its arpeggiated basis, woodwind pizzicati and his much recognized electronic soundscapes in the background; right away, the “Grocer’s Daughter” – a colorful piece that could easily be part of his Lemony Snicket’s score with its long string phrases comes to declare the composer’s name-tag on the film poster. But where Iron Lady succeeds is in portraying the diverse personality of the real Thatcher, is the fact that it benefits from a wide variety of stylistic choices; instead of remaining neutral and standard in his approach (like he already did this year with The Help for instance), he chooses to step onto territories from all his previous works and particularly what he did in the 90′s. This fills the score with all kinds of sounds and make it particularly varied an experience, especially for fans of his work. For example, right after the harsh electronics of “Grand Hotel” or “The difficult decisions” that break the melodic constant, comes “Fiscal Responsibility” carrying a playfulness in its string, woodwind and harp pizzicato which is pretty much Desplat-reminiscent. Also the two highlights of the score couldn’t be any more dissimilar; on one side we’ve got “Community Charge” which is performed by an orchestra and a full rock band (bass, electric guitar on drive, drum set, piano soli) all in a polemic style like the one he showcased in Jarhead some years back or in Hans Zimmer’s BlackHawk Down. And the other is a brilliant string adagio, the “Swing Parliament” which makes one of the most interesting compositions in film this year as well as one of his own best.
Listen: Sound clips here
14. JANE EYRE (Dario Marianelli)
The movie: This classic tale has gone under many interpretations through the time, but this new atmospheric adaptation introduces it to new audiences. After a bleak childhood, Jane Eyre goes out into the world to become a governess. As she lives happily in her new position at Thornfield Hall, she meets the dark, cold, and abrupt master of the house, Mr. Rochester. Jane and her employer grow close in friendship and she soon finds herself falling in love with him. Happiness seems to have found Jane at last, but could Mr. Rochester’s terrible secret be about to destroy it forever? – wonders the film-makers in order to captivate us in the movie hall and trust me, it works. The performances (Mia Wasikowska, we’ve seen her in Burdon’s outstanding Alice in Wonderland and Michael Fassbender) are very strong and the feelings portrayed by the combination of story-cinematography-music are captivating.
The trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi3294271769/
The composer: charmingly classical and elegant, the always restrained but melodic music of Marianelli has gotten him some respected projects (V for Vendetta, Atonement – the epitome of his career so far, Pride and Prejudice, Agora, The soloist) that rank him among the most interesting cases of the new wave of film composers alongside artists like Alberto Iglesias, Alexandre Desplat or Abel Korzeniowski. Very deservingly so you’d agree as well if you were already familiar with his work for Agora or the fact that he’s the man behind the “Elegy for Dunkirk” composition in the Dunkirk evacuation (essentially the huge tracking shot), i.e. Atonement’s finest moment and one of the most notable cinematic examples of the recent times.
No official site yet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dario_Marianelli
The score: Atmospheric, as the film it accompanies, but overly restrained, still it catches every single chance it gets to breathe and reveal its graces. A vivid and tragic cello leads, with violin, harp, ethereal vocals in the subtle background, always underlined by constant melodic movement; strings are upfront, natural-per the movie’s premise and Marianelli’s overall body of work, and the sound recording / mixing gives this a particularly cinematic tone. It’s perhaps his most restrained big project to date compared to his previous works, but it also contains some very notable compositions: the nostalgic piano rendition of the main theme (“A game of Badminton” and “Life on the moors”), the subdued “Mrs.Ree is not quite finished” or the classical-colored “My Edward and I” with its striking romantic vibrations.
Listen: Sound clips here.
13/12. STRAW DOGS / HOLD AT ALL COSTS (Larry Groupé)
The film: Straw Dogs is a 2011 remake of the classic 1971 Dustin Hoffman-starring and Sam Peckinpah-directed adaptation of Gordon Williams’ novel, and tells the story of L.A. screenwriter David Sumner who relocates with his wife to her hometown in the deep South. There, while tensions build between them, a brewing conflict with locals becomes a threat to them both. Gone are Peckinpah’s operatic visuals and complex character motives, instead they give way to a simple but fairly disturbing, a two-hour build up to a violent conclusion in a straight-forward revenge story.
