Waah, regardless, 2009 was a pretty good year for soundtracks and scores and arguably a much better one than 2008 which was overall, pretty bland and uninspired when it came to the use of music in film. Then again, we've got two films that have both their scores and soundtracks in their respective top 10s. Make of that what you will. At least there were very few of those lame musical tie-in soundtracks that had bloody nothing to do with the movie. Those are damn cheap and we detest them. That said, on to the good stuff from last year.
BEST SOUNDTRACKS OF THE YEAR
1. "Adventureland" - Various Artists
An '80s mixtape in the wrong hands is probably one of the more egregious aural tortures we can think of, but in the hands of Greg Mottola, like his movie, it's an understated and finely tuned thing — a phonic loveletter to his characters and a very personal coming-of-age heartbreak tale. The film is full of genuinely great moments. From the warm and fuzzy melt-your-heart use of Crowded House ("Don't Dream It's Over"), the opening volume blasts of The Replacements ("Basterds of The Young) and Husker Du ("Don't Want to Know if You are Lonely"), to the sweet sad longing of the Velvet Underground ("Pale Blue Eyes") and even better, taking a pretty-played out song like The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" and imbuing it with a rush of romantic excitement like you're hearing it for the first time. Plus the use of INXS's tempo-driving "Don't Change" in the credits was pretty damn bad ass.
Velvet Underground - "Pale Blue Eyes" from "Adventureland"
2. "Inglourious Basterds" - Various Artists
Regardless of what you thought about the film, Quentin Tarantino has always had a keen ear and a discographers' mind for soundtracks, and with "Inglourious Basterds" he once again proved adept at finding the right cuts to fit his WWII fantasy. While the official soundtrack only gives a taste of what's in the film, taking a look at the full selection of music used, "Inglorious Basterds" is practically a primer on spaghetti western scores. Featuring a large selection of Ennio Morricone cuts, rounded out by other cuts by Elmer Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin and Dmitri Tiomkin, Tarantino drapes his film with a heavily stylized dramatic tension the proceedings need. While Morricone balked at writing a brand new score for the film, this is the next best thing: a delightfully opulent and nostalgic cinematic score mixtape for a picture as (post)modern as they come. It couldn't fit any better.
Ennio Morricone - "Amico" from "Inglourious Basterds"
3. "The Limits of Control" - Various Artists
Yes, the Jim Jarmusch film had a (small) original score written by the director's own trio, Bad Rabbit, but the woozily hypnotic picture also wisely tapped into an a rich musical arena, so perfectly cinematic, but until now, mostly untapped in the field of ambient doom and black metal. No, this doesn't mean blastbeats and howling. We're talking slow-burning droning guitars from Boris, Sunn O))), Earth and bands that sound like lava, if recorded in psychedelic and dark slo-motion. A perfect and unsettling vibe to Jarmusch's unheralded yet mesmerizing film. The score by Jarmusch and friends — only 4-5 tracks, but repetitive, mantra-like snakecharmer riffs that sounded like a blend between Yo La Tengo and Mogwai on Peyote — were easily the best use of music within the film. Maybe Jarmusch, evidently a more accomplished musician than anyone knew, should score all his films from here on in.
4. "Funny People" - Various Artists
While it wasn't far from the mark when some dubbed Apatow's soundtrack as dad rock, we say, if choice cuts by John Lennon, Robert Plant & Alison Krause ("All The King's Horses" is a great song), Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr, and the very criminally undervalued and underappreciated Warren Zevon ("Keep Me In Your Heart") make us old men, so be it. But let's not forget the use of some great bouncy and blithe Coconut Records tracks (Jason Schwartzman's excellent musical alter ego), a Wilco song with help from Andrew Bird, some musical accompaniment from Jon Brion on a couple Adam Sandler covers and a nice wistful score by Schwartman and the estimable Micheal Andrews ("Me & You & Everyone We Know," "Walk Hard").
Adam Sandler & Jon Brion - "Real Love" (by John Lennon) from "Funny People"
Coconut Records - "Wires" from Funny People
5. "Observe & Report" - Various Artists
Audiences roundly rejected the dark Seth Rogen comedy, and in doing so missed out on one of the most unusual, effective and obscure soundtracks of the year. Most would blast the film as a total experience, but the music greatly enhances individual scenes, particularly a streaker's nude, slow-motion mad dash across a crowded mall to City Wolf's cover of "Where Is My Mind" as well as Rogen's Ronnie committing his acts of heroism to Queen's "The Hero" originally from "Flash Gordon." The official soundtrack, which naturally doesn't have some of the film's best cuts, contains two rescued tracks originally in the trailer, "Over Under Sideways Down" by the Yardbirds (scoring a montage of criminal mayhem on the hero's part) and "The Man" from 70's rockers Patto (accompanying a slow-motion Scorsese-style intro to supporting characters).
