Tuesday, 6 September 2011

My Top 10 Film Soundtracks

One of the main reasons why I love film is because of the soundtracks. I cannot get over how a composer can write the most perfect piece of music for film; a piece so perfect, that it sounds like the film was made for the music instead. Here are my top ten choices, which was unbelievably difficult to choose. These are in no particular order:

1.) Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights: A very unknown film, which is a huge shame because for me this is a brilliant adaptation of the novel. Ralph Fiennes gives one of his best performances as Heathcliff, and Juliette Binoche, although her French accent seeps through now and again, is the perfect Cathy. The score is composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, and is hauntingly stunning. The soundtrack is very hard to get hold of, luckily for me my sister found one. But if ever get the chance, watch the film and check out the soundtrack.

2.) William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet: This adaptation was disgracefully overlooked at the Oscars, not only because of it's incredible performance from DiCaprio or it's innovative direction, but it's soundtrack is the most divine and beautiful piece in film. It really captures the youth of our young lovers, the magic of their being in love and the beauty of the moments they share. It really is quite overwhelming to hear, and is Craig Armstrong's greatest piece.

3.) Once Upon A Time In The West: My first score by Ennio Morricone, and his greatest. I think this film score really holds it's own as a masterpiece in music for it's sheer depth. Just listening to the violins soaring you can see the scale and breadth of the west, breathtaking deserts, the feeling of wealth and prosperity on the horizon, of a new life starting for Jill. The fact that Morricone wrote the score before the film was made kind of says it all really, Serigo Leone was able to direct the film perfectly with the music. This soundtrack has so many different sounds too that words can't do it any justice. I ask you all to watch this film before you die, and I promise you will want to go out and buy the soundtrack immediately.

4.) Up!: The soundtrack for this movie is quite weird because it almost acts as the soundtrack to all our memories. For me, the main theme in this movie 'Married Life' is the sound of nostalgia. It's the perfect sound to accompany any of our photo albums, and any memories of times we wish we could go back to. The perfect soundtrack to look back, reflect, cherish and even mourn. Composer Michael Giacchino definitely deserved his Oscar for his music in this film. I could not believe it when Avatar didn't win the Oscar for it's music, but after watching Up!, I could see why.

5.) Avatar: Talking of Avatar, this is also one of my favourite soundtracks. I love James Horner, I think his soundtracks are gorgeous. What I love about his work on Avatar is that the music has a mysterious quality which suits the different surroundings Jake Sully finds himself in, but also there is an element of transcendence for Jake realises that there is something more to life on this planet that us humans forgot on Earth. I particularly his use of, I'm not sure what you call it, but tribal instruments, especially in the song 'Jake's First Flight', it really feels like we are on flying with him and on this incredible journey with him. As his heart races, ours races, and that is the beauty of this soundtrack, it totally involves you and makes you as amazed as Jake as he discovers more of this strange world he is in.

6.) American Beauty: Thomas Newman really proved himself with this soundtrack, although he had composed great pieces on his previous films, his work on American Beauty really stands tall. This is real ambient, dreamlike sound throughout the score that draws us in to 'behind closed doors' setting of the film. Everything seems surreal and it's like we are viewing everything in hindsight- which we are. We know Lester dies, and as we watch the film we can see why maybe things could lead to his death so Newman's music really helps create this kind of dreamy perspective on things. My favourite parts of the score are the piano pieces like 'Angela Undress' in the scene where Lester tries to have a heart to heart with Jane. The zoom in on the photo of the Burnham family years ago is matched with a subtle piano piece that sounds so fragile, mirroring the fragility of the family's situation, the slight touch of the notes in  the piece adds to the fact that they are all missing the point. None of them even notice the happy photo infront of them, when Lester does notice near the end of the film, all his worries and problems cease and he realises the true meaning of his life, and that there is nothing for him to be unhappy about.