The composer: Larry Groupe is an Emmy Award-winning American film score composer. His most popular works include the score for Rod Lurie’s movies Deterrence and The Contender. In 2004 he was nominated for the Emmy Award to the best original score for the TV series Line of Fire. He later won the Emmy with the score for documentary film Jonas Salk: Personally Speaking. In the early 2000s, Groupé has collaborated with British progressive rock band Yes for their 2001 Magnification album. He also toured with Yes for part of their promotional tour for the album, Yessymphonic. In 2009 he recorded Excelsius, a grand and epic choral-orchestral album recorded at the world famous Abbey Road Studios. Larry succeeded in delivering passionate, emotional, cinematic themes originally composed for a European docudrama about the life and work of missionary Reinhard Bonnke and put together into stand-alone coherent single pieces in this album that would send trailer music manufacturers to shame. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/Excelsius-Larry-Groupe/dp/B003ABPUBK and also the composer’s page at http://www.larrygroupe.com/
The scores: Straw Dogs: Jerry Fielding’s original jarring score gives way to a more dramatic and Hermmann-esque (the low string-bed, the muted brass in “David goes hunting”, the effectively dissonant and upsetting “Flashbacks”, etc) string-led approach to the film. The string section is perfectly recorded and mixed, with a nostalgic air and a very cinematic feeling. The violas particularly attribute a thinner than sound that the usual over-the-top modern Hollywood recordings, making it sounding more restrained and elegant for this genre. The brass goes for some wonderful orchestral games and interchanges with the strings whilst the main theme is very subtle and utterly effective, especially when you start recognizing it (very prominently in “Dogs of Straw”). Larry Groupe showcases an interesting approach to a genre that’s usually ripped by standard low-key electronic noise and drones that are everything but music. He’s always orchestral and motific, creeping in the darkness with this one.
The documentary: Also check out his dramatic orchestral / vocal score for the documentary Hold at all costs released this year. Telling the story of The Battle of OP Harry, Korea. The Story of Forgotten Soldiers, in a Forgotten Battle of a Forgotten War, the film depicts interviews with these aging American, South Korean, Greek and Chinese veterans of the 1953 war. The filmmakers tell us ultimately what the Korean War or Cold War was all about and make an effort to represent all the soldiers of that era through these stories and perhaps all soldiers everywhere, throughout warfare. Narrated by Edward Herrmann and scored by Larry Groupe, it’s similar to his standard approach, but with added woodwinds, polemic snare drums, heavy use of trumpet and vocals (“The Agressor” for instance), the score is colorful and story-telling but becomes very dramatic towards its later half, from the emotional “Hero Charlie” / “Why him and not me” point onwards. Has the trademarked American war production color but also benefits from Larry’s elegant touch, with small changes through the instrumentation and themes here and there, attributing its signature.
11. DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders)
The movie: In this remake of the original 70’s movie, we get lots of atmospheric scares, loads of cgi (the creatures, etc), ornate locations and a nasty, disturbing ending. The story’s about a young girl who’s sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend but gets to discover creatures in her new home who want to claim her as one of their own in the meantime.
Movie’s trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2516622361/
The Composer: Working with his long-time collaborator Buck Sanders in this one, Beltrami is very known to fans of the genre as he’s regarded as one of the master’s of modern horror scoring, alongside with Christopher Young. Naturally of course, as he was trained under film music legend Jerry Goldsmith, Beltrami was nominated for Film Composer of the Year in 2004 by the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA), (www.filmmusiccritics.org). Through the years he’s proven very versatile in his musical choices, ranging from outstandingly brutal orchestral action in Live Free or Die Hard, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or Xxx: state of union but also to melodic epics like I,Robot and Hellboy, two of the most well-known scores of the 21st century so far. He’s worked on eclectic and minimalistic scores as well as The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada or 3:10 to Yuma. Needless to say that his personal quote: “Though there will always be new statements made utilizing that vocabulary, I’d rather speak my own musical language. Film has the potential of allowing me to explore my own ideas, which I find very attractive” – fully applies then.
The Score: The little girl is the main element here and instead of the usual Hollywood horror score gimmicks we get to hear most of the times in this kind of films (i.e. brooding low tones, loud bangs, screeching violins and generally music that emulates frightening sound-design) we get something fresh instead: influenced by the Spanish approach to horror films through the last five years (see El Orfanato by composer Fernando Velasquez), Beltrami makes intense use of melodic themes and particularly a central musical element: the girl’s lullaby. It consists of a gorgeous waltz melody and instantly captivating melody and undergoes all kinds of variations, strings (“Grammophone Lullaby”) and music-box being the most prominent. It’s a world where a child’s innocence meets the dark and violent world of the grown-ups and the music constantly battles between stressful and violent musical journeys of the full symphonic orchestra and emotionally intense melodic passages. Horror music at its most glorious.
Listen: sound clips here
10. THE RUM DIARY (Christopher Young)
The film: It’s got Johnny Depp in it, he plays the standardized Depp character, the breezily cool and heady dude who likes alcohol and general use of various substances, who goes around messing things up and primarily his own life; aiming to launch a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 2.0 success here, the film’s based on the famed book by Hunter Stockton Thompson. He was the American journalist and author who wrote The Rum Diary (1998), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (1973). Although the filmmakers do not exactly succeed at this especially with the fans of the book mostly arguing against it because of strong differences between the book’s rich persona of the main character contrary to the rather one-sided cinematic adaptation. It’s still a nice film, very enjoyable to watch. The central character is the american journalist Paul Kemp who takes on a freelance job in Puerto Rico for a local newspaper during the 1950s and struggles to find a balance between island culture and the expatriates who live there.
The trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m0yqS3jodU
The composer: the undisputed master of modern horror scores, Christopher Young who was nominated for Film Composer of the Year in 2009 by the International Film Music Critics Association, occasionally takes a break from the suspenseful darkness he gets us used to (see Spider-man 3, Drag me to Hell, Exorcism of Emily Rose, Priest,Hellraiser, Ghost rider, the grudge (1 and 2), the Gift, Bless the child, Species and Urban Legend just to name but a few). And boy the results are amazing! From the middle eastern colors of The Black Tulip to the celebrated celtic beauty of The Shipping News to the utmost melancholy of Sweet November and The Tower to the choral requiems of Murder in the First, onto massive action (The Core), up to 2009’s gorgeous Marianneli-like Creation, he never ceases to amaze and deliver top-notch film scores full of great musicianship.
The score: Departing from the usual evil brass, inferno choruses and strings from hell (i.e. his trademarked style), we find Chris Young – who was a professional Jazz Drummer before his film career launched, collaborates with Johnny Depp himself. The latter performs piano, guitar and plays with his whole band at places. Together they can be heard having an incredibly fun and creative time improvising and forming a full jazz group for the score. In the style of those during the 50’s and 60’s, Young grabs the chance to walk sneakily in the breezy jazz / blues path of Henry Mancini (primarily) but also Les Baxter and Neil Hefti and he delivers an album of great flow and incredibly addictive cues. There is drums and frantic Hammond organ everywhere, muted brass of all kinds (trumpets, sax etc), bluesy harmonica, drums and percussion, snapping fingers, growing vocals (Chris Young himself provides those at some instances as well), ska bluesy vocals but also gentle moments too; like the piano theme that pops everywhere alongside smooth sax (“Chenault” and the melancholic “Sweet bee”) which bring melodic breaks. Blues music is also injected in the whole score with highlights being the cunning coolness of the vagabond Hammond organ and dirty electric guitars in the Mancinian “Cock-of-the-rock”. “My car the cockroach” has a breath of melancholic string orchestra in it. The Rum Diary makes for a perfect tool in the hands of the director in portraying the whole Caribbean flavor and exotic cunningness of the film. Additionally it also stands as a fine jazz / rock-n-roll / blues album blessed with admirable performances, great themes and fresh inspiration; very coherent and completely surprising.
Listen: Don’t miss out on this live performance from The Rum Diary here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWuTYFOvpT8 as well as the composer himself talking about the score here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5EqKjLM7uA
09. ESPAÑA ./ Hispania, la leyenda (Federico Jusid)
The tv series: A private Spanish TV broadcast production (Antena 3, Bambu Productions) with quite good production values and a story reportedly firm on historical facts. Deals with happenings taking place about a century prior to those portrayed in the American tv series Rome and presents the resistance of Hispanic people to Roman conquest. While Julius Caesar conquered Galia in 5 years, it took Romans more than 200 years to conquer the whole Hispania. Octavius himself finished the job right it after Julius Caesar’s demise and the result is reportedly interesting and leaves promises for the series’ future but hard to find outside Spain.
The composer: Broke through universally in 2009 with the Oscar Winner for Best foreign film for the Argentinian thriller The Secret in their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) where he wrote a fascinatingly emotional and melancholic orchestral score, Federico Jusid is one of the most interesting film composer cases of the last couple of years; born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1973, he has a “Master of Music” degree from The Manhattan School of Music, New York; a “New England CSS”, Boston; and “Diplôme de Exécution Musicale” with an “Antorchas” scholarship held at Brussels, apart from his “Bachelor Degree” from the Buenos Aires Conservatory and he’s also an awarded pianist. Although most unknown out of Spain and Argentina, he has composed the original soundtracks for more than 25 feature films, TV series, and music for the concert hall, premiered throughout Europe and America by recognized soloist and chamber ensembles. Nowadays, Jusid is a resident performer and composer of the Sonor Ensemble, Associate teacher at the Complutense University of Madrid and is the director of the music company Filmscores Productions in Madrid, Spain. His music is mostly orchestral, string-heavy and naturally piano-led, deeply classical sounding and romantic in nature; he makes use of simple but prominent melodies that emit very strong emotions. His arrangements are rich and attribute his scores a very interesting air. It would be very interesting to observe his future career.
