Dec 30, 2009

My Favorite Film Scores of the Decade 2000-2009

1. Birth (2004) — by Alexandre Desplat
The Nutcracker Suite as rewritten by Philip Glass, clicking into the slipstream of this film as elegantly as a cyclist. From the operatic swell of Nicole Kidman's love to the eerie tick-tock of her dawning realisation, this is a soundtrack beating out accompaniment to the human heart.

2. Catch Me If You Can (2002) — John Williams
Williams faced quite a challenge here: get with the foxy crystal-chandelier vibe of the film, but still find room to rouse and stir. His solution is an ingenious ice palace of a score — urgent and glittering, the sort of thing Prokofiev might have come up if asked to score a Bond film. Dog-sledding music. Mush!

3. Milk (2008) — Danny Elfmann
Like Elfman's score for Good Will Hunting this one nudges a tune around, cyclically, in round robin fashion, from instrument to instrument, until it seems to have loosed itself from the constraints of sequence altogether. It's like a mobile, just hanging there, catching the light as it turns.

4. Brokeback Mountain (2006) — Gustavo Santaolalla
A simple plucked guitar with symphonic backing: sometimes the oldies are oldies for a reason. If it worked for The Godfather, The Way We Were, the Deerhunter and Unforgiven, it can't be all bad. Santaolla's guitarwork is achingly sad and sweet, the kind of refrain that could underscore either love's fruition or frustration, depending.

5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) — Various
Wes Anderson has something of Scorsese's ability to use pop songs in a movie, slipping them under its skin so they weld to the images. This Nico song is no more and no less than the thing playing inside Margot Tenenbaum's head — a thought balloon, a valentine, private humming.

6. Up (2009) — Michael Giacchino
Up could be the title of all Pixar's films, of course, but here the uplift is literal: it's built into the vaulting intervals of Giachino's score, a sumptuous throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when romance and adventure were two sides of the same coin, flipping through the air. Exactly the kind of music Carl and Elly first heard in movie theatres when they were young.

7. WALL-E (2008) — Thomas Newman
If you've ever wondered what music should accompany this sight of two robots dancing through space using fire extinguishers for propulsion, wonder no more. Newman's score is like a mixture of mathematics and skywriting — airy, sinuous, weaving, purposeful.

8. Marie Antionette (2007) — Various
There were a few things wrong with Coppola's movie but the decision to use a contemporary rock-pop soundtrack was a bold experiment that paid off. This Bow Wow Wow song, remixed by Kevin Shields and played as Marie Antoinette rides home from a party, is an example of what Roland Barthes would have called "jouissance" but which you and I know as "music to play with your head out the car window."

9. Moon (2009) — Clint Mansell
The best off-key note in a film since that bum piano note in Betty Blue. Creepy, hypnotic, dusted with melancholy and undeniably lunar. If you have to lose your mind to one piece of music this year, lose it to this.

10. Cold Mountain (2003) — Gabriel Yared
A score which surpassed its movie. Minghella's romance only really caught light in Yared's symphonic score, which starts as one of those Victorian piano pieces for polite gentlewomen and slowly unfurls to fill a whole landscape.


  1. This post has provoked an existential crisis as I've realized that I really haven't paid close attention to film scores of late - actually the whole decade - and I'm a musician by trade.....
    However, music that lingers in the memory is definitely Brokeback, and also the Batman Begins franchise. Zimmer is a genius.
    Amelie was a good score, perfectly suited to the film, and the Harry Potter theme by Williams is also great.
    My absolute best score of the decade requires the stretching of the definition of "film", and would be Band of Brothers, which gives me a lump in the throat every time.

  2. Wait, are we talking film SCORES or film SOUNDTRACKS? Contemporary music thrown into a film no matter how well it fits is not part of the score, its part of the soundtrack. The score is what the composer composes.