I saw The Descendants a couple of weeks ago. It’s an excellent film, and much has been made about the fact that it uses no score. Instead, the soundtrack employs music by Hawaiian artists, much of it featuring existing recordings by some of the greats of Hawaiian slack-key guitar. This is entirely appropriate given the film’s subject and locale, and this strategy has been praised by Hawaiian musicians tired of Hollywood’s overuse of surf music and hula dancing to portray the islands. The music is beautiful and quite effective in the film, but I couldn’t help but notice a few of the disadvantages of creating a soundtrack using only songs.
I’m still working my way through the contenders for the best scores of 2011, but I wanted to post an update. First off, thank you all for your recommendations, both in the comments and offline. I’ve seen a lot of great movies and heard some wonderful scores. Here’s what I’m liking so far:
- Hugo, by Howard Shore: A beautiful and moving score to an amazing film. Shore is absolutely at his best here, marrying music to picture in an almost magical way. I found Hugo to easily be one of the most rewarding scores I’ve heard this year.
- Jane Eyre, by Dario Marianelli: I love the way this score rides a balance between a period Classical sound and a more modern minimalism and dissonance. Marianelli is exceptionally good at this, and has carved himself a unique niche in the contemporary film world. His score for Jane Eyre is dark and brooding, like the film, but it’s also quite lovely. And in a time when scores sound more and more alike, Marianelli has crafted a truly distinctive-sounding work here.
In researching the best scores of 2011, I’ve been doing a lot of rooting around on the internet. One of the sites I’ve spent a lot of time on recently is Filmtracks.com.
Filmtracks, produced by Christian Clemmensen, is a rather gargantuan and impressive undertaking for a single person. Clemmensen has allegedly written over 1.3 million words of soundtrack commentary in the site’s 16 years of operation. Filmtracks generally reviews more recent movies, especially top box-office draws. It does cover some older scores, but per their guidelines, rarely anything before 1975.
Clemmensen is clearly a lover of great film music, and is well-versed in it’s language and traditions. He can be harsh at times, but personally I appreciate a more stringent reviewing style as long as the reviewer has done their homework and uses consistent standards. As close as I can tell, Clemmensen does just that. He’s tough, but fair, and definitely does his research. He reviews the scores both in relationship to the film and standing on its own (a valid approach, since in my mind great film music must work both ways). In some cases, such as the Lord of the Rings scores, he even reviews the various editions of score CDs available—helpful if you’re looking for the best version of the soundtrack to buy.
All in all, I greatly appreciate the work that Filmtracks does, and I often consult the site before or after seeing a film to find out if their experience matches my own. I usually learn something in the process.
It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time for the annual parade of “best of” articles. I’ve been pondering a post about the best scores of 2011, but I’ve actually found this past year to be a bit lacking. There have been quite a few good scores, but not many that I’d consider great.
I thought I’d throw the question out to you, my humble readers, and see what you lot think of the past year’s soundtracks. Is there anything that stood out to you? Anything you absolutely love? Anything you think deserves an Oscar or a Golden Globe? Post a comment below and let us know your thoughts. In the meantime I’ll work on my top five scores of the year and publish the list in a week or two.
I watched both Tron Legacy and Hanna recently. The two films are set in alternate realities where the main character is fighting some monolithic authoritarian entity, and both have scores composed by popular electronic duos who have never scored a film before. In one case the score is remarkably successful. In the other it’s disappointing at best.
I must admit, when I saw that The Chemical Brothers did the score for Hanna, I didn’t expect it to be very good. Not that I don’t appreciate their work. Quite the contrary. But as I’ve said before, film scoring is a tricky business, and novices don’t often get it right on the first go-round. With the score for Hanna, the Brothers don’t stray far from their usual format—electronica for rock fans—but that genre happens to suit the film perfectly, and they clearly grasp many of the subtleties of film music.