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.
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.
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).
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