The Best Film Soundtracks & Scores Of 2012

Features
by The Playlist Staff
December 14, 2012 2:16 PM
33 Comments
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We're continuing our best of 2012 coverage by diving into scores and soundtracks that caught our ear over the past twelve months. As anyone who's ever watched one of those YouTube videos where someone puts a video of their favorite Evanescence song over an ill-fitting movie scene, music, whether score or a song, can be crucial to a film's success, or otherwise. And yet all too often, it's reduced to a footnote in the appreciation of a film. And that goes double for when films that don't necessarily work and otherwise have a great score or soundtrack.

We looked at music-related scenes earlier in the week, but now we want to focus on the compositions and songs themselves. There's a diverse mix here, from experimental electronica and lush orchestration, to loud hip-hop cuts and bubblegum pop. You can listen to extracts from them all below, as well as letting us know your own favorite scores and soundtracks of the year in the comments section. And for all The Playlist's year-end coverage make sure to follow all our Best Of 2012 features.

Dario Marianelli - “Anna Karenina”

The first two times Joe Wright worked with composer Dario Marianelli, on "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement," it won the Italian composer an Academy Award nomination for the former and an actual Oscar for the latter. But on their fourth collaboration ("The Soloist" being the third), Marianelli might just have topped himself and created his finest work to date. Melodic, complex and assured, the score (much of it written before the film went into production in order for Wright to choreograph his musical-like take on the film to it early on) melds a number of influences: French-inflected Russian classical music, traditional folk music, waltzes, and a simple, melodic piano piece representing the heroine. As with "Atonement," the score is cunningly weaved through the film, passing between the diagetic and non-diagetic areas seamlessly -- an accordionist walks through shot playing in sync with the score, Oblonsky's clerks provide live on-set rhythm, the puff of a steam train sets the pace. It's hugely memorable, lush and swooning stuff, but goes far beyond the remit -- you can almost shut your eyes and still hear the story being told purely through the music. We're not sure any director/composer partnership is as exciting as this one right now.



Dan Rohmer and Benh Zeitlin - "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Yes, there’s an element of precocity in the score for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” one that frames the adventures of plucky Hushpuppy against an expansive and cruel semi-fantasy world. But credit to the scope of the score from Dan Rohmer and director Benh Zeitlin, which adds syrupy, thick strings to a brass band that knows how to build to crescendo. 'Beasts' is one of the rare modern scores that is both hummable and nuanced enough to underline the film’s action and bloom at key moments, enveloping the events in the film like a warm blanket. The use of strings heightens the stakes of Hushpuppy’s isolation, but the quieter moments, allowing for piano and mournful horns, establish the adventurous element to her story, a similar synthesis provided to Karen O’s work on “Where The Wild Things Are.” By the time the music bursts into a full-on march, it’s a moment of triumph for our tiny heroine and her seemingly impossible quest.




Various Artists - "Celeste and Jesse Forever"

Fitting for a film that starts at the end of a relationship, this soundtrack kicks off with Lily Allen’s “Littlest Things,” immediately introducing a sense of wistfulness and reminiscence within a pop framework. What follows is an alternately hip and tender mix, a great chill-out album for characters who need to do just that, balancing out mellow ballads by Sunny Levine, William Bell and Mr. Little Jeans with livelier tracks by Vetiver, Keepaway and Freddie Scott. As a whole, it captures the melancholy/hopeful emotional spectrum of the characters caught in the midst of a relationship that won't break up or make up, and seems like an ideal complement to modern West Coast living and loving.



Various Artists - “The Comedy”
Described by Jagjaguwar Records as “eerie, bittersweet and mystic pop songs from the autumn of the American Era," and fuck, we just wanna quit right there, as that nails it like a spike on a cross. Featuring new indie bands with an lonely, soulful atmospheric bent -- GAYNGS, Gardens & Villa, Here We Go Magic -- and some from the past -- rediscovered ‘70s soul/yacht rock teenagers Donnie & Joe Emerson, English singer and  pianist Bill Fay, Zambian psychedelic pop band Amanaz -- it’s all colored by a faint sense of isolation that’s occasionally more tragic and forlorn. For a film about aging Brooklyn hipsters estranged from the world who mask their lack of direction with cruelty and horrible pranks on innocent people, it only makes sense that simmering underneath is a more pensive soundtrack for the lost, forsaken and the one unable to truly connect. This is not only a brilliant soundtrack to listen to independently on its own. The use of the music throughout the film is something increasingly rare: a truly inspired selection of songs to amplify what’s on screen. And let’s not forget William Basinski's seminal ambient track and meditation on decay, “The Disintegration Loops,” which is featured to brilliantly chilling effect here.






