THE YEAR THAT WAS 2009: The Music That Made the Movies
I love film music. Always have. And even though I think this every year, wasn't 2009 a great year for movie composers? I thought so, anyway. Most people I know aren't soundtrack aficionados, but I think audiences appreciate movie music much more than they realize.
I mean, when you think about a Steven Spielberg film (or a Tim Burton film) do you just think of certain images, or do you also think of John Williams' music (or Danny Elfman's) accompanying those shots?
Below are some of my favorite pieces from the year. As I will specify, some of the soundtracks only had one or two tracks that I thought were good, as opposed to their entire album. Either way, I think these are compositions you should hear, or if you've heard them already, it definitely won't hurt to hear them again.
AVATAR (James Horner) - I actually didn't care too much for the album as a whole. Sometimes James Horner manages to really deliver the goods (A Beautiful Mind, Titanic), but more often than not, I only like a handful of tracks he puts together. Still, there was some good music scattered throughout the film, with "The Bioluminescence of the Night" being the standout for me.
BRIGHT STAR (Mark Bradshaw) - the music by Mark Bradshaw blended in so seamlessly with everything that was taking place on film, you almost didn't notice. But when you actually isolate the score from the film and listen to what the soundtrack has to offer, you really get to appreciate the work Bradshaw put into creating the composition. It might even be a shoo-in for the Oscars if the same three pieces didn't just repeat themselves.
BROKEN EMBRACES (Alberto Iglesias) - I generally think Alberto Iglesias is a good film composer. I really liked what he did with Volver and The Constant Gardener (though I couldn't really get into the score for The Kite Runner). This is probably a little premature, but just the same, I think the opening credits piece for Broken Embraces trumps everything else he's done so far.
BROTHERS (Thomas Newman) - next to James Newton Howard, Thomas Newman is probably my favorite present-day film composer. Unfortunately, I thought the majority of the music on the Brothers soundtrack was awful. But the first track, "Homecoming," almost makes up for it. It has a very Friday Night Lights-feel to it, which, of course, is a good thing.
COCO BEFORE CHANEL (Alexandre Desplat) - a lot of Oscar prognasticators have put this score on the frontrunners list for the next Academy Awards. And there's a reason for that: it's good. The attached track is nice, but the entire album is pretty great. A few years ago, I had never heard of Alexandre Desplat. Now he's unquestionably one of the best composers working in the biz today.
CORALINE (Bruno Coulais) - personally, I loved Bruno Coulais' music in The Chorus. This soundtrack really couldn't compete with that one, but it had its moments. It sounds a lot like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, particularly with this track, before the jazzy music comes in.
DISTRICT 9 (Clinton Shorter) - the entire time I was watching the film, I never once really noticed the score. It was only several months later, when I was testing out samples from the soundtrack, that I realized how good a lot of the music was. I don't think it will win any major awards, but it was effective nonetheless.
FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Alexandre Desplat) - Desplat was a busy man in 2009, and while I think, overall, Chanel was probably his best score, Fantastic Mr. Fox was my favorite. Deservingly so, it looks like Desplat is becoming more and more sought after these days, which makes the news about him scoring the next Harry Potter film not too surprising. Speaking of which. . .
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (Nicholas Hooper) - while I think Prisoner of Azkaban was the best soundtrack from the franchise, Half-Blood Prince was a close second. It struck the right balance between being moody, bouncy, thrilling and melancholy. Unforuntately, this was one of the casualties of the Academy Awards' vague music score rules; the film is not eligible for a nomination.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Ennio Morricone) - a lot of the music you hear in the movie isn't original. In fact, most of the soundtrack doesn't include a score but actual songs by other artists. Still, it was hard for me to get Ennio Morricone's "Rabbia e Tarentula" out of my head once the film ended. Cool score.
JULIE & JULIA (Alexandre Desplat) - even though I like Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Stanley Tucci, I don't have any real desire to see this. But, once again, Alexandre Desplat shows up here, and while I can't speak for the entire album as a whole, I liked "Julia's Theme" a lot.
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (Randy Newman) - there was a time when it was basically automatic for the latest Disney picture to secure Oscar nominations (and wins) for Original Song and Music Score. While that officially won't happen this year (the music is yet another victim of the Oscars' score guidelines), Randy Newman's composition falls right in line with the likes of Aladdin and Cinderella.
PUBLIC ENEMIES (Elliot Goldenthal) - I like Michael Mann, Johnny Depp, Christian Bale and Marion Cotillard, but this looked like a homemade melodrama with nothing much to offer. However, listening to the music, it's clear that one thing the movie has going for it is Elliot Goldenthal's score. It's not enough of a reason to watch the film, but it's something.
THE ROAD (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis) I think it's a shame Nick Cave and Warren Ellis missed out on a nomination back in 2007 for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Their ineligibility had something to do with two composers being nominated, or whatever. Don't expect the case of The Road to be any different: good music, gone unacknowledged.
A SINGLE MAN (Abel Korzeniowski) - this soundtrack wasn't even on my radar until it landed a Golden Globe nomination. And once I heard the music, I was a little surprised to see that it wasn't winning awards left and right. It's a fantastic score, one of the best of the year. Not too unlike The Fountain.
STAR TREK (Michael Giacchino) - it's always a little tricky, scoring action-adventure films. You usually have a hard time separating the scores from the scenes. But Michael Giacchino's music for Star Trek works well on its own, particularly with the track "Labor of Love."
UP (Michael Giacchino) - truthfully, I liked one or two other soundtracks better than this one, but Giacchino is so overdue for an Academy Award win, I'm fine with Up being the one to take the Music Score trophy. The best scene from the film is one where no dialogue at all is spoken. The music just plays through, and it packs an emotional punch.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Carter Burwell) - last, but definitely not least, comes what is unquestionably my favorite film score from 2009. I've never felt too strongly for Carter Burwell's music (though I liked The Man Who Wasn't There and Fargo), but I've played "Lost Fur" at least a hundred times, and it hasn't gotten old. Too bad it won't get an Oscar nomination, thanks, one last time, to their ridiculous restrictions.
THE HURT LOCKER (Marco Beltrami & Buck Sanders) - I don't think the entire soundrack is great, and I really don't understand why the score was nominated for Oscar, considering the quality of some of the above titles. However, as I stated earlier, some films had one or two tracks that did stood out, and that piece of music for The Hurt Locker was "The Way I Am."
SHERLOCK HOLMES (Hans Zimmer) - again, not sure I agree with the notion that the music from this film was better than, say, the music from A Single Man or Coco Before Chanel. Nevertheless, it is a fun compilation of tracks, especially when when we're talking about "Discombobulate."
MOON (Clint Mansell) - when it came to this film, at the end of the day, everything was underrated: the movie itself, the fantastic lead performance by Sam Rockwell, and the music score by Clint Mansell. It was very atmospheric, and at times, as the above piece showcases, very soothing. One of these days, Mansell will get the awards recognition he deserves. Hopefully.
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