The score: Bold and dramatic, epic without overdoing it, the score is pretty simple in nature but utterly stunning when it comes to choral and string parts; the rest is dominated by the full orchestra and makes use of very long, heavy and intensely dramatic string chord processions. Always underlined by simple and memorable themes. It’s a natural approach with no fanfares and the excess we’ve got used to hearing in similar US productions; plus, on the even more positive side of things, it doesn’t feature the same standardized wordless middle-eastern female vocals and duduk (sampled mostly) along with the middle eastern percussion that fall in a cataclysm onto most of this kind of productions from 2000’s Gladiator (Hans Zimmer) onwards.
The composer’s page over at http://www.federicojusid.com/home.php?l=en contains samples from his works, make sure you study those.
Listen: sound clips here (right of the page)
08. FAST FIVE (Brian Tyler)
The movie: Fast cars, kick-ass crime fighting, fast adventure, the smell of gasoline everywhere and macho men blowing things up, shooting everyone in the face on their way out, departing the scene in flashy, rapid ways. Yeap, another Fast and the Furious installment, this time telling the story of Dominic and his crew find themselves on the wrong side of the law once again as they try to switch lanes between a ruthless drug lord and a relentless federal agent. Director: Justin Lin, Writers: Chris Morgan, Gary Scott Thompson (characters) and Stars all the original gang from the first couple of fast and furious films that made the franchise so well-known, i.e. Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson. It’s switching brains-off, turning volume up entertainment and it works absolutely great.
The trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcn2GOuZCKI
The composer: Brian Tyler, Hollywood’s beloved handsome man, cool guy and hell of a composer, his trademarked rock oriented, drum-led riffs and string themes always make for very strong scores. Vividly dynamic and always colorful with the addition of middle eastern drums, celli, guitars of all kinds, piano, strummed instruments from around the world, Greek stuff, anything you can imagine, it’s there. The prodigy boy Brian Tyler, an awesome musician and excellent composer, plays, records, edits and masters it all by himself. If you haven’t already gotten accustomed to the man, do it now!
The score: It’s rock-riff philosophy and balls-on-the-wall direct and energetic, filled with furious (no pun intended) guitar-drums-n-brass power and an excellently sounding production overall. I really don’t need to say much about how well this works in the movie as it’s musical literally making you feel the smell of burning tires and gasoline in the air. Rock meets western orchestral music in the best imaginable ways, always enhancing it with the occasional smart percussion riff or middle eastern / exotic micro-motives, escorting the film’s location. Powerhouse modern scoring at its best from a guy who’s all passionate about his profession and a great musician; believe me, it shows.
Listen to the main theme / view the HD video recording sessions video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLdFNLH-xQM&list=UUDYcczgXCL1pdDQAxIofCXA&index=4&feature=plcp
07. WILL (Nigel Clarke and Michael Csanyi-Wills)
The movie: In Will, criticized by some film specialists for being too openly emotional, Ellen Perry tells the story of an orphan boy who tackles his great trauma via football and his love for the sport. He proclaims being the world’s biggest Liverpool football fan. At his boys’ school in southern England, Will’s love and knowledge of the sport is all that sustains him. Then out of nowhere appears Will’s absentee father, Gareth (Damian Lewis), and with two tickets to the biggest match of the year: the Champions League Final in Constantinople, but before they can set off to their destination, his father dies and Will sets out to fulfill their dream tip. Via the potential healing power of football he struggles to overcome his burden by travelling across Europe Constantinople himself. He is constantly helped on the way wherever he goes by the solidarity of football fans from different nations in a dewy-eyed film; themed on overcoming life’s obstacles by staying true to your heart, Will benefits from gorgeous cinematography and outstanding music and makes for an arthouse low-profile film is a must-see.
The composers: Represented by the well-known Air-Edel agency, the not-so-well-known composers NIGEL CLARKE (Royal Academy of Music composition department tutor, composer) & MICHAEL CSÁNYI-WILLS (Royal academy of Music, pianist, composer) are a fascinating duo and should be heard across the entire worldwide film community. They have co-written film scores that range from Warner Brother’s adventure films right through to British gangster films like THE BASELINE which in contrast to their usually orchestral output, this is more programmed-based and contemporary. They have also co-written scores to more drama based films such as JINNAH starring Christopher Lee and James Fox, and THE ROCKET POST which was awarded the Festival Grand Prize at The Stony Brook Film Festival in New York and was released in November 2006. They were nominated for ‘The Newcomer of the Year 2001′ for their score to THE LITTLE VAMPIRE at the Movie Music U.K. Awards, and also for ‘Best Music for an Animation’ for THE LITTLE POLAR BEAR in 2003, and for ‘Discovery of the Year Award’ at the World Soundtrack Awards in 2006, for their score to THE THIEF LORD.
