2009 was chock full of awesome movies and great scores. Some I’ve heard and not seen, but all on this list are scores I could listen to over and over… because in my opinion, they’re that good. You’ll notice that I’m a little disparaging to a few of these in their write-up, but don’t let that bother you… they’re still my top albums out of many more that I could have chosen from. Maybe a couple times the music made the cut because of the credit I give the film, but after all of that, the music is still worthy. So here they are, in alphanumeric order:
- A Christmas Carol by Alan Silvestri. Oh man do I love this soundtrack. To me, this is a perfect blend of great orchestral work and Christmas music. I haven’t yet seen the film, but I don’t care. I still love this music. Another big release by Silvestri this year was G.I. Joe, but A Christmas Carol dwarfs that, by a long shot. My favorite cue is “The Ghost of Christmas Past,” because it has a little bit of everything, but finishes with a very beautiful Tchaikovskyesk orchestration.
- Angels & Demons by Hans Zimmer. Why is it that this movie and The Da Vinci Code were so shunted? Could it be that they weren’t nearly as fun to watch as they were to read? Probably. I liked them, but I also liked the books better. However, the soundtracks to these films were wonderful. Very beautiful. Zimmer does well by expanding the theme from the first film here. Having Joshua Bell solo is also a fine enhancement. My favorite cue from this album is “Election by Adoration.”
- Astro Boy by John Ottman. Talk about a surprise. Out of everything I’ve heard by Ottman, this, I think, is his best work. It’s really well put together and orchestrated (credit should also be given to his orchestrators). I haven’t seen this movie, and most likely won’t, but the score is fantastic! Very broad in scope and it has the ability to soar to the heights it portrays. A huge feat for Ottman, because some of his scores I’ve heard before have sounded a little (I hate to use this word, because it was used by a professor of mine to describe one of my pieces) contrived. I absolutely love this score, and my favorite cue (at the moment) is “Robot Humanity.”
- Avatar by James Horner. This album for me didn’t live up to the hype that I created for it in my mind. However, I must say that I don’t know if the movie would have been as good without this score. The way Horner builds the sonic world is absolutely amazing, and it matches what is on screen nearly perfectly. I absolutely am in love with this movie (in 3D), And I have to say that the score is growing on me. I definitely like it more today than the first time I heard it. My favorite cue from this album would have to be “‘You don’t dream in cryo. ….'”
- Crank: High Voltage by Mike Patton. I’ve written before about this album. But the more I listen to it, the more I love it. It’s so frickin’ spastic. I think the soundtrack takes on the feel of the movie… very A.D.D., and very tourettes-like. I don’t mean that to be a put-down… because it definitely works. I can listen to this album anytime. I think maybe the only thing it’s missing is a traditional orchestral sound… but I don’t even want it here. So good, so good! One of my favorite cues is “Pixelvision.” I mean can you beat juice harp and chiptune sounds?
- District 9 by Clinton Shorter. This movie is so good (one of my favorites). When it’s nominated for a “Best Film” academy award, it will truly deserve that nomination! I always knew that Neill Blomkamp would do a good job (even when I thought he would be directing the HALO movie (still wish he was)). I think he did well by choosing Clinton who is by no means one of the most well-known composers. The fact that he’s in Vancouver B.C. actually gives me just a little hope. He did so well with this score; it has the character of the film, and of the characters themselves. It’s a hybrid, mixing orchestra with synth, which perfectly characterizes the world, using ethnic instruments to truly bring to life the environmental setting (Johannesburg, South Africa). My current favorite cue is “A Lot of Secrets.”
- Drag me to Hell by Christopher Young. I haven’t yet seen this film, but I can tell you that the score is pretty impressive for the genre. Necessarily creepy, but at times cacophonous, and a really well played violin solo to boot. The score is very heavy-handed, but in my mind it fits a Sam Raimi directed horror film. My favorite cue is “Concerto to Hell” basically because it combines the major themes into one song. “But Reed, isn’t that what’s called a suite?” “You’re right… it is pretty sweet.”
- Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by Nicholas Hooper. What can one say about this series except John Williams kicks ass? Well, I would have to add to that, Nick Hooper definitely did a good job in bringing back the score in this latest installment. Patrick Doyle, unimpressive (but I will give him the benefit of having to follow Williams). And Hooper’s first try, Harry Potter V… well, let’s just say that I think he’ll be known for VI, not V. For me, this score really expands the Harry Potter universe. He does a lot of things really well, and utilizes a lot of different textures. My only disappointment would be that I haven’t yet heard a cue for a death scene that is as emotional as “Khazad-Dûm” from LOTR: FOTR by Howard Shore. My favorite cues are “When Ginny Kissed Harry,” “Harry & Hermione,” “In Noctem,” and “Slughorn’s Confession.”
- Knowing by Marco Beltrami. This film wasn’t very good, however, the score was brilliant. Beltrami always manages to hook me, even though it doesn’t seem that way upon first listen. You have to love a score that is well thought out and fully utilizes the orchestra, among other things including tibetan bowls! My favorite cue is “Caleb Leaves.”
- Land of the Lost by Michael Giacchino. To me the orchestra sound recorded sounds very sparse. The weird things is that they’re all there, but it’s so expansive sounding… almost minimal in it’s orchestration, but not (my god that’s confusing). Anyway. I really like this, and I like how much Giacchino can do. For my favorite cue, I am definitely going to have to go with “In Search of … Holly.” Gotta love banjo porn music.
