It has been quite the year in film, but even more so when it came to the music in those films. We got scores that pushed the envelope, soundtracks that were full of nostalgia and orchestration that could easily fit in to the 1930s. It was an eclectic year that introduced us to new talent while also reestablishing the music from existing ones.
Normally when the year comes to close, I look back on the various soundtracks and scores from the films that came out and I can easily hone in on a handful that most stood out to me.
2011 was not that kind of year.
With even more artists becoming composers (The Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx), impressive composers coming to the forefront (Cliff Martinez with his scores for The Lincoln Lawyer, Contagion and Drive, two of which made this list) and childhood favorites back on the big screen (The Muppets and Winnie the Pooh), there was a huge pool of talent and good music to choose from. And although it makes my task of rounding up the top picks more difficult, it also means films are getting filled with more and more good music – a trend I hope (and expect) will continue in 2012.
But on to this year’s picks!
11. The Artist
In a silent film music is not just an additional element, it becomes an important character itself providing all the sound within the film. When director Michel Mazanavicius decided to make a throwback to the silent film era, he turned to composer Ludovic Bource to fill that silence with expansive and rich orchestration. Any score that can keep you entertained for two hours (especially when it is the only sonic element) is an impressive feat and a risky idea in an era when 3D and electronic elements are becoming more and more prevalent. Bource rises to the challenge and created a score that was exciting, romantic, funny and sad, all while helping the performers on screen to not miss a beat.
10. Winnie the Pooh
Winnie the Pooh is a “willy, nilly, silly ol’ bear” and has a catchy theme song to prove it. For this latest installment in the series, the adorkable Zooey Deschanel took on this classic tune and sang a few news ones (“A Very Important Thing To Do” and “So Long”) with Pooh Bear and Tigger (Jim Cummings) themselves taking on “The Tummy Song,” “It’s Gonna Be Great” and “Everything Is Honey.” Catchy and endearing, both the new songs and old took me right back to feeling like a kid wanting to go to the hundred acre woods and make up adventures with my biggest worry being looking out for the Baxon.
Remaking a film is always tricky business, but even more so when it is a film that also had such iconic music attached to it. But if you’re going to do a remake, you might as well put your own spin on things, and this soundtrack did just that. With a slowed down version of “Holding Out For A Hero” by Ella Mae Brown we also got a bit more country with Big & Rich’s “Fake ID” and a bit more hip-hop with David Banner’s “Dance The Night Away” all of which worked to update the sound of the film without losing the feeling that hearing “Footloose” (no matter who’s singing it) always drums up.
8. Fast Five
Who knew that the fifth time would be the charm? Watching Vin Diesel, The Rock and Paul Walker’s chase scenes (both on foot and in the cars) on the big screen was some unexpected fun at the theater this spring, but it was really the unrelenting score from Brian Tyler that had me on the edge of my seat. Tyler returned to the series (having also composed music for the previous films) to keep viewer’s adrenaline pumping while also incorporating the sound effects into his score to make those chase scenes even more electrifying and seamless. Add in a dash of Brazilian instrumentation (because, in case you forgot, “This is Brazil!”) and you ended up with one of my favorite action scores of the year.
7. The Muppets
We here at FSR didn’t dedicate a guide to our felt friends for nothing – they are pretty darn entertaining! And as I pointed out in my Muppet Music roundup, more than a bit musically inclined. With Jason Segel and Amy Adams added into the mix this time, we got new Muppet tunes like “Man Or Muppet,” “Life’s A Happy Song” and “Me Party,” but you know Muppet fan Segel wasn’t going to bring the Muppets back without original classics like “The Muppet Show Theme” and “Rainbow Connection.” And I’m still wiping the tears from my eyes over “Pictures In My Head.”
6. Like Crazy
Who knew heartbreak could sound so good? Dustin O’Halloran’s piano heavy score blended in perfectly with the more quirky and upbeat tracks from artists like Paul Simon (“Crazy Love, Vol. II”), Figurine (“Impossible”) M83 (“I Guess I’m Floating”) whose song titles alone read like scenes from the film. There is nothing easy about a long distance relationship and not being able to be with the one you love, but with music like this it was hard not to ignore those warning signs and fall in love right alongside Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones).
5. Jane Eyre
For a film based on a novel from the 1800s, classic orchestration is pretty much a given. But composer Dario Marianelli did something more here, creating a classical score that was also heavy with emotion and melancholy, making the film a truly immersive journey into Jane’s (Mia Wasikowska) world. You felt the sting of heartbreak with each violin string and renewed hope with every piano refrain. And any film starring one of 2011’s breakout stars (heyy Michael Fassbender) and still has me noticing and paying attention to the music is doing something right.
I got a chance to hear the score for Contagion prior to seeing the film and the score alone grabbed my attention and had me running to the theater to hear it in action. While I was less impressed with the film itself, the music still stood out and proved that Cliff Martinez is a composer to watch as he utilized electronic elements to reinforce the panic throughout the film while also having more classic elements like piano dissolve into electronic stings and pluses, creating a sound that is distinctly Contagion.
My favorite moment in an action film is when the music gets turned up right as the action flies into high gear and plays almost like a long form music video with each punch and kick hitting each beat of the score. Hanna delivered this with The Chemical Brothers taking their British electronica to the big screen to not only create a distinctive (and at times incredibly haunting and off-putting) score, but make Hanna’s action scenes all the more exciting and electrifying.
2. Attack The Block
Electronic artists taking on the role of film composers seemed to be the trend this year and I for one was all for it. Basement Jaxx created an electric score for Attack The Block that was equal parts hip-hop, alien sounding and action packed (much like the film itself). Along with Basement Jaxx we also got slightly off-putting pieces from composer Steven Price and full-on hip-hop tracks from KRS-One (“Sound of Da Police”) and Mikis Michaelides (“Get That Snitch”). The music never let you fully ease back into your seat, but always kept your foot tapping to the catchy beat creating a fun and fresh sounding score that perfectly fit the mood of the film.
Aside from Ryan Gosling’s unforgettable performance (and never being able to look at a hammer the same way again), Drive was also known for its music, and for good reason. Cliff Martinez was the composer behind this score as well and he blended his pieces with the distinctive and addictive tracks from Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx (“Nightcall”), Desiree (“Under Your Spell”), College (“A Real Hero”) and The Chromatics (“Tick of the Clock”) to create an overall soundtrack that was just as sexy, unsettling and intense as the film itself. Although Drive was also my number one film choice of the year, I had to give its soundtrack separate just due as it not only works in the film, it stands well on its own and has been on rotation in my car since first hearing it back in June and I have yet to tire (har har) of it.
Honorable mentions: Conrad Pope’s score for My Week With Marilyn; the indie populated soundtrack (The Postal Service, The Boxer Rebellion and Pavement) for The Art Of Getting By (terrible movie, great music); Garrett Hedlund’s impressive country singing chops on the soundtrack for Country Strong; Elton John’s songs (both new and old) in Gnomeo & Juliet and Trent Reznor and Karen O’s “Immigrant Song” for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (a fantastic song, even if the rest of Reznor’s score left me cold).
For more of the best and worst of the year that was, check out our 2011 Year in Review.