The first decade of the 21st Century has come and gone and I still want to know where my flying car and jet pack are, but since Q division has yet to produce on them, I figured I could at least give you my top five scores of the past ten years. It’s actually surprising how easily I came up with them, though I’m sure many will disagree with some of my choices. And yes, this could easily be a top ten of the past ten, but I don’t want to break with the FSFT5 tradition! So in reverse order, here we go. Drumroll, if you please…
5. (Tie) John Williams – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) / Catch Me if You Can (2002): John Williams is still the film composer of film composers, even as his output has slowed down in recent years. In the last decade, these two scores stood out the most to me, mainly because they are very distinct from a lot of his output. As I wrote in my review of the Potter scores, Azkaban has a medieval/renaissance feeling to it, especially with the “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” song performed by the students. Catch Me if You Can is a score I haven’t mentioned in these electronic pages, but a recent post by Herr Vogler on the demise of good title sequences in films brought it back to mind. Williams might not be known for jazz infused scores, but it’s a natural fit since he is steeped in jazz performance. Both of these scores, for me, though, show that even though Williams might be most known for his lush orchestral work (Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, et al), he still knows how to mix it up and surprise the audience.
4. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard – The Dark Knight (2008): This is the first of two scores on this list not nominated for Academy Awards for what I deem “stupid” reasons. In the case of Knight it was because the Academy could not attribute a substantial amount of the music to one composer. Some people haven’t liked the score, but I find it fascinating, especially how Zimmer can so completely capture a character in one held, distorted electric cello note. Anytime you hear that note in the score while watching the film, you know something bad is going down. My personal favorite moment is the cue entitled “Watch the World Burn” on the album. This happens right before the end when Batman confronts Two-Face holding the Gordon family at gun point. The cue has always reminded me of the slow movement to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony as it has the same melancholy quality, but Zimmer and Howard infuse it with a quality of menace appropriate to the scene.
3. Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood (2007): This is the other score not nominated for “stupid” reasons, though I can at least understand the reasoning…to an extent. Greenwood, better known as a member of the band Radiohead, reused or adapted parts of previous works he had done, including one for his only other film score, Bodysong. What makes this score one of the best of the past decade is how Greenwood melds his diverse influences into a whole that creates a “sound” of the American west that is the not nostalgic West of John Wayne, or even the dangerous West of Sergio Leone, but rather a dark, cold place where evil men make their fortunes through lying, theft, and murder. The Messiaen inspired string tracks, especially “Prospectors Arrive,” are among my favorite cues of recent years.
2. Michael Giacchino – The Incredibles (2004): At the opposite end of the spectrum from There Will Be Blood is Giacchino’s score for The Incredibles. When I first saw this film, the music hit me like a thunderbolt. It was exciting, fun, and the sequence where Mr. Incredible is figuring out what Kronos is, intercut with his wife beginning to understand that something is going on, was one of the most brilliant musical sequences I had ever seen or heard. The big band jazz score with elements of James Bond thrown in for good measure (according to Wikipedia, John Barry was first approached to score the film) is, to me, a big reason as to why the film worked so well. The music fit with the animation style, and especially the exaggerated drawings used in the end credits – or as the cue is called on the album, the “Incredits”.
And the number one score of the past decade is…
1. Howard Shore – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003): “But wait,” you’re saying, “that’s three film scores!” Honestly, The Lord of the Rings is really just one twelve hour long film with a score to match. Shore’s achievement in depth, complexity, and sheer amount of thematic material and construction is on a level with that of Wagner’s Ring, in my opinion. There is even a website that catalogs which themes are used in what cues and at what times. I can only imagine how much time one would have to spend on such a project. But what sticks out most in my mind about these scores is just how well each theme and cue captures and translates the myriad of characters, places, and concetps in the films. From the percussive almost industrial sound of the orcs and Isengard to the nostalgic, rustic, and plaintive theme of Rohan, and the wistful, carefree Hobbits theme, Shore created what could be one of the most perfect scores ever written for film. Overstatement? Maybe. But I think that most would agree that Shore’s scores should rank pretty high on any list.
Well there you have it, folks, my top five scores of the past decade. So now that you know mine, how about yours?