The Sounds of Movie Music


(photo: wikimedia)

Movie soundtracks are meant to enhance and amplify. They’re successful when they’re so much in sync with the film that the viewer internalizes them as part of the experience. Not all scores work, while some may work too well: the modern soundtrack for The Revenant was more likeable than the movie–to me, but not to the Grand Pooh-Bahs of the Golden Globes and  BAFTA !

Without doubt the composer’s contribution “has become an essential part of the medium’s power,” said Matt Patches and Kristopher Tapley for HitFix, and can be as identifiable as any visual image. In just a couple of notes, people will nail the theme from Star Wars, The Godfather (good ring-tone choice there), or Chariots of Fire. I’ve linked a few movie titles below to soundtracks or excerpts that show good melding of sight and sound.

The Academy Awards are coming up February 28, and we’ll be re-hearing five of the best scores from 2015. First, a look back:

  • Ten great soundtracks from film adaptations of books, by Kate Scott at Book Riot includes Brokeback Mountain (with tracks by various folk and bluegrass artists, including Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and Steve Earle, as well as the work of composer Gustavo Santaolalla); one of my all-time favorite scores, The Last of the Mohicans (music by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman), which I skated to!; and the bittersweet score to The Painted Veil (music by Alexandre Desplat, who’s received eight AA nominations and won for The Grand Budapest Hotel).
  • A previous Kate Scott story featured the scores from Pride & Prejudice (with music by Dario Marianelli and featuring Jean-Yves Thibaudet on solo piano) and A Series of Unfortunate Events (music by Thomas Newman), which Scott says are her “two favorite soundtracks of all time.”
  • Patches and Tapley looked back at Oscar winners of the past 80 years and picked the best of the best. Their top three: 3) Schindler’s List (John Williams, AA 1993), which “aches with palpable melancholy; 2) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Howard Shore, AA 2001), “moving, thrilling and chilling”; and #1) Lawrence of Arabia (Maurice Jarre, AA 1962) “an epic musical journey.” And, unforgettable.
  • The American Film Institute list of 25 greatest film scores gives Lawrence of Arabia the third spot, with Gone with the Wind (Max Steiner) second, and Star Wars (John Williams) at the pinnacle. A little lower on the AFI list is a pair of my favorites, The Magnificent Seven (Elmer Bernstein) in eighth place and Chinatown (Jerry Goldsmith) in ninth.
  • None of these retrospective lists include another in my personal luvvit list—1982’s Blade Runner, with music by Vangelis.
  • This year’s AA nominees for best original score are: Bridge of Spies (Thomas Newman); Carol (Carter Burwell); The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone); Sicario (Jóhann Jóhannsson); and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams). In only 20 days, we’ll see who wins!

Do you have a favorite movie score, from days past or present?

4 thoughts on “The Sounds of Movie Music

  1. Oh, I sure did not have time for this detour today, but what a journey as I sampled a few memories for this list
    Ennio Morricone for The Mission
    John Barry for Out of Africa
    David Raskin for Laura
    George Delerue for King of Hearts
    Bernard Herrmann for just about everything but especially for Taxi Driver
    so much great music so little time…..

  2. First, looks like your trip was fun, interesting and lyrical in its own way. As for movie scores, my favorites aren’t chosen by their technical prowess at fitting the film but in whether the songs worked for me in context (Rogers and Hammerstein films of Oklahoma, South Pacific, …or shows like the Sound of Music) or whether a few notes bring back a feeling or scenes from the movie (Gone With the Wind. – Tara’s Theme- visions of red streaks, fire, original Starwars opening…excitement and the swirling letters, or the Superman movie- expansive freedom and romance). For me, good scores, the type that are awarded, fade so far into the background that I consciously become unaware of them (many by Mancini or Williams) which is sad because the best ones thereby do their job.

    • Trip was great, thanks! What I find is that if I buy a CD of a movie score because there was some bit I really noticed and liked, there’s so much other good music in there that I “missed,” because, as you say, the melding of music and film was so effective. Yet it’s hard to imagine a lot of movies *without* their music!

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