- Moon by Clint Mansell. Mansell’s best score for me was The Fountain, because of it’s ability to haunt me and make me feel a sense of yearning. This soundtrack is just like that. He does such a superb job of making the “aloneness” felt thoroughly. Sam Rockwell gave the performance of a lifetime in this film, and this score does nothing if not support that. Reflecting on having seen the film, I honestly don’t remember hearing the score, which I think means that it did it’s job to a “T”, which is support the film and underscore the performance onscreen. I don’t like listening to this score because it actually makes me feel lonely, but if I had to choose a favorite I would take the opening cue “Welcome to Lunar Industries.”
- Sherlock Holmes by Hans Zimmer. The soundtrack for this film is so interesting. A lot of gypsy music and a combination of sounds that Zimmer has only hinted at before. You might be reminded of some Jack Sparrow stuff from Pirates III, or maybe even hints of a tune or two from Black Hawk Down… and even a haunting violin; a la The Dark Night. But maybe the coolest thing is the way this music completely is the world of Sherlock and Watson. It was a hard decision, but I think my favorite cue is “I Never Woke Up In Handcuffs Before,” because it reminds me a little bit of Fanfare Ciocarlia. Ask me again in two minutes and it might be different.
- Star Trek by Michael Giacchino. Perhaps my favorite film of the year, or you know, maybe a three-way tie (I’ll let you guess). Much like Land of the Lost, Giacchino does a really awesome job of making a full orchestra sound like a chamber group… it must be the mix… yeah, I’ll go with that. I think he’s done a remarkable job of cultivating a Giacchino sound. I can definitely hear elements of Lost in this score (in some of its minimalistic orchestrations and motives) and I love it. My favorite cue is “Nailin’ the Kelvin.”
- Terminator Salvation by Danny Elfman. This is not your older brother’s Danny Elfman. It barely has any flavors at all of the Elf-man. To me it was much like his score for Hellboy 2, in that I wouldn’t have guessed it to be an Elfman score (Hellboy 2 I would have attributed to James Newton Howard). This one I would have guessed was a score by Hans Zimmer or one of his acolytes. It was very steeped in electronic rhythms and very brassy sans woodwinds. I’m not saying I don’t love it, because I do, I’m just saying that it’s not the Elfman I know. I look forward to his score for Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, because I’m sure that’ll be recognizably Elfman. My favorite cue is “Reveal/The Escape.” BTW… I really liked this movie despite Chrstian Bale’s off-camera performance.
- The Vampire’s Assisstant by Stephen Trask. I look forward to seeing this film, when it comes out in iTunes, but for now I’ll satisfy myself with it’s score. Very interesting and quirky, the score to me exemplifies how I perceive John C. Reilly (kindof the reason I want to see the film). My favorite cue from this album is “Limousine” because there is some cool, almost Bulgarian sounding, vocal work passing in the background at one point in the cue.
- Year One by Theodore Shapiro. One of my favorites!!! You may or may not have seen this movie based on how you feel about stupid, funny movies. I for one am entertained by this film… and the score is so fun! Of course I would say that though (what with my penchant for middle eastern sounding instruments). The music matches the films absurdity by using electronic drums or loops or a heavy acoustic drumset along with traditional ethnic instruments, and also guitars and electronic samplings or pads. My favorite cues are “The Royal Orgy,” “The Holy of Holies,” and “Virgin Sacrifice.” Please don’t make me choose.
- Zombieland by David Sardy. If you haven’t seen this film yet… stop reading and go watch for pete’s sake. A great addition to a wonderful genre. This score is great for this film. It has the cliche zombie movie atmosphere’s but it also portray’s the “nut up or shut up” attitude of this film. Rock guitars, electronic sounds, big statements. Fun to listen to, and even funner to watch. My favorite cue is “Estasi Dell Anima.”
- 9 by Deborah Lurie & Danny Elfman. This album, like Avatar, was also a bit of a let down. Maybe I wanted it to be too epic because I based my assumption on the trailer which used the song “Welcome Home” by Coheed & Cambria, which is pretty frakkin’ epic. This movie is in my queue, and I look forward to watching it, I’m sure that by finally taking that step it’ll help in my appreciation of the score. My favorite cue is “Sanctuary” because it has some beautiful stuff in it. A brief moment of Edward Scissorhandsish choir, and a progression very similar to one used in BSG.
Albums considered, but taken out based on their lack of something, or perhaps my unwillingness to spend any amount of significant time with them, or some other qualifier:
- Surrogates – Haven’t seen the film yet, but I hope to. Maybe that’ll inspire me to listen to this album a little bit further.
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine – The movie wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, and the score was also a quite unimpressive. I’m not saying I could write a better score, but I’m saying it didn’t live up to the hype… in my mind.
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – I had this score in my number section until the very end, but took it out because I feel that Jablonsky took a step backwards from the first film’s score. Needless to say, I ended my score write-up with this: “God save John Williams.”
- Largo Winch – Even though I had only recently found this score I had to disqualify this film based on its release in late 2008. If you haven’t heard it, please check it out. It’s really great. My favorite cue would have to definitely be “Hidden Souvenirs.”
So, did I miss any in your opinion? Let me know… because if that’s the case, I most likely haven’t listened to it yet… and maybe I don’t even realize that it exists.