1. The Greatest Miracle (Mark McKenzie)
No other film score in 2011 resounded with such a sense of spiritual beauty as Mark McKenzie’s The Greatest Miracle. A magnificent work frequently verging on the rhapsodic, McKenzie’s score for the Mexican animated feature calls to mind Ennio Morricone’s masterpieces The Mission and Padre Pio, blending a lush orchestra with a moving choir to create a masterpiece.
McKenzie’s vast experience as an orchestrator, working with the likes of Danny Elfman and Jerry Goldsmith, serves him well, the music perfectly calibrated to send the emotions soaring. Scores such as The Greatest Miracle are indeed miraculous, proof that there is life left in the old-fashioned film score.
2. The Tree of Life (Alexandre Desplat)
The inclusion of Alexandre Desplat’s score in this list may be a tad misleading, seeing as very little of it ended up in the theatrical cut of the movie. However, there’s no denying that Desplat’s music captures Terence Malick’s intentions beautifully, flowing and ebbing away in the manner of a river and reflecting the multi-faceted lives of the on-screen characters. It’s been a busy year for the composer but The Tree of Life is a massively rewarding experience, albeit an intellectual and demanding one, balancing clusters of rhythmic beauty with uncomfortable darkness, and daring to fade away into nothingness at the end.
3. Soul Surfer (Marco Beltrami)
Marco Beltrami is mostly known for his horror scores (Scream, Mimic et al), but even they have frequent moments of beauty. And yet the score for Soul Surfer demonstrates Beltrami’s sensitive side to especially glorious effect, the composer depicting Hawaiian culture in breathtaking fashion. Utilising traditional ‘mele’ chants alongside a lush orchestra, the score is possessed of an authentic ethnic texture that is deeply beautiful. One of Hollywood’s most underrated composers, Beltrami shows marvellous skill in sketching surfer Bethany Hamilton’s spiritual journey, in the process conjuring up one of 2011’s best scores.
4. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (John Williams)
Underestimate John Williams’ first Tintin score at your peril. On arrival, it received something of a lukewarm reception from rabid fans keen to hear a new theme that rivalled the likes of the Raiders March. Well, that hasn’t happened. There are themes, sure (a jazzy one for Tintin himself, a buoyant scherzo for Snowy, a thunderous piece for the Unicorn), but they don’t linger long in the memory. What Williams does instead is weave this plethora of ideas around each other in extraordinarily intricate fashion, belying his advancing years, and showing the young bucks why he’s still the undisputed master of Hollywood film scoring.
5. Captain America: The First Avenger (Alan Silvestri)
Big bold superhero themes aren’t in fashion at the moment – sadly, it doesn’t seem trendy or hip to manipulate a modern audience with big emotional music. So composer Alan Silvestri deserves a big hand-shake for coming up with the best superhero theme in many a year: the Captain America March. Brassy, martial, heroic, it gets the essence of the character to a tee, and adds a magnificent, additional layer of heroism to the film itself. When coupled with Silvestri’s familiar action music style (brass ostinatos, rhythmic strings, xylophones), it really takes off, and flips the bird to those who say music shouldn’t get in the way of the film.
6. The Rum Diary (Christopher Young)
With The Rum Diary, Christopher Young continues to prove why he is one of the most multi-faceted, exciting composers in Hollywood at the moment. Famed for the lush, Gothic extravagance heard in the likes of Hellraiser and Drag Me to Hell, here, Young returns to his jazzy roots, concocting a terrifically laid back score for Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s novel. Few film scores in 2011 were as personal, Young clearly relishing the intimacy afforded by the jazz ensemble. There’s even time on the album for collaborative material with star Johnny Depp – one senses this score was enormous fun to record!
7. Jane Eyre (Dario Marianelli)
Dario Marianelli solidifies his reputation as the go-to composer for period dramas with Jane Eyre. However, this is a score that lacks the harmonic appeal of Pride and Prejudice or the tragic weight of Atonement. Instead, Marianelli demands much from the listener, gradually building empathy for Mia Wasikowska’s Jane through Jack Liebek’s exquisite violin solos, which gain in heart-rending urgency over the course of the score. It’s a beautifully subtle work that stands up as textured, complex listening experience, balancing the darkness of the ‘insuperable impediment’ with the burgeoning romance between Jane and Michael Fassbender’s Rochester.
8. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Michael Giacchino)
The most entertaining installment so far in the Mission Impossible franchise also receives the best score. Michael Giacchino, re-uniting with director Brad Bird for the third time (after The Incredibles and Ratatouille), was clearly galvanised by the playful, globe-trotting nature of the latest entry, coming up with a thrilling score. Integrating Lalo Schifrin’s original TV themes to consistent, dynamic effect, and with a multitude of action/suspense pieces that reflect the film’s exotic locations, it’s a massively entertaining score, in which Giacchino is able to give equal weight to both his own voice and Schifrin’s.
9. Super 8 (Michael Giacchino)
Sometimes, all a score needs is a knockout conclusion. Super 8 is the second score from Michael Giacchino on this list and for the most part, pivots around a clutch of engaging, if hardly groundbreaking, themes (a central piece, one for the monster, one for the army and one for the relationship between Joe and Alice). These ideas circulate around each other, channelling the spirit of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith while capturing the sense of childhood wonder and encroaching menace seen in JJ Abrams’ film. And then… it all erupts in a simply stupendous finale when the orchestra rises to magnificent heights, calling to mind, appropriately, the soaring conclusion of Williams’ ET score. Such a payoff is well worth the wait.
10. The Artist (Ludovic Bource)
The spirit of silent cinema is very much alive thanks to Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist. The acclaimed project is itself a silent movie, one which pays nostalgic homage to early cinema, and Ludovic Bource’s hailed score follows suit. Channelling the likes of Franz Waxman and Max Steiner, Bource brings the rich Golden Age sound roaring back to life, introducing a whole new audience to the importance of early film scores. A pastiche score by nature, its intentionally overwrought sound precludes casual emotional involvement but it’s clearly a passion project for the composer, a score sure to be regarded as a classic in future.