The Yardbirds - "Over Under Sideways Down" from "Observe & Report."
Queen - "It's Late" from "Observe & Report"
6. "Bronson - Various Artists
Most of "Bronson" is full of gloriously over-the-top classical or opera music (quite memorable use of Puccini and Wagner straight from the chilling and unnervingly absurd Stanley Kubrick playbook). But it's also peppered with some wonderful uses of pop music (with choice cuts by Scott Walker, New Order and Glass Candy used to winning effect), none more wonderful than the expert placement of Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin." Played during a nut house dance party (literally), and encapsulating both the joy and the drugged-out fidgety anxiety of serial bad-ass and criminal Bronson (Tom Hardy). Like the rest of the movie, it's a bold clash of styles and emotions that is nothing short of exhilarating.
The Walker Brothers - "The Electrician" from "Bronson" (you can also hear some of the awesome, slithering electro track by Glass Candy in this extended clip).
Pet Shop Boys - "It's A Sin" from Bronson
7. "Crazy Heart"- Various Artists
Soundtracks can do a lot for a movie - enhance energy, convey mood, or strategically place the story without a certain time or place. But rarely have soundtracks meant so much to the emotional integrity of its central character than in "Crazy Heart." Every time grizzled country music singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) takes to singing one of his songs, it almost acts like a musical number, forwarding not only plot but letting us in on Bad Blake's back story and his emotional turmoil. The original songs by T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham could just as easily be played on country western radio stations, but combined with Bridges' performance they're positively transcendent and in the case of the single, "Weary Heart," utterly dusty and heartbreaking.
Ryan Bingham - "The Weary Kind" from "Crazy Heart" or here's Jeff Bridges' version of the same song. He does a very decent job.
8. "Where The Wild Things Are" - Karen O & The Kids
So much of the success of Spike Jonze's "Where The Wild Things Are" rests on capturing the trembling tenor of the wildly swinging emotions of pre-adolescence. In hiring Karen O to capture those feelings in song, he found the perfect translator for the depths of the unspeakable that course through the hearts of kids, particularly those in which the everyday seems fraught with drama. While "All Is Love," the twee, Sesame Street-like lone "pop" number, has been picked as the Oscar contender, the equally upbeat "Rumpus" built around childlike, tribal percussion and soaring chants and whoops could easily fill in. However, it's the quieter and more dreamlike songs that are the real winners here. The atmospheric "Hideaway" and the gorgeously melancholy "Worried Shoes" are the true heart of this soundtrack and cut deeply to the core of Jonze's film.
Karen O & The Kids - "Worried Shoes" (by Daniel Johnston) from "Where The Wild Things Are"
9. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" - Various Artists
Whatever you think of his films (and it's generally agreed that "Fantastic Mr Fox" was a big return to form, even for those of us who didn't outright love it), it can't be denied that Wes Anderson can curate a soundtrack. Aided as ever by the undisputed king of music supervisors, Randall Poster, the song picks were esoteric, even by the standards of a man who scored his last couple of movies to Brazilian covers of Bowie songs, and excerpts from scores to Satyajit Ray films. Mixing easy-listening country from Burl Ives (best known as Big Daddy in the film of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"), a couple of excellent, relatively obscure Beach Boys cuts (including their haunting version of "Ol' Man River"), and snippets from Truffaut's favored composer George Delerue, they shouldn't work together, but they sure as hell do. The key track has to be "Let Her Dance" by the Bobby Fuller Four, which plays over the supermarket dance finale — it's an unspeakably joyous racket, but one undercut with a melancholy undercurrent that fits the film like a glove and is the old school '60s gem we depend on Wes to excavate.
Bobby Fuller Four - "Let Her Dance" from "Fantastic Mr. Fox"
10. "(500) Days of Summer" - Various Artists
Calling this the “Garden State” soundtrack of 2009, while a fairly accurate designation of how the soundtrack was received by the adoring youth, is also an apt way to describe the interaction between the music and the film. This relationship is more self-reflexive in “(500) Days of Summer;” the songs chosen here are often acknowledged by Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character. Some are directly from a sort of heart-on-his-sleeve playlist, glowy pop when he’s happy, The Smiths when he’s miserable, but the pièce de résistance of his character’s musicality is the Hall and Oates centered celebration of sexual achievement, featuring choreographed dancing and animated birds. Yeah, "Fletch" did it too, but it works here.