Hans Zimmer - “The Dark Knight Rises”

Deshi, Deshi Basara! Deshi, Deshi Basara! The first of the three Bat-films to not feature James Newton Howard’s contributions, “The Dark Knight Rises” is Hans Zimmer’s big opportunity to show off, and does he ever. The compositions of Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film are relentless and unsubtle pieces, finally giving in to this series’ action picture leanings. There are moments of embarrassment, surely: Zimmer’s compositions have a surplus of heroic swells that end up tagging some of the more downbeat sequences in a film where the hero is frequently down-and-out. Our favorite has to be the shuddering da-da-da-da-da-da when Batman reads a computer revealing a cross-city chase has failed to prevent him from essentially going bankrupt. But when Zimmer’s score is on, it’s ON: Bane’s theme has a noodling sonic peek-a-boo synth effect in the background of gothic chants ostensibly provided by the League of Shadows, blurring the line between diegetic and non-diegetic sound. And Zimmer gives in to his inner Bill Conti during the film’s many training sequences: the rousing aural punctuation mark Zimmer gives the final scenes in Bane’s prison a fitting conclusion.  

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33 Comments

  • HarG | February 27, 2013 5:16 AMReply

    Would You Rather has a great score also.

  • Austin Bond | December 30, 2012 6:28 AMReply

    Cloud Atlas had the best soundtrack of the year. Brave was also spectacularly Scottish. :-)

  • LOK | December 17, 2012 5:52 PMReply

    Seriously, Playlist: Where is "Laurence Anyways"???

  • Loïc | December 31, 2012 9:41 PM

    such a great film and a great director!!

  • Kyle | December 17, 2012 12:45 PMReply

    Camille Saint-Saëns wrote Carnival of the Animals, not Leonard Bernstein...

  • second gary | December 17, 2012 4:37 PM

    Imdb says Bernstein conducted the "Carnival" excerpt, and the "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" (composer, Britten), too.

  • Kyle | December 17, 2012 12:46 PM

    Saint-Saens (damn French!)

  • Elaine | December 17, 2012 5:24 AMReply

    Great feature

  • Aaron Hillis | December 16, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    You missed my favorite this year, The Caretaker's magnificent, beautifully sad score for PATIENCE (AFTER SEBALD). Guess it wasn't loud enough to be heard.

  • Miles | December 15, 2012 4:42 PMReply

    And LOOPER was amazing. Very original.

  • Miles | December 15, 2012 4:06 PMReply

    Where's THE IMPOSSIBLE? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dHCYOtaVVc
    Oh wait, it hasn't come out in the theaters in the US yet, so IndieWire's awareness is skewed. The film broke box office history in Spain and the screening I saw blew me away. Loved the score.

  • AlexFe85 | December 15, 2012 5:23 AMReply

    Agree, great list. But....guys...COSMOPOLIS by Howard Shore & Metric is one of the greatest soundtrack of the year. Don't know how you can forgot that score. Also, i think that the one by Thomas Newman for "Skyfall" was good.

  • Jonn | December 15, 2012 12:50 AMReply

    Oh, yeah. I agree with you on the "John Carter" score. Giacchino's music is lovely. It's been on my iPhone and iPad since it was released.

  • Jonn | December 15, 2012 12:45 AMReply

    Ok. It's a little easy to just lump-in and say that "John Carter" is a movie that nobody liked. I love that movie - I actually saw it 3 times in cinema to see it in 3D before it was pulled. I suggest that you do a bit of reading. There's quite a bit of revisionist critiquing going on with some saying they were overly harsh towards the film. Don't just blindly jump on the bandwagon because everyone else is doing so.

