Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

The Best Film Soundtracks & Scores Of 2012

by The Playlist Staff
December 14, 2012 2:16 PM
  • |

Various Artists - "Pitch Perfect"
Look, we're not saying we'd actually listen to the thing. It is, after all, a record consisting of a capella covers of the likes of Bruno Mars and Miley Cyrus, and as we all know, a capella groups are the worst. But despite being far from the target audience, you have to acknowledge that the song sequences were the absolute highlights of the mostly winning (but too often willing to go to lazy "Family Guy"-esque offensive gags) musical sleeper hit. While we're not exactly fans of every song in there, the filmmakers picked out a smart mix of megahits, credible pop (Cee-Lo, La Roux) and classics. And they've been arranged in an ingenious mash-up style, so much so that the a cappella nature of things becomes progressively less irritating. Plus, the vocal talents of the cast -- Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Alexis Knapp, Adam DeVine et al. -- are hardly in doubt. Not every cut works, but when it does -- an electric take on modern pop classic "Since U Been Gone," the riff-off track -- it's like "Glee" done right. And it's worth it, if nothing else, for Kendrick's rendition of Lulu & The Lampshade's "You're Gonna Miss Me," done with a couple of cups.

Nick Urata - “Ruby Sparks”

You’ll soon read why we think “Ruby Sparks,” the Zoe Kazan-penned romantic comedy directed by the duo that brought you “Little Miss Sunshine” is criminally underrated. About a novelist who wills his dream girl into existence, the film does, admittedly, sound annoyingly twee, but it’s actually quite the lovely and devastating cautionary tale about control in relationships. As such, “Ruby Sparks” is fanciful, funny, moving, and at times painfully heartbreaking. Nick Urata of DevotchKa, the band that scored "Little Miss Sunshine" with composer Mychael Danna, flies solo on this one and delivers as lush, sonorous and gorgeous score that hints at the magic and wonder inherent in the story. But also a sense of inspiration, manic operatic discovery, elation, melancholy and more emotional contours are a perfect snapshot of this unusual narrative. There’s not much else to say other than the cooing female voices, balletic violins and orchestral sweep to a lot of these tunes are just breathtakingly beautiful. It's not one to sleep on and soundtrack fans definitely need to queue this one up if they haven’t already.

Various Artists - "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"
Between this film and her screenplay for “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” director Lorene Scafaria is proving to have a knack for projects boasting a vital, vibrant assortment of songs. Using The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to ironically introduce the pending apocalypse may not be subtle, but the use of ‘80s tunes thereafter to represent the party-hearty children of said era (INXS, Wang Chung, a P.M. Dawn track that samples Spandau Ballet) suits the devil-may-care behavior of those characters. And as the film’s scope becomes more personal and the tone more wistful, Scafaria dusts off some lovely ‘60s and ‘70s cuts from The Hollies, The Walker Brothers and Herb Alpert with which to send us off. (Plus, bonus points for introducing us to the wispy stylings of French Kicks.)

Andy Cabic & Eric D. Johnson - “Smashed”

As we noted earlier in the year, Fruit Bats founder Eric D. Johnson has taken a slight detour from indie-rock of late to make some charming scores for indie movies such as "Ceremony" and "Our Idiot Brother." Along with Vetiver singer-songwriter Andy Cabic, they co-wrote the score to the Sundance indie hit "Smashed." It’s simple, unassuming, mostly guitar-based, but twinkling, lovely and beaming when it’s not introspective and minor key. A lot of it jumped out at us in the trailer immediately and with good reason. It’s a sweet, doleful and alluring in a really nice low-lit manner (you can sample more of it here). Its soundtrack is pretty solid too, making choice use of an awesome Richard and Linda Thompson tune “I Want To See The Bright Lights,” plus tunes by Cass McCombs and the indie genius Bill Callahan aka Smog (“Our Anniversary”)