7.) The Hunchback of Notre Dame: There are so many great Disney soundtracks, most of which are my favourites, but this one is outstanding. Just when we thought Alan Menken couldn't beat his work on The Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast, he composed his most powerful score. Combining the toll of real bells, with massive choirs and Latin phrases from the Catholic mass, this soundtrack is literally soul-shaking, and as magnificent as the drawings of the great Notre Dame herself. I feel that the score mirrors the cathedral massively, with it's soaring choir voices matching the dominating towers of the building. One great scene which is rather dark for Disney, is where Frollo admits privately his feelings, or rather, his lust for Esmeralda, and he sings 'Hellfire' which encapsulates his fear at thinking unholy thoughts, but also his raging passion for her. There are also truly touching and less bold parts, including 'God Help the Outcasts' and 'Heaven's Light' that capture the beauty, instead of the achievement, of the the cathedral.  A truly outstanding achievement by Menken, and another jewel in Disney's crown.

8.) Cinema Paradiso: Morricone's second appearance in this list is an overwhelming tribute to film. The film of course looks at the magic of movies: how they bewitch us from childhood and continue to until our last days. In particular, this films looks at the love moments, which were so harshly censored in the old days, that some of the most precious moments in film were not seen for decades. But of course, in that final scene, where Salvatore watches the reel of 'cut' kisses from films he saw as a child, has such a tremendous music accompaniment. Strings flowing in almost a frenzy, what we have is music equivalent to our emotions as we watch to beautiful people onscreen kiss. A swell of emotions with a swell of music, and it's so frenzied because it also mirrors Salvatore's emotions, seeing all the scenes he missed, and feeling overwhelmingly grateful that his dear friend had saved them for him. The score for this movie really sounds like Morricone's love letter to cinema.

9.) The Deer Hunter: Everyone knows Stanley Myer's famous guitar piece in this film. I never before felt like I could hear a guitar weeping, although there have been many mournful acoustic pieces. But the theme for The Deer Hunter is so full of woe, memory and grief. Even though there are no lyrics, it feels like the guitar is saying 'they're gone' (that's how I feel anyway). This soundtrack is one of those rare times where it music goes perfectly with how you feel. Everytime I have been down or upset, the music from the picture almost expresses my grief for me. there are other beautiful pieces on the soundtrack, and the Russian hymns included, particularly 'Memory Eternal', and the hymns they play during the hunting scenes in the misty mountains, are chilling to the core.

10.) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Never was there a more phenomenal soundtrack as far as sheer scale and variety is concerned. From it's military and frightening music for the Mordor scenes, to it's merry country music for the Shire that literally sound like open fields with fresh green grass. My favourites have to be 'The Great River', where the fellowship are sailing past too enormous statues of great kings, we really feel from the music that this is a special place, of impeccable grandeur. Another is the music at the end of 'The Bridge of Khazad-dum', where Frodo looks back at Aragorn with tears in his eyes, he is sad because Gandalf is dead and he doesn't want this task. The music for this moment really eerie and angelic, and help you to totally focus on the sadness in Frodo's eyes. The music from each of the three films is unbelievable, and the fact that Howard Shore did it all shows what a true talent he is. The music is the perfect soundtrack for the most epic journey in film, and glorifies the unparalleled effects that we see in the film. Peter Jackson provided the sights, Shore the soundtrack: and what a glorious partnership that turned out to be.

Here are others of my favourites which I could not include: The Untouchables, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, Malena, Braveheart, Titanic, Once Upon a Time in Ameirca, Sense and Sensibility, Il Gattopardo, Love Actually, The Lion King, Gladiator, The English Patient, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, The Godfather.

The greatest theme of all time, I believe to be the score for Gone With The Wind by Max Steiner. I don't think there will ever be a soundtrack more cinematic or more symbolic of just how great film can be. I always get teary-eyed when I hear the main theme from this picture. I don't know if it's because it reminds of a time that has passed, or Clark Gable in his prime, but it just works. I love how John Williams finished off with it in his ensemble of Oscar-winning scores performance at the Academy Awards a few years back.

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