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The Best Film Soundtracks & Scores Of 2012

The Best Film Soundtracks & Scores Of 2012

We're continuing our best of 2012 coverage by diving into scores and soundtracks that caught our ear over the past twelve months. As anyone who's ever watched one of those YouTube videos where someone puts a video of their favorite Evanescence song over an ill-fitting movie scene, music, whether score or a song, can be crucial to a film's success, or otherwise. And yet all too often, it's reduced to a footnote in the appreciation of a film. And that goes double for when films that don't necessarily work and otherwise have a great score or soundtrack.

We looked at music-related scenes earlier in the week, but now we want to focus on the compositions and songs themselves. There's a diverse mix here, from experimental electronica and lush orchestration, to loud hip-hop cuts and bubblegum pop. You can listen to extracts from them all below, as well as letting us know your own favorite scores and soundtracks of the year in the comments section. And for all The Playlist's year-end coverage make sure to follow all our Best Of 2012 features.

Dario Marianelli – “Anna Karenina”
The first two times Joe Wright worked with composer Dario Marianelli, on "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement," it won the Italian composer an Academy Award nomination for the former and an actual Oscar for the latter. But on their fourth collaboration ("The Soloist" being the third), Marianelli might just have topped himself and created his finest work to date. Melodic, complex and assured, the score (much of it written before the film went into production in order for Wright to choreograph his musical-like take on the film to it early on) melds a number of influences: French-inflected Russian classical music, traditional folk music, waltzes, and a simple, melodic piano piece representing the heroine. As with "Atonement," the score is cunningly weaved through the film, passing between the diagetic and non-diagetic areas seamlessly — an accordionist walks through shot playing in sync with the score, Oblonsky's clerks provide live on-set rhythm, the puff of a steam train sets the pace. It's hugely memorable, lush and swooning stuff, but goes far beyond the remit — you can almost shut your eyes and still hear the story being told purely through the music. We're not sure any director/composer partnership is as exciting as this one right now.

Dan Rohmer and Benh Zeitlin – "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Yes, there’s an element of precocity in the score for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” one that frames the adventures of plucky Hushpuppy against an expansive and cruel semi-fantasy world. But credit to the scope of the score from Dan Rohmer and director Benh Zeitlin, which adds syrupy, thick strings to a brass band that knows how to build to crescendo. 'Beasts' is one of the rare modern scores that is both hummable and nuanced enough to underline the film’s action and bloom at key moments, enveloping the events in the film like a warm blanket. The use of strings heightens the stakes of Hushpuppy’s isolation, but the quieter moments, allowing for piano and mournful horns, establish the adventurous element to her story, a similar synthesis provided to Karen O’s work on “Where The Wild Things Are.” By the time the music bursts into a full-on march, it’s a moment of triumph for our tiny heroine and her seemingly impossible quest.

Various Artists – "Celeste and Jesse Forever"

Fitting for a film that starts at the end of a relationship, this soundtrack kicks off with Lily Allen’s “Littlest Things,” immediately introducing a sense of wistfulness and reminiscence within a pop framework. What follows is an alternately hip and tender mix, a great chill-out album for characters who need to do just that, balancing out mellow ballads by Sunny Levine, William Bell and Mr. Little Jeans with livelier tracks by Vetiver, Keepaway and Freddie Scott. As a whole, it captures the melancholy/hopeful emotional spectrum of the characters caught in the midst of a relationship that won't break up or make up, and seems like an ideal complement to modern West Coast living and loving.

Various Artists – “The Comedy”
Described by Jagjaguwar Records as “eerie, bittersweet and mystic pop songs from the autumn of the American Era," and fuck, we just wanna quit right there, as that nails it like a spike on a cross. Featuring new indie bands with an lonely, soulful atmospheric bent — GAYNGS, Gardens & Villa, Here We Go Magic — and some from the past — rediscovered ‘70s soul/yacht rock teenagers Donnie & Joe Emerson, English singer and  pianist Bill Fay, Zambian psychedelic pop band Amanaz — it’s all colored by a faint sense of isolation that’s occasionally more tragic and forlorn. For a film about aging Brooklyn hipsters estranged from the world who mask their lack of direction with cruelty and horrible pranks on innocent people, it only makes sense that simmering underneath is a more pensive soundtrack for the lost, forsaken and the one unable to truly connect. This is not only a brilliant soundtrack to listen to independently on its own. The use of the music throughout the film is something increasingly rare: a truly inspired selection of songs to amplify what’s on screen. And let’s not forget William Basinski's seminal ambient track and meditation on decay, “The Disintegration Loops,” which is featured to brilliantly chilling effect here.

Hans Zimmer – “The Dark Knight Rises”
Deshi, Deshi Basara! Deshi, Deshi Basara! The first