Top Ten Film Scores of 2010

Here’s my list, for what it is worth, of my top ten film scores of 2010. I usually reserve this list for after the new year, so if I listen to any new soundtracks from now ’til then, this list will of course be updated to reflect that.

1. Inception by Hans Zimmer: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this score. Ironically enough, the film’s marketing has helped create one of the most iconic themes in quite some time, which was not even originally composed by Zimmer. Most people confuse the now infamous blaring horn motif to be associated with Zimmer, but it was in fact Mike Zarin and then later on Zack Hemsey that perfected and amplified that famous motif that has now become unanimous with the film. Regardless, Zimmer’s actual score is genius, and beyond the blaring horn motif (which only really can be found in one track, “528491”) he has created a musically rich score with as many layers as the subconscious and dream world from the film itself. Zimmer’s score is so infectious it has been set on continuous loop on my iTunes for several months now, often interchanging with the score for my next pick.Recommended Track: “Dream Is Collapsing”.

2. Black Swan by Clint Mansell: The brilliance of this score cannot be denied. Clint Mansell is an oft-collaborator with director Darren Aronosfky, and according to reviews Aronosfky has crafted his best film with Black Swan since Requiem for a Dream, and on the same level, Mansell has created his best score since I can remember with Black Swan (and this is coming from someone who adores his scores for both The Fountain and Duncan Jones’ Moon). The score is just madly creative, original, and crazily intense. A lot of erudite film score aficionados have blasted this score because of the classical approach that Mansell took with the score, but if you enjoy theatrical productions (such as Swan Lake) and the often classical musical scores that accompany them, you will appreciate this score.Recommended Track: “Opposites Attract”.

3. The Social Network by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: Fincher’s film is literally one of the best of the year, and the musical score by Reznor and Ross is one of the best movie albums of the year as well. What makes this score so fantastic is the unique industrialist, electronically synthetic approach that Reznor and Ross have taken with this score which separates it from all the other scores that have come out this year, besides maybe Daft Punk’s own highly electronic score for Tron: Legacy, which ironically enough is next on my list. Reznor is of course known from Nine Inch Nails and many of the motifs that have become recognizable and unanimous with Reznor are found in his score for The Social Network, such as his cues from his popular Ghosts album. It doesn’t detract from the musical experience as one might expect, at least not for me, and instead amplifies it and makes it all the more enjoyable being able to recognize familiar cues and motifs from Reznor’s past works. Still, Reznor and Ross’s work is highly engaging and very memorable, and makes for a very fulfilling and unique movie album experience. Recommended Track: “On We March”.

4. Tron: Legacy by Daft Punk: Similar to Trent Reznor and his score for The Social Network, Daft Punk is another popular artist that is delving into the world of film score composition for the very first time. You might say Daft Punk’s score is almost as highly anticipated as the film itself. Despite being film score novices, Daft Punk’s score does not disappoint, and they have created one of the most engaging, memorable and decidedly unique film scores of the year (which will most likely get ignored come awards season, probably in favor of Reznor and Ross’s score for The Social Network). Taking familiar motifs from the first Tron film, Daft Punk expounds the musical world of the first film by putting some of their familiar musical background into the score. Most of their previous work has had a lyrical basis, but this score is mostly non-lyrical electronic composition, and despite that, it still manages to be as creatively satisfying as any of Daft Punk’s previous endeavors. It’s right up there with some of Daft Punk’s best work, including their albums Discovery, Human After All and their live composition albumAlive. If we ever see another Tron film, I certainly hope Daft Punk returns to score that one as well.Recommended Track: All of them.

5. The Ghost Writer by Alexandre Desplat: Roman Polanski returns with his best film in years, and Desplat returns as well with one of his best scores in years and with one of this year’s best score albums (which will also probably be ignored come award season for Zimmer, Mansell, and Reznor/Ross). Not many people saw this film, which is a shame because it is a thriller that follows in the old Hollywood tradition of classically, gradually paced thrillers built on story and suspense and not shock and action as most other dumbed down thrillers these days. The score is similar in that approach, with a quirky style that’s both foreboding and passive but also gradually suspenseful as well. It has literally some of my favorite tracks from any album this year. Recommended Track: “The Truth About Ruth”.

