Consider year-end “favorite” lists a self-indulgent exercise in futility if you will, but I do enjoy retracing my steps from the year past and identifying those scores that gave me the most joy. Maybe you’ll giddily concur with my list (doubtful), and maybe your appetite will be piqued to give another—or first—listen to one of these scores. Or maybe you’ll scan this over and realize what an ignorant philistine / pretentious snob / bipolar lunatic I am for considering these my favorites of the past year. Regardless I’ve had fun sifting through a year of some pretty good film music. Here are the five scores that bobbed to the top:
It’s all but a given that any new John Williams score will be among my favorites of the year in which it’s released, and Lincoln is no exception. I love this soft, reverent extension of Williams’ lifelong exploration of the “Americana” sound, with the spirit of Aaron Copland’s take on Lincoln hovering on the margins. I also see it as a kind of companion piece to War Horse, with its delicate solo piano writing and some melodic similarities. Williams shed his increasing fascination with complexity for a simple, sober, hymnal approach to the president’s part in getting the 13th amendment passed. It’s the simplicity that I love in this score, particularly those lovely, low walking bass lines.
Biased by attending a day of its recording at Air Studios in London, I nevertheless grew more and more enamored with this sumptuous, Russian-flavored work by Dario Marianelli. Cleverly developing an old Russian folk tune (later immortalized by Tchaikovsky), Marianelli also wrote two beautiful waltzes for this theatrical tragedy—introducing them in their native ballroom setting, and then pulling them apart and redistributing them to underscore the film’s romance and melancholy. This is elegant, ne0-classical film music at its finest, and the first score by Marianelli to completely seduce me.
I’ve been a (possibly annoying) cheerleader for this film and its score by Joe Kraemer—in part because I feel a relational investment in its success, but in much larger part because I think it’s superb. Perhaps it so knocked me off my feet because it came out of nowhere (who is Joe Kraemer??). All I know is it slipped into my veins the first time I heard it, and I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since. Kraemer wrote a simple, stoic trumpet theme for Reacher, soaking it in an endlessly interesting pair of chords. The action and suspense material move like actual music, constantly holding your attention, and it all culminates in a big, stirring finale. Easily the biggest surprise of 2012, and one of my favorites.
The Amazing Spider-Man
It’s quite true James Horner reheated leftovers (as he often does) for this summer’s Spider-Man reboot, and it’s also quite possible Horner didn’t even write the majority of the score…but none of that matters in light of how this music completely walloped me in the theater, and how I’ve returned to it hungrily in the months since. I love Spider-Man’s heroic, thematic horn theme, the flutter-tongue flute idea for the Lizard, the heavenly solo piano writing, and the unabashed love theme. It all feels unapologetically traditional (hybridized, of course, with some effective modern ingredients)—and say what you will about his originality, but Horner is a wizard at writing exactly what a scene needs and elevating the picture. Atop all the echoes of old chord progressions, figures, and quirks from Horner’s career, this score caught some special kind of current and took flight.
The Dark Knight Rises
I get defensive when I talk about enjoying a Hans Zimmer score, but I’m slowly accepting that I don’t need to. Despite the homogeneity and litter of copycats left in his wake, I still think Zimmer is a truly talented, inventive voice, and I love the musical world he created for the Dark Knight trilogy. While I was somewhat sad to see James Newton Howard absent from this final installment, I think Zimmer took what worked in both the first films and launched it into the next sphere. The new material—Bane’s adrenaline-revving chant and Catwoman’s slinky piano theme—slides smoothly into the arsenal of masculine, brooding themes and ideas from before. Zimmer is so good at applying a radio artist’s grasp of a hook to the palette of film music, and I found this entry in his continually evolving synthesis of electronics and orchestra—and his distinctive take on minimalism—endlessly arresting, downright catchy, and possibly the best of its ilk.