Best Soundtracks Scores 2012

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.

Anna Karenina
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.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild
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.

Celeste and Jesse Forever

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.

The Comedy
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.

Dark Knight Rises Gordon-Levitt Shotgun
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.