Hall & Oates - "You Make My Dreams Come True" from "500 Days Of Summer"
Temper Trap - "Sweet Disposition" from "500 Days Of Summer"
BEST SCORES OF THE YEAR
1. "Where The Wild Things Are" - Carter Burwell
Forget the screechy song by Karen O that runs a huge risk of prematurely aging Spike Jonze's tender (ok, see above we loved some of them too, but...), bittersweet movie — it was Carter Burwell's lovely, hauntingly melancholy score that really stole our breath away. In conjuring forth both the claustrophobically banal daily life of Max (Max Records), as well as the wistful, unhinged, genuinely sad world of the Wild Things, Burwell's score was a study of duality that is linked by its simplicity and overwhelming beauty. One of the movie's most powerful moments, when Max says goodbye to his monstrous pals, is made all the more tender and unique by Burwell's minimalist score. Here the track below and try not to weep.
Carter Burwell -"We Love You So"
2. "Moon" - Clint Mansell
Manning the only power station on the icy-cool surface of the moon, alone, is an eerie enough scenario. As presented in Duncan Jones' debut sci-fi flick "Moon," it's downright chilling. With a constant, oppressive atmosphere of otherworldly dread and corporate conspiracy, Clint Mansell's twinkly score brought a solid repetition to the film, symbolizing the lonely doldrums of the only man on the moon (Sam Rockwell), which occasionally jutted out into fits of raucous, piano-spiked instrumentation, evident of that same man's psychological break and his discovery of his employer's malevolence. It all works beautifully, lugubriously, staying with us even longer than Jones' strikingly stark visual compositions.
Clint Mansell -"Welcome to Lunar Industries (Three Year Stretch...)"
3. "The Informant" - Marvin Hamlisch
Scores like this generally don't exist anymore. And one of the genius touches Steven Soderbergh made for his absurd, agri-business whistleblower movie was coaxing the great Marvin Hamlisch out of retirement to write a loony score that was basically the elevator music going on in the wacked-out head of the pathologically lying, bi-polar protagonist. No one ever thinks to use music as comedy, but Soderbergh and Hamlish ingeniously do the reverse, play the movie straight and use the score as the wacky reminder to the audience, letting us know this guy's not really playing with a full deck. Tellingly, it's the film's strongest element and probably the only element that might see an Oscar nomination this year.
Unfortunatley, all our songs got jacked when Imeem folded (boo Myspace), but you can hear samples here.
4. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" - Alexandre Desplat
A Wes Anderson movie without a score from former Devo-ian Mark Mothersbaugh would, not too long ago, have felt like sacrilege. But that was before Anderson redefined himself as a stop motion animation pioneer, earning some of the best reviews of his career with "Fantastic Mr. Fox." And the idea might be have been more offensive if Mothersbaugh hadn't been replaced by the always-exceptional Alexandre Desplat, who brought an autumnal warmth and sprightliness in a way that Mothersbaugh would have never been able to achieve. In enlivening Anderson's cracked fairy tale, Desplat used traditional instrumentation in a way that was light and fun and at times alluringly carnivalesque. Even sandwiched up against Anderson's soundtrack selections by the Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones, the score shone through, and ever brighter than those classic rock touchstones he loves to use.
Alexandre Desplat - "Just Another Dead Rat In A Garbage Pail (Behind A Chinese Restaurant)" from "Fantastic Mr. Fox"
5. "A Single Man" - Abel Korzeniowski
It's sadly received far too little ink, but just as elegant, sumptuous and emotionally devastating as Tom Ford's outstanding feature-film debut about a man hollowed-out by the loss of his lover (an impeccably good Colin Firth), is the moving and beautiful score by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski. Arguably, his affecting score, full of dolorous, swelling strings, does a lot of the emotional shortcuts for the audience, but damn if it isn't warm, compassionate and completely empathetic to the tragedy going on in this character's life. Korzeniowski hasn't scored many films of note and only a handful of American ones, but his score was one of our favorite parts of Ford's auspicious start, and we're certain he's got a lengthy career ahead of him. One to watch, for sure.