The score: it’s fascinating that when heard across Hector Berlioz’ “Lelio, Ou La Retour A La Vie (The Return of Life)” which plays as source music in the film, there’s not much difference in quality of compositions between this and the original score by the duo. Benefited from an outstanding recording and a strong performance by the London Symphony Orchestra and Choir in Abbey Road’s famous Studio One, the score enjoys graceful choral parts, lush melodies, and rich instrument colors. With a deeply classical culture (evident in their musical background and output), the woodwinds, solo instruments and all kind of organic passages dominate the score. It Is not simplistic or bold without reason like some American sport-themed movies, but rather elegant and graceful via complex arrangements and very colorful timbres in the mix. When the chirpings of the kind woodwinds fgway to the dramatic strings and choir this is where all the money of the score lies. The themes are then unrestrained and there’s a full range of emotions flying in the cinema bearing extremely sentimental melodies, guaranteed to touch even the toughest music lovers. Great score that helps accompany our little hero’s affectionate travel through childhood and loss.
Listen: to every single piece on this majestic score, with the exception of the couple of Middle-Eastern –colored misfires (“Ataturk Stadium” and a couple of other cues) here (bottom of page).
06. LA FILLE DU PUISATIER (The Well-digger’s daughter) (Alexandre Desplat)
The movie: The amusingly-titled “The Well-digger’s daughter” fronts a father in pre-WWII France who is torn between his sense of honor and his deep love for his saintly daughter when she gets in trouble with the wealthy son of a shopkeeper. It’s a remake of another well-known French film of the 40’s by Marcel Pagnol. It benefits from great setting, moving, natural acting as well as a careful direction aiming to capture human emotions; every single one of them. Unlike the majority of films we see today which too often aiming to impress with production values and awe but miss on the point of it all, eventually. The story is timeless and applies to all humans as it observes how rushed and often not-well-though decisions impact the ones that love and care for us.
The movie’s trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMwIK7u1iT8 (will give you a pretty good idea of the music although it’s well below the dialogue)
The composer: This new logo for StudioCanal with music by Alexandre Desplat (http://vimeo.com/28607286) will give you a pretty good idea if you don’t know who he is, although he’s perhaps the most talked-about and celebrated composer of the last 10 years, with tremendously prestigious projects under his wing and a tendency to produce a lot great scores each year; take 2011 for example, in only one year he wrote scores (all unique and very notable) for Ides of March, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II, the main theme of My week with Marilyn (http://www.deadline.com/2011/11/video-chinese-superstar-pianist-lang-lang-plays-at-my-week-with-marilyn-premiere/), The Tree of Life (Terrence Mallick’s latest masterpiece), A better life, the high-profile 9/11 drama Extremely loud and incredibly close as well as this film here. Although some accuse him of cold, austere and clinical writing, Desplat always manages to score each film respectfully, aiming to serve the picture and narrative first, and please the listeners on album second; his scores, like the recent Ides of March reveal he is a film composer with a very distinct way of celebrating the medium and approaching it with grace without attracting too much attention on himself; waltzes, piano and harp are his constant trademarks, as well as complex thematic development, bass ostinato and classical arrangements of advanced levels.
This score: Small-scale but with a complete orchestra, piano and harp sing ontop of an all-willing orchestra ready to provide the smoothest string veil for Desplat’s fragile and tender melodies accompanying the daughter-and-father’s drama and their strong relationship. Only down the latter half of the movie the score gets a bit more intense and dramatic, but nevertheless gentle harp and piano or vibrant woodwinds always rush to re-settle us back to the rural landscapes and the setting of the movie. Particular highlights include all the renditions of the Daughter’s theme (main motif for the score) and the James Newton Howard-esque arpeggiated 2nd theme of “Depart pour la guerre”. It might not be Desplat’s biggest project this year but it surely is a score filled with vibrancy and musical motion as well as emotion.
05. THE ITALIAN KEY (Tuomas Kantelinen)
The movie: The Italian Key is a fairytale of mind-and-eye pleasing landscapes, old houses and people that fill us with nostalgic memories, warm sentiments; love gambols in fields under the gorgeous sun; fulfilling your dreams under captivating night skies filled with fireworks, red wine and the full moon. An English-language feature that was shot in Italy, India and UK during 2010 and released in 2011, telling the story of a 19-year old orphan girl who, as her sole inheritance, gets an antique key that unlocks both an old Italian villa and the secrets of her family history.
Movie’s trailer: It will give you a pretty good idea of the tone of the film and also the music. Note that Kantelinen is also a producer in this film. http://vimeo.com/23355153
The composer: Tuomas Kantelinen (http://www.kantelinen.net/), is Finland’s leading film composer with a certain grace for dramas and humane music, with outstanding string writing being his forte. A very respected composer in the film music circles, with the dramatic Mother of Mine (http://www.kantelinen.net/motherofmine.html), the gorgeous The Promise with its melancholic string adagios (http://www.kantelinen.net/thepromise.html) and also the similar The Ambush, Kantelinen is certainly a composer who can pull all the right emotional strings in every project he lands regardless the style. He has a rich canvas of musical colors, like his recent Arn (melodic and Epic), the joyful animated Quest for a Heart or the The Year of the Wolf and even when he goes in darker action mode (Mindhunters) – can proove.