  • nechoplex | December 14, 2012 8:15 PMReply

    Kind of weird that you guys didn't include Nathan Johnson's score for Looper. That one was definitely one of the best of the year as well as Paul Leonard-Morgan's score for Dredd.

  • nechoplex | December 14, 2012 8:15 PMReply

    Kind of weird that you guys didn't include Nathan Johnson's score for Looper. That one was definitely one of the best of the year as well as Paul Leonard-Morgan's score for Dredd.

  • nechoplex | December 14, 2012 8:14 PMReply

    Kind of weird that you guys didn't include Nathan Johnson's score for Looper. That one was definitely one of the best of the year as well as Paul Leonard-Morgan's score for Dredd.

  • Edward | December 14, 2012 6:45 PMReply

    " It might not enthrall the Instagram crowd" lol, perfect. I know a lot of people that are like, "wait, not the same hipster-lite music i like over and over again?" Grow with the guy, kids. Hopefully you're gonna grow some day too.

  • gert | December 14, 2012 5:38 PMReply

    Pretty weak year for film scores imo. Cloud Atlas, Looper, Paranorman were really cool, but the most brilliant score of the year is from Ruby Sparks. I remember The Gray and this Must be the place had cool scores as well but i dont really consider them 2012 films. And yes the sounds from Jeff Who Lives at Home were lovely too.

  • The Bark Fright | December 14, 2012 5:21 PMReply

    The Dark Knight Rises - best of this year? So, since it sounds like a near carbon-copy of The Dark Knight, I guess it's not really new. Or good, honestly. Only real gripe I have and we all know how you guys love dem gripes.

  • Alan | December 14, 2012 7:44 PM

    It's not even close to being a "carbon-copy". You should clean your ears.

  • bohmer | December 14, 2012 4:36 PMReply

    Yes Cloud Atlas but didn't you listen to Dredd 3D?!

  • lane | December 14, 2012 3:55 PMReply

    agreed, not putting Cloud Atlas here negates the cred of this specific 'best of'

  • RP | December 14, 2012 3:37 PMReply

    both Cloud Atlas and 21 Jump Street were on our shortlists. We didn't want to go on forever though. But yes, Mothersbaugh very good in 21 Jump.

  • Frazel | December 14, 2012 4:51 PM

    " I don't even see why you should have soundtracks on this list." hey cool, get your own blog then, kid.

  • MR_BUNGLE | December 14, 2012 4:14 PM

    Since this is not a "Top 10" list (or other numeric value) and instead just a rather generic "Best of" list I don't see why you would have a shortlist, and just decide skip one of the most epic soundtracks of the year.

    *Note: in fact, I don't even see why you should have soundtracks on this list. Scores are more fundamentally connected to the film since they are written specifically for the film. Soundtracks can add feeling to a film, but the fact that they're songs combined together to contribute to the film is exactly that, they're contributions; unlike scores, which are integral parts to the film's cohesive core.

  • Chet Desmond | December 14, 2012 3:14 PMReply

    Second Cloud Atlas and don't forget 21 Jump Street. A nice change of pace for Mothersbaugh.

  • Chet Desmond | December 14, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    Second Cloud Atlas and don't forget 21 Jump Street. A nice change of pace for Mothersbaugh.

  • Chet Desmond | December 14, 2012 3:10 PMReply

    Second Cloud Atlas and don't forget 21 Jump Street. A nice change of pace for Mothersbaugh.

  • Chet Desmond | December 14, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    Second Cloud Atlas and don't forget 21 Jump Street. A nice change of pace for Mothersbaugh.

  • MR_BUNGLE | December 14, 2012 2:42 PMReply

    WHERE THE HELL IS CLOUD ATLAS?!

  • MR_BUNGLE | December 14, 2012 2:40 PMReply

    WHERE THE HELL IS CLOUD ATLAS?!

  • Glass | December 15, 2012 5:43 PM

    Anyone else think the TDKR score was WAY too fucking loud? Jesus christ. I need to put subtitles on sometimes because I can't hear what people are YELLING on screen

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