6. Let Me In by Michael Giacchino: Most American audiences also ignored this remake of the Swedish film Let The Right One In, and that’s a shame because it is unequivocally a superb film and in many ways superior to the original, achieving that rare feat of actually surpassing its original. The score by Michael Giacchino is also equally terrific, and gives the film a considerably more foreboding and sinister nature than the original itself, including its score. Giacchino is one of my favorite composers working today, and that is mostly because of his sheer versatility and creativity. He can do the robust, jazzy superhero score for the animated film The Incredibles, or the operatic, science-fiction influenced score for Star Trek (2009) or the action-packed, suspenseful thriller score for Mission: Impossible III. There seems to be no limit to Giacchino’s talent, and his beautifully haunting score for Let Me In is a testament to that. Recommended Track: “Dread on Arrival”.

7. Kick-Ass by John Murphy, Henry Jackman, Illan Eshkeri, and Marius de Vries: Yes, that’s fourcomposers on one score. You would expect a film score with so many creators to have a mumbled musical identity but that’s not the case with the score for Kick-Ass. Each and every composer worked in unison to create something that has a singular musical identity but it also wide-ranging which makes it a joy to listen to. At first, I was disappointed to see Murphy’s motifs from 28 Days Later andSunshine find their way into this score, and to some certain extent it still befuddles me, however I have seen the film so much and listened to the score so much that it ends up growing on me. Murphy’s contributions are “take it or leave it”, even though it leaves a slightly indelible impression on the score. However, I am much more excited by the contributions made by composer Henry Jackman (who will next score Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, which is exciting). His tracks feel inspired in some cases by John Williams (“Man In the Mirror”) and Danny Elfman (“Rooftop Jump”, “The Mistmobile”). It’s that sweeping superhero music that feels right at home in a movie like Kick-Ass and what makes the score a fantastic listening experience. Recommended Track: “Rooftop Jump”.

8. The A-Team by Alan Silversti: It one of the great throwbacks to 70 and 80’s action film music, Alan Silversti has created a truly robust musical experience with his score for the film adaptation of the popular TV show The A-Team. The film is a crazy, zany, over-the-top thrill ride of an action blockbuster- but one that has a lot of heart and likable characters that makes you suspend your disbelief when your heroes are trying to get a falling tank to fly (and believe me, that’s not even the craziest thing they do in the film). By comparison, the score is similarly crazy, with long tracks devoted completely to long action sequences, but if you’re looking for an intense, robust, over-the-top musical experience that harkens back to Silversti’s own scores for Predator, The Delta Force, and Romancing the Stone, then his score for The A-Team is for you. Recommended Track: “Flying a Tank”.

9. Predators by John Debney: In my last score selection, I mentioned Alan Silversti’s score forPredator as one of the defining action movie scores of the late 80’s. In this pseduo-sequel to that film, John Debney takes over the musical reigns of the franchise and pumps out what can only be considered a love letter to Silversti’s memorable and archetypal action score. By revisiting some of the very same themes created by Silversti in that score, Debney does what any good composer should do and expounds on those themes and gives them new life. Similar to how John Ottman took John Williams’ memorable motifs from Superman: The Movie and expounded on them for his score toSuperman Returns, Debney does the same and it makes for an incredibly enjoyable and fascinating listening experience. I was a little disappointed by Debney’s other score of 2010- his score for Iron Man 2– but his score for Predators does not disappoint in the slightest. Recommended Track: “Hanzo’s Last Stand”.

10. Toy Story 3 by Randy Newman: As one of the most satisfying concluding chapters to a trilogy that I’ve ever had the opportunity to witness, Toy Story 3 is quite simply a hysterical and more profoundly a beautiful film. As composer for the previous two films, Randy Newman returns and creates an adventurous, light-hearted but ultimately heart-breaking score that makes your eyes well just from the musical compositions alone. There’s really not much else to say. Recommended Track: Unfortunately, I could not find a music album for Newman’s score anywhere, and thusly cannot rate the score based on the album alone, but how I perceived it from the film-going experience, and lastly cannot recommend a track from the score album.

So that’s my list.

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