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The Best Movie Soundtracks and Cuts of 2012

Thompson on Hollywood By Maggie Lange | Thompson on Hollywood December 31, 2012 at 5:17PM

With the power to bolster a flailing scene, add emotional complexity, and round out a film, the soundtracks and scores of 2012 were often as good (or better) than the films that contained them. Below is a sampling of the best soundtracks of 2012, scores and compilations -- with a highlighted track embedded at the end of the post.
Beasts of the Southern WIld

Listen: the bluegrassy "White Light, White Heat" and "End Crawl."

"The Hunger Games" boasted a roaring soundtrack to match undercurrents of anger bubbling in the oppressed characters.  Arcade Fire, the Civil Wars, and the Decemberists were tasteful, though obvious choices.  It was Kid Cudi's unexpected "The Ruler and the Killer" that stood out and added some growling gravitas to the set.

Listen: the rough and angry "The Ruler and the Killer."

In "Anna Karenina" the Italian composer, Dario Marianelli's dreamy, rich melancholic score was a centerpiece of the film.  This is the fourth time that Marianelli worked with director Joe Wright (he won an Oscar for his "Atonement" score).  Marianelli wrote the music before filming started -- an unusual practice -- so that Wright could match movement and choreography to the score, inducing a ballet-like vibe that informs the whole world.

Anna Karenina

Listen: a preview of the soundtrack

Two more short-lists worth noting:

Movies outshone by their soundtracks:

  • Michael Giacchino's expansive and epic score for Disney's flop "John Carter" stood out among some ridiculousness.
  • The soundtrack for “The Man with the Iron Fists” also impressed, featuring Wu Tan Clang, RZA, Black Keys, and Kanye West.

Take this Waltz
Excellent decisions to unexpectedly select a well-worn hit:

  • Though "Take This Waltz" was named after a sweeping Leonard Cohen ballad (used brilliantly in the end of the film) the best music moment is on a carnival ride to Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star"
  • Honorable Mentions:
  • "Perks of Being a Wallflower" and its use of Dexy's Midnight Runner's "Come on Eileen"
  • "Flight" and its use of Rolling Stone's "Gimme Shelter"
  • "Rust and Bone" and its use of Katy Perry's "Firework"


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.