Usually when I glance over my "best of the year" ballot the Best Original Score category has a couple of nominees that I couldn't live without, but rarely is it overflowing with contenders like it is this year. While in almost any other year having to boot out the scores for The Tree (Grégoire Hetzel), Mother (Byeong-woo Lee), Red Hill (Dimitri Golovko) and - most shamefully - The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose) would have been nigh on unthinkable, this has been like no other year I can recall in recent memory.
"Dance" | "Abyss" by Byung-woo Lee (Mother)
Reznor and Rose especially feel like a crime to omit from my roster of five best original scores of the year when in most other years I would be handing them my Gold Model, but I gave them the flick because, as spectacular as their music is, it's the one that seems to least bring me back to the movie itself. If that makes sense. It's fantastic to listen to (and I've included two of my favourite tracks below) but when I listen to it I don't go "Oh man, I need to watch The Social Network again!"
"Hand Covers Bruise" | "Magnetic" from The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose)
Bear in mind I have not seen Black Swan, True Grit or The Ghost Writer yet so this upcoming top 5 (in alphabetical order) could change once again when I do, but these next five scores are one of the things that has made 2010 so good for me. I covet them and want to wrap them around me like a warm blanket.
I was as surprised as anybody to discover How to Train Your Dragon was, ya know, not shit! My history with DreamWorks Animation is hardly positive, but Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders and the rest of the team behind it really pulled it off with aplomb. Let's just be thankful there weren't any pop culture jokes, okay! Best in show for me was John Powell, whose score felt suitable grand and mythic. Chock full to the brim with powerful brass, delightful wind instruments, bombastic drums and big strings, it's been one of my most replayed film scores of the year. That recurring "Test Drive" (below left) theme (and the marching band version in "Coming Back Around", below right) won my heart forever and a day.
"Test Drive" | "Coming Back Around" by John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon)
About 15 minutes into Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist at MIFF earlier this year I thought to myself "this is the best music score of the year!" And now that I've been able to hear most of the much-praised/buzzed music from other movies I reckon I can still say that Chomet's own music for his stunning animation is indeed the best film music of the year. What I was saying about The Social Network's music not transporting me back to the film itself? I can't say that about this music (or any of the other four in my top five, which is why they're in the top five and not Reznor/Rose). So bittersweet and whimsical without being twee. Even if you haven't seen the film the below piece of music will probably break your heart.
"Illusionist Finale" by Sylvain Chomet (The Illusionist)
Everyone seems to think that Hans Zimmer's score for Inception is all about those giant, thunderous explosions of horn instruments (that may or may not actually be "Non, je ne regrette rien" being played a glacial pace), but there is so much more going on. I love the fast-paced raver electro of "Mombassa", the ever-building tension of "Time" and "Dream is Collapsing", which is a fabulous piece of thriller music that, yes, climaxes with those thunderous horns. It is such a change of pace for a big budget action movie to feature a score that isn't either identical to everything else and/or a cheap imitation of Star Wars/Batman/etc.
"Mombassa" | "Dream is Collapsing" by Hans Zimmer (Inception
My absolute favourite film of the year - nothing can take that title away, nothing - is Monsters. The first time I saw it I didn't notice the music so much, I was far more taken by the visuals, but when I saw it for a second time I loved the way Jon Hopkins' jangly strings, whirling synthesizers, delicate piano and throbbing bass add to the sense of unease. The way it allows otherwise routine sequences to hang precariously close to the edge and adds a layer or drama that may not have otherwise been there. That Hopkins has worked with Brian Eno and Massive Attack is not a surprise to learn.
"Campfire" | "Encounter" from Monsters (Jon Hopkins)
Of course, everybody was talking about Daft Punk's score for TRON: Legacy from the very day the film was announced and, having just seen it last night (I didn't listen to the music beforehand, I wanted it to be experienced in the way it was designed to on first inspection), I can say that it didn't disappoint (me). Fans of the French muso's music will immediately leap towards "Derezzed", "TRON Legacy (End Credits)" and "The Son of Flynn", but I also love the Blade Runner styles of "Armory", the almost John Carpenter like pulse of "Arena", the strings of "Adagio for TRON", the panpipes of "Outlands" and the futuristic war epic grandoise music of "Disc Wars" help give the score a real claim on legitimacy. But those pulsating synths of "End of Line" (with 8-Bit sound effects to boot), "The Game Has Changed" and "Nocturne" will make you want to rush out, purchase the soundtrack, start playing and turn the volume up the glass-shattering levels.
"The Game Has Changed" | "End of Line" by Daft Punk (TRON: Legacy)
Of course, if I was able to choose by absolute favourite score of the year it would have to be I Am Love. While it's not an original score, but instead a collection of famous John Adams pieces that have been collated and assembled by director Luca Guadagnino for his Italian film, there was still no more harmonious collaborations between visuals and sounds than I Am Love. I could listen to this soundtrack all day long, even the big, bombastic, melodramatic pieces that turned some people off. I found it delicious and one morsel of music from the soundtrack is never enough.
"Lollapalooza" | "Harmonielehre: Part III - Meister Eckhardt and Quackie" by John Adams (I Am Love)
All hail 2010, the year of the music score!