Abel Korzeniowski - "Stillness of the Mind"
6. "Bright Star" - Mark Bradshaw
Utilizing a minimalist mantra-like score of sparse, chiming musical notes, Mark Bradshaw's expressively simple score dances and flirts around the emotional moments in Jane Campion's exquiste 18th century romance, much like the shy and timid characters, but then also opens up with heartsick waves of violins that make you dizzy in the head from the intoxicating rush of a newfound crush. Suffice to say, in this delicately understated manner, Bradshaw quietly underscores the crestfallen moments, the longing furtive glances and the mostly unrequited love story with brilliant flashes of butterfly-like grace.
Mark Bradshaw - "Negative Capability" (and the first 5 songs of the soundtrack)
7. "Up" & "Star Trek" - Michael Giacchino
Michael Giacchino was this summer's movie music MVP with his truly wonderful scores for "Up" and "Star Trek." (He also contributed the score to Will Farrell's "Land of the Lost," but that movie was so cluttered and nonsensical we couldn't pay attention to the music). First, he put the 'opera' into the space opera that was "Star Trek," with big, booming themes and occasional choral backing (like when Eric Bana's ship gets pwned at the end). Director JJ Abrams sometimes cut out all other sound, even during giant battle sequences, just to let Giacchino's music soar. And soar it did. Speaking of soaring, with "Up," Giacchino help put the emotional heft in the airy adventure comedy. This was particularly true in the gorgeous, wordless "Married Life" sequence at the beginning of the film, and gave us one of the only movie themes we were actually humming when we left the theater.
Michael Giacchino - "Married Life"
8. "Broken Embraces" - Alberto Iglesias
Props to Pedro Almodovar for using great, tasteful tracks by Can ("Vitamin C") and Cat Power (thank God it wasn't another song from The Greatest) in "Broken Embraces," but the true star of his '40s-esque mystery-thriller romance noir (a little "Postman Always Rings Twice" and a little "Kiss Me Deadly") was once again, the always incredible Alberto Iglesias — for our money one of the best, perhaps unheralded, working composers alive — who has always elevated Almodovar's pictures to glorious heights. Tapping into a Hitchockian Bernard Herrmann vibe in recent years, coupled with Spanish melodrama and hungering emotional yearning, Iglesias takes you on a journey in this long, twisty and winding picture, and perhaps in many ways, he's the glue that holds the not entirely perfect and sometimes convoluted film together.
Alberto Iglesias - "Los Abrazos Rotas"
9. "The Cove" - J. Ralph
The star of "Man On Wire" might have been — other than Phillipe Petit of course — the re-purposing of Michael Nyman's score ala the way Quentin recontexualizes Ennio Morricone, but the subtle ace up its musical sleeve was composer J. Ralph who wrote all the music to the WTC Heist docu-drama section. Wisely, Louie Psihoyos recognized that his documentary, "The Cove" was pulling off a similar covert operation, getting in behind the enemy lines of the Taiji, fisheries and exposing the brutalities therein. Subtly, Ralph's score expertly, but slowly ratchets up the intrigue and menace — and not without some moments of humor too — and constructs the thrilling tension that makes this documentary such a winner. He also wonderfully captures the majesty of these creatures, creating a score that is fitting for such dynamic and admiral mammal. He also wisely saves the best for last, really opening up on the valve for the dramatic final finish of the film with the track, "Dolphins & Ric" that is so damn galvanizing it will make you want to reach through the TV and strangle these Japaneses fishermen, compel you to do something, and or at least be completely moved.
No clips available unfortunately, but you can hear some here.
10. "A Serious Man" - Carter Burwell
Not to be lost in the central mysteries in this cryptic Coen brothers farce, Carter Burwell's understated, complex theme courses throughout the background of their philosophical nightmare, one of the more subtle musical collections of the prolific composer. Burwell is a consistent collaborator with the Coens, and similar to his work on "No Country For Old Men," the score is bleak, sparse and without a main theme, utilizing string arrangements to subtly increase the level of portent and doom to the film's darker passages. Not necessarily a must-own, but quietly unnerving, and a vital ingredient to one of the year's best and most confounding films.
Elliot Goldenthal's score to "Public Enemies"
Btw, we'll have a part 2 To this later or tmw with underrated, overlooked, under-appreciated scores and soundtracks and some other great moments we'll have to shout out. This was getting too damn-ass long. — Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro, Kevin Jagernauth, Oly Lytellton, Jace Brittain & RP.