The score: Deeply emotional and with a glimpse of hope in the background, it’s naturally string-led with the violins upfront but with the piano also making a presence as well. It’s overall tone emits elegance and carries qualities of the Romantic Era of music (Cabella’s theme), one of the signatures of his music and not unlike the rest body of his work. Through the movie, it successfully elevates the admittedly touching human story of the homeless orphan who unlocks her family’s past and finds love; Kantelinen enhances every single sentiment in the movie and makes it stand out; whether that is utter romance (“Sun Flower”) or despair (“Mother’s tears”). The score it’s still sadly unreleased by you can listen to it in Youtube. Look it up.
04. EL GRAN MILAGRO (THE GREATEST MIRACLE) (Mark McKenzie)
The movie: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1931569/ is a cheesy-looking animated film with a surprisingly gorgeous score; a contemporary story of hope, inspiration and faith as the producers declare, the film follows three Catholics who have each reached a period of crisis. The first, Monica, is a widowed mother doing everything possible to provide for her son, Diego. The second, Don Chema, is a public bus driver who receives the news that his child is ill and without hope of survival. The third, Doña Cata, is an elderly woman who feels she has little left to live for. These stories intertwine when Monica, Don Chema and Doña Cata feel a great need to visit their local parish. They have no idea that their lives are about to change forever. With the help of their guardian angels, each will witness the true meaning of the Mass and the supernatural forces behind Christ’s sacrifice on the altar – a constant struggle between good and evil ending in a triumphant victory of Faith.
The Composer: Mark McKenzie is truly one of the most valuable film composers working in the industry as he’s an unprecedented natural gift for glorious melodic development in his score and grand, epic themes, in the sense of the older, Golden Age of Hollywood film music. In every single project he ever wrote, if you study them down to the last note, you’ll always find the above qualities. Highlights include Saving Sarah Cain (http://www.markmckenzie.org/saving_sarah_cain.php?org_comp_id=26), The Last Sin Eater (http://www.markmckenzie.org/lastsineater.php?org_comp_id=25) and the exceptional The Ultimate Gift (http://www.markmckenzie.org/theultimategift.php?org_comp_id=20). Make sure you devote some of your time to this composer, you won’t be disappointed.
The movie’s trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdsxIx4LG9k&feature=related
The Score: It’s very hard to confine this grand musical work in some words because every piece in there is a self-contained musical work, a small suite; with grand themes in the classical sense, pure elegance and outstanding choral work that altogether emit religious beauty and awe-inspiring sentiments that will satisfy even the toughest listeners. “The Greatest Miracle Prelude” itself, could serve as a demo of McKenzie’s abilities and talent.
03. THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Alberto Iglesias)
The movie: whenever Pedro Almodóvar makes a new film, it is an event on itself, especially when teamed with Antonio Banderas once again in their careers and a brilliant Elena Anaya (her acting will leave you speechless), you know you’ll have a celebration of cinema in all its glory. In this latest Almodovar feature, a brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession. The film’s very disturbing as it processes and the demonic paranoia behind the surgeon’s troubled personality unveils and this gives a chance to the frequent Almodovar musical collaborator – Alberto Iglesias, to create magic. So he does.
The trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EolQSTTTpI4
The composer: having composed the vast majority of Pedro Almodovar’s films, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in the film The Constant Gardener (2005) and again for his work in the middle-eastern richly-colored The Kite Runner (2007). He’s considered as one of Spain’s most acclaimed film composers and he’s the most popular one from his country; very well-deserved for sure. His always present Hermmann-esque string ostinati and underscore (like his colleague Roque Banos often utilizes as well) make way for all kinds of vibrant melodies by piano, acoustic guitars and trumpets in his scores. His trademarked atmosphere is always captivating and dark but most importantly: sexy and passionate, sweaty and intense especially when he scores for Almodovar. His themes range from tender to (most usually) very complex, uneasy to grasp from the very first listen, but ultimately captivating once you devote your time and attention to them. The use of electronics in his latest scores like 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and this score here also contribute a very different air to his scores. http://www.albertoiglesias.net
The score: As the film is psychologically intense and philosophically troubling, the tour de force he unleashes upon us becomes evident. Once the score’s main theme makes its appearance in the film right when things start to go down to hell; a demonic and frantically violent violin theme ontop of an agitated forceful string arpeggio (“Los Vestidos Desgarrados”) stuns the listener; and this is only a small glimpse of what’s to follow: constant musical motion, complex celli ostinati that accurately portray musically the upsetting psychological happenings of the film’s narrative and also underline all the characters’ fragility; in an instant, at a glimpse of the eye all goes down the hill, each and every one of them can break and vanish like a breath in the air. Iglesias puts the tender, scared piano onto of the unsafe musical environment created by the stressful celli and full orchestra only to have them battling for 2 hours, representing the film’s two conflicting and troubled main characters. With dark themes and captivating arrangements, he creates an absorbing atmosphere that leaves little room for though and completely engulfs you in its strong vibrant fire instead. With Hermmann-esque colors and unsettling beauty, Iglesias leaves you little choice but to loosen up, relax, and let go; be engulfed by his musical fire.
