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The Best Film Soundtracks & Scores Of 2012

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 14, 2012 at 2:16PM

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.
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Pitch Perfect Anna Kendrick
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.


Paul Dano Chris Messina Zoe Kazan Ruby Sparks
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.




Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World Steve Carell Keira Knightley
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.)



Smashed Octavia Spencer Mary Elizabeth Winstead
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”)


Take This Waltz Michelle Williams Luke Kirby
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.



This is 40 Chris O'Dowd Paul Rudd Lena Dunham
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.

Zero Dark Thirty
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).




Silver Linings, DeNiro, Weaver, Cooper
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

This article is related to: Features, Best Of 2012, 2012: The Year In Review


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