Instead of trying to parse out original scores from musical scores (thanks for that distinction, Academy) from adapted song-scores, I'm just going to look at the best overall use of music in film. 2012 had a wide variety of approaches to film soundtracks and scores. A growing (and welcome) trend is what I refer to as precision scores. These are soundtracks/scores that sync up directly with the action onscreen. Every note, every beat has a purpose in relation to the visual storytelling rather than general atmosphere.
Other films used wise choices to bring out unexpected laughs and insights in the text of the film. These could be moments of parody, original songs, or even well-selected catalog songs that elevate their films with a sharp ear and a keen wit.
These are the best uses of music in film in 2012. Asterisk indicates VOD.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild, Original Music by Dan Romer, Benh Zeitlin
- Damsels in Distress, Music Supervisor Annie Pearlman; Original Music by Mark Suozzo
- The Dictator, Original Music by Erran Baron Cohen; Music Supervisor Richard Henderson
- Hysteria, Original Music by Gast Waltzing
- Moonrise Kingdom, Original Music by Alexandre Desplat
- Ted, Original Music by Walter Murphy, Lyrics by Seth MacFarlane
6: The Collection, Original Music by Charlie Clouser
This unexpected horror sequel has one of the better original film scores in recent memory. Every major action in a scare scene is timed up perfectly with a music cue that adds to the terror. With a different soundtrack, the film wouldn't work. That's what it comes down to. The club scene at the start is the boldest statement in the film, a massacre timed to the unpredictable rhythms of dubstep so loud you cannot hear the screams. The rest is a clever expansion of traditional horror scoring that stands out in the modern environment for tonality and memorability.
5: Pitch Perfect, Music Director Ed Boyer; Vocal Arrangers Ben Bram, Deke Sharon
The a cappella arrangements in Pitch Perfect are fantastic. It helps to have a cast of singing actors who do their own vocals and understand how music works. The mash-ups are strong and the big solo moments even stronger. Even the genre of music reflects the nature of the characters, an often forgotten trick of musical theater nowadays. The arrangements do wonders to separate the styles of the various ensembles featured in the film.
4: Cloud Atlas, Original Music by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer
Cloud Atlas is driven by the "Cloud Atlas Sextet." The lovely Romantic-styled composition comes up again and again in different variations that sell the brilliance of the interconnected narrative. The one story is entirely driven by the original musical and it only spills out from there into all the other stories. A film that focuses so heavily on music needs a strong score and Cloud Atlas does not disappoint.
3: The Raid: Redemption, Original Music by Mike Shinodo, Joseph Trapanese
Who knew Linkin Park could pull off a great film score? Mike Shinoda, lead rapper/songwriter for the band, and Joseph Trapanese, an experienced composer, put together a tense, even terrifying, soundtrack to a high stakes action epic. The music keeps the story rolling even when there isn't much story at all. It's a moody, atmospheric score that knows just the right point to pick up the pace and draw attention to itself. The unconventional suspended tones and dissonance really amp up the tension in the early scenes before everything falls apart.
2: Anna Karenina, Original Music by Dario Marianelli
Dario Marianelli is the reason why the "Anna Karenina as a stageplay on film" conceit works. His music allows for the grand theatrical flourishes of the ball and introductory scenes to quickly establish the concept. From there, his work becomes more subtle, timed up to unexpected beats of the actor's movements without distracting from the action on screen.
1: The Devil's Carnival*, Original Music by Saar Hendleman, Terrence Zdunich
What a 180 from Repo: The Genetic Opera. Terence Zdunich and Saar Hendleman crafted one of the finest original musical scores in recent memory. Filled with surprising depth and actual horror, the Zdunich/Hendleman team have established the foundation for a brilliant music hall-inspired trilogy of horror musicals.
So those are my favorite scores/soundtracks of 2012. What are yours? Sound off with your thoughts below.