Listen: sound clips here
02. W.E. (Abel Korzeniowski)
The film: A romantic drama written and directed by Madonna is not going to instantly spark the highest of expectations around but it surely kept the biggest surprise of 2011 for all us, it’s gorgeous music.
A two-tiered romantic drama focusing on the affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson and a contemporary romance between a married woman and a Russian security guard. It’s ultimately a feminist’s statement about love and power but she put a lot of labor and passion in this work for the past three years and it shows in some aspects: notable the cinematography and music, but the performances are a standard-to-weak and the plot a bland; the dialogues are suffering too, but thankfully aided by the fantastic piano-led music.
The trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbrh4OA-IYs
The composer: A polish film composer who was born in a musical home and has a rich musical background but broke through universally only with last year’s incredibly fragile score of tender melodies – A Single Man. He is too young but already a two-time Golden Globe nominated composer (for A single man and 2011’s W.E.) based in Los Angeles, California. His unique, sophisticated style combines classical orchestral performance with elements of modern electronica and ambient.
The Score: as with A single man, this is piano led but violin and cello have equally important parts. The whole, as per Madonna’s request, plays not as a strict follower of the on-screen happenings and narrative, but rather like isolated small suites of pieces written around the movie’s central story and meaning as well as the individuals scenes they are set to accompany. Whilst it feels like written outside the film, still it makes for a fascinatingly beautiful, gorgeously performed (the piano is breathtaking) musical work of utter beauty and elegance. The chord backbone is minimalistic in nature (echoing Philip Glass modern heritage onto film and concert music) and there’s also some Desplat here and there as well as a piece strongly influenced by Shigeru Umebayashi. But make no mistake, in no case this is a score of references; it’s just tools I use to try and describe Abel’s own voice which is gifted with a strong flair and ultimate passion, under-signing each and every single composition he wrote for this. Elegant, small-scaled and classical sounding, this romantic little musical fairy tale is one of the most gorgeous works you’ll hear this year. Abel himself reportedly said earlier this year that “W.e. could be my best work so far” and the general conscious tends to agree with this, yours truly included.
01. THE ARTIST (Ludovic Bource)
The movie: this year’s biggest cinematic event is not some flashy expensive Hollywood uber-production, but a silent movie. Yeap, you read correctly and if you haven’t had the chance to watch it yet, head out to your closer cinema hall immediately. Set in Hollywood, 1927: As silent movie star George Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he sparks with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break. Starring a fabulous Jean Dujardin (his face is rich in human emotions like no other, acts, walks and breathes like somebody truly coming from the 20’s) and the irresistibly charming Bérénice Bejo as well as a great come-back by John Goodman, director and writer Michel Hazanavicius has crafted the most heartfelt and honest romantic tale of love during the past decade. And it’s all black and white, completely silent and shot in a square aspect ratio of 1.37:1 so those who starve for loud sfx, over the top music, 3d, cgi porn and will fall on the ground in convulsions with anything that’s not 16:9 stay away from this.
The trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8K9AZcSQJE
The trailer music: everything is from Ludovic Bource’s original score except for the last piece and because many are asking around, I’ll save you some time by telling you it’s “Almost Martyrs” from a virtually unknown 2003 Kevin Spacey film called The Life of David Gale and with the score written by Alex and Jake Parker.
The composer: Not much is known for the composer and you can look him up in imdb.com but believe me, there’s nothing needed to be said about him. His music spoke for him obviously so far and Ludovic Bource has already won the European Film Award, the Best Use of Music in Film Award by the Boston Film Critics, as well as as the Best Score Award by the Washington DC Film Critics. Bource also received a Golden Globe and a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award nomination. The fact that the movie is silent makes the music carry a much heavier role than usual and this fact gives chance to the composer to shine; naturally the score has been especially mentioned and isolated positively in an unusually large number of film reviews that usually do not even mention the film score; but this grabs you by the ears, in a good way.
The score: this is a movie of human emotions. As simply as that. And as sound is completely absent, the 3th protagonist (along the incredibly on-screen duo) is the music itself. The 100-minute silent film is blessed with an unprecedented orchestral score by Ludovic Bource which plays for an unstoppable 100 minutes. Through ravishing themes, vivid arrangement and playful orchestration that tells every single aspect of the on-screen movie, Ludovic makes the already-strong presence of the acting on screen and the expressive gestures even stronger and more direct; as we dwell through the overly-humane and touching story of the protagonist, the completely orchestral music becomes more and more dramatic up to a rousing climax that will leave you stunned. Ludovic writes like he was drawn out the late romantic era and if you would rank this work alongside that period’s top works, nobody would attribute any exaggeration to you. The artist, holds music that can’t be adequately described with words, but can only be experienced through the movie it accompanies. A passionate and honest work like no other this year. Don’t miss out.
