Favorite scores of twenty-ten

I’ve semi-reluctantly decided that if I don’t hop aboard the “favorites list” bandwagon, this blog will sit untouched for the remainder of the year. So if for no other reason than to get my fingers typing and your RSS feed fed, I’d like to impose on you my favorite scores of 2010.

This has been a rewarding year, music-wise. The last few years have produced plenty of groaning about the stagnancy in the film music industry, and my voice has often been among the chorus. But there are still several talented composers in the ring—some old hands and a few newcomers—who are committed to writing more or less “traditional,” narrative film scores. And this year provided enough cinematic inspiration to produce some truly fantastic works.

How to Train Your Dragon

This is hardly an original choice, but film music fans flocked to this score like a pack of hungry gallimimuses because it is stuffed to overflowing with deliciously hummable themes, delightful orchestration, and a satisfying story arch. From the jazzy refrains that open “This is Berk,” to the delicate “Forbidden Friendship,” to the many variations of the gorgeous love theme, Dragon is certainly the feather in John Powell’s impressive cap, and a score that I keep returning to for a musical thrill ride.

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Never Let Me Go

I’ve always been a sucker for Rachel Portman’s sweet melodies and charming, English style of composition. There may not be a wild variety in her body of work, but she consistently excels at the niche she has carved. Never Let Me Go is a dark, melancholy spin on the tender themes she is so good at writing. Solo violin and cello wind their lonely passages through the score, and the bittersweet music is just as haunting as the bleak subject matter of the story.

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Inception

It’s quite easy for me to begrudge Hans Zimmer’s impact on the art of film scoring while still harboring an unflagging enthusiasm for his music. Despite the trail of homogenous echoes he leaves in his wake, he continues to explore uncharted waters and craft irresistible, indelible scores for some of Hollywood’s best films. Inception hit me like a mental sucker punch, with Zimmer’s blaring, neo-noir score ringing in my ears. Zimmer has effectively accomplished that rare feat of crossing over into the “popular music” realm, and it is because his music has all the catchy, visceral power of good pop music, carried by the art of orchestral storytelling. Without a doubt, Inception ranks among his finest efforts to date.

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The Last Airbender

The apex of James Newton Howard’s impressive collaboration with M. Night Shyamalan will always be Signs for me, but each time these two join forces something magic happens. I was as sour as anyone about Night’s latest film, which was blighted by awkwardly stiff acting and awkwardly runny pacing. But once again Howard reached into his bag of tricks and summoned the forces of a triumphant theme and orchestral might. His scores for Night always swell into a powerhouse climax, and this one is no exception.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

I’ve made no bones about my fast-growing idolization of Mssr. Desplat, but if there was any doubt about his preeminence in my heart, the year 2010 sealed the deal. I was looking forward to his assuming the reins of the Harry Potter franchise, but I did not anticipate being so completely arrested and overwhelmed by this first score. Rather than employing John Williams’ themes for the franchise (which I admittedly hoped he would do), Desplat surprised me by inhabiting Williams’ style for the score. What resulted was a heavenly marriage of voices—verdant Desplat and timeless Williams. The score is a parade of charming new motifs, arrayed in Desplat’s Gallic dressings with reverential ornaments of Williams. This is that rare score where, upon peeling back layer after layer, I keep discovering new worlds of nuance and treasure—making it my absolute favorite score of this abundant year.

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Check out my friend Jim’s Top Ten List for a slightly different take.