Various Artists - "Take This Waltz"
Sarah Polley’s superb and challenging “Take This Waltz” has a lot of below-the-line talent that no one’s really heard of before, or at least not routinely celebrated. “Holy shit, who shot this?" (cinematographer Luc Montpellier). And then with the lonesome, wistful swaying breeze of a score, so tragic, so alone, so directionless with its little cries and backwards magical swirls, you also think: "Holy crap, who scored this?" It’s a gentleman named Jonathan Goldsmith, but like Montpellier, we’d never really paid close attention before. All that changes now. Goldsmith’s score, which captures the “momentary melancholy that we succumb” to gracefully, quietly radiant, and utterly heartbreaking, is possibly one of the most underrated and least talked about scores this year (part of the problem being it was never released). It’s dreamy and mournful, like a slow-motion wail and it just reflects the restlessness, regrettable actions and ache all the characters feel in this movie. Meanwhile, there’s a great selection of soundtrack choices as well. Polley obviously completely recontextualizes The Buggles' “Video Killed The Radio Star” (see that scene in our Best Music Movie Moments of the year) and there’s tremendous use of songs by Feist, Jason Collett, The Parachute Club (hilarious use), Corinna Rose and the Rusty Horse Band, Leonard Cohen (who provides the title track) and two devastating songs by Micah P. Hinson that reach inside your chest and crush your heart.

Jon Brion - “This Is 40”/”ParaNorman”

Comedy scores tend to be a little bit more invisible than the usual dramatic fare; background window dressing for a scene. But Jon Brion, much like his contemporary Michael Andrews, know how to pull off a lot with a little in comedy, generally with some sweet, swaying lilts with memorable melodies. Brion does just that for the gentle, pacific breeze of a score for "This Is 40" that’s soft, occasionally punchy, and dolorous just at the right moment. And unlike a lot of comedies, Judd Apatow puts a lot of of Brion’s plaintive score really up front and center to maximize the emotional value from these pretty subtle but honey-eyed numbers, that, much like the family the film centers on, are grounded in a very palpable affection. "ParaNorman" is another beast entirely. It's seemingly more traditional, but actually just as quirky and inventive as you'd expect from Brion. Utilizing a lot of vibraphones at its center, and largely composed on the same model synth that John Carpenter scored his classic films on (yes, seriously -- listen to the “Zombie Attacks in the Eighties” soundtrack cut and it becomes very apparent), Brion was unafraid to mix classical elements with electronic ones, combining new and old sounds and technology. The score ended up perfectly capturing the movie’s John Hughes-meets-John Carpenter vibe of “ParaNorman,” both scary and heartfelt at the same time.

Alexandre Desplat  - "Zero Dark Thirty"/”Rust & Bone”/”Argo”
Having scored films by Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Roman Polanski, George Clooney, Jacques Audiard and more, every year is generally a good year for French composer Alexandre Desplat, who has become fortunate enough to be every auteur’s favorite composer. 2012 was no different. One of the most in-demand composers alive wrote excellent scores for “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Argo” and even “Rise of the Guardians.” But if we had to pick our favorite, it would be some kind of toss-up tie between Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and Audiard’s “Rust & Bone.” The war procedural is almost nothing like what we’ve come to expect from Desplat, and it centers on a kind of droning/throbbing, sinister pulsations (with a little Middle East flavor) that appropriately palpitates sweatily through the intense and sometimes stressful picture (you can listen to the entire soundtrack here). “Rust & Bone” is a little bit more familiar with its mournful and dirge-like horns, but it’s beautiful nonetheless and once more illustrates why he’s one of the top three film composers working in the world today. Also, using choice cuts by Bon Iver, Lykke Li (a nice dance remix of "I Follow Rivers") and more, the “Rust & Bone” soundtrack is rather amazing too, elevating a Katy Perry song to something like a glorious work of art (see that scene here).

Various Artists - “Silver Linings Playbook”
While yes, Danny Elfman does a minor little score for “Silver Linings Playbook,” the films of David O. Russell don’t really have much room for score (see the fact that Jon Brion tried to write a score for “The Fighter” at the director’s behest, but Brion was right all along; it didn’t need one so it was dropped). And so front and center musically for Russell’s latest film are well-chosen soundtrack cuts, much like he did with “The Fighter.” He changes Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” into a hilarious trigger for anger, and makes great use of Led Zeppelin, who seem to have taken a shine to him, giving the thumbs for their tunes in two straight films for Russell, turning “What Is and What Should Never Be” into Pat's theme song. The picture also organically employs Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Alabama Shakes and even the White Stripes in the film's funny crescendo.. Russell’s always got a good selection of tunes in his films and this one is no different. "Music is at the emotional heart" of filmmaking," Russell said. "I learned how to use music from my great teacher, Martin Scorsese." Amen.

- Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth, Oliver Lyttelton, Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro, William Goss

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    


  • 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

    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


  • MR_BUNGLE | December 14, 2012 2:40 PMReply


  • 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

Email Updates