Oh, and if rating stars to scores actually matters (Which i highly doubt), this would be the only 5-star score of the year.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (Equally great scores from 2011 that couldn’t fit in the top 15 positions)
10. THE HELP (Thomas Newman)
Back on standard paths, the atmospheric piano and string veil make for discreet and comforting veil for this racial drama. An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960′s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid’s point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
09. MONROE (2011, TV SERIES) (Dominik Scherrer)
A sweet and melodic score which is surprisingly organic for what usually accompanies tv scores. Nice addition from a not so well-known composer, make sure you check out his other works under the MovieScore Media label.
08. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (Alexandre Desplat)
At least with such a title guaranteed to stir some discussions and puns, the 9/11 drama tells the story of a nine-year-old amateur inventor, Francophile, and pacifist searches New York City for the lock that matches a mysterious key left behind by his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Desplat provides am elegant and discreet accompaniment, yet more melodic than his Ides of March score from 2011.
07.SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN (Rachel Portman)
Although the film gathered some terrible reviews so far, still Rachel Portman continues on the same path of last year’s cello-driven and melancholic Never Let Me Go but with an added Asian and exotic touch. Colorful and recommended. The movie carries a story set in 19th century China and centered on the lifelong friendship between two girls who develop their own secret code as a way to contend with the rigid cultural norms imposed on women.
06.TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Alberto Iglesias)
Way more complex and dark for most people’s tastes and certainly harder to digest than The Skin i Live in, this Alberto Iglesias 2011 score makes for an intriguing musical accompaniment in the film, elevating all the small secrets and hidden portions of this intense political thriller. He’s at his most Hermmann-esque, closer to his older The Dancer upstair score. The movie is set In the bleak days of the Cold War where espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6′s echelons.
05. WINNIE THE POOH (Henry Jackman)
Jackman, a particularly gifted young talent who emerged from the Remote Control studios under Hans Zimmer, provides a wholly classical, completely orchestral fairy tale score that will make you warm in the heart for sure. In this movie, the beloved animated character and his usual gang are going nuts after eyeore has lost his tail, and Winnie the Pooh and his friends hold a contest to get him a new one.
04. PUSS IN BOOTS (Henry Jackman and Rodrigo y Gabriella)
Although the duo’s collaboration with Hans Zimmer on the latest Pirates of the Caribbean installment this year proved a disaster, still with Henry Jackman in this one sit down and put out a wholly fresh, latin-flavoured fun score full of vibrant colors and passion, that would put Zimmer’s Pirates material to complete shame. A big surprise! Here we observe the famous cat character from the Shrek animated series, in the story about the events leading up to the sword fighting cat’s meeting with Shrek and his friends.
03. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Video Game 2011) (Jeremy Soule)
This has been the most anticipated, talked about and played game of 2011 and contains a vast adventure underlined by game music master – Jeremy Soule’s epic Vangelis-esque soundscapes and glorious themes. He keeps constant interest despite the large duration and fills the dreamlike adventure of the game with absolutely gorgeous themes, melodies and vocal work. He’s one of the few who can make synths and sample libraries sound as great as here! In the game, The Empire of Tamriel is on the edge. The High King of Skyrim has been murdered. Alliances form as claims to the throne are made. In the midst of this conflict, a far more dangerous, ancient evil is awakened. Dragons, long lost to the passages of the Elder Scrolls, have returned to Tamriel. The future of Skyrim, even the Empire itself, hangs in the balance as they wait for the prophesized Dragonborn to come; a hero born with the power of The Voice, and the only one who can stand amongst the dragons.
02. WAR HORSE (John Williams)
John Williams reunites a 2nd time this year with Steven Spielberg to create this subtle and touching war drama with violin / cell0 – led music in a score of high qualities that could be characterized as a 2011, Lite version of The Schindler’s List, only not as thematic or emotionally intense. In the movie, Young Albert enlists to service in WWI after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry. Albert’s hopeful journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on.
01. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (John Williams)
Where every single note in a 2-hour score has its place and an absolute meaning, where a full symphony underlines a great and nostalgic on-screen adventure of breath-taking visuals and strong story, you know you’ve hit all the right buttons and you have a clear winner. John Williams is an undisputed master of symphonic film scores and every job he lands, proves it beyond doubt. Spielberg presents his magical take on the sneaky Intrepid reporter Tintin and Captain Haddock as they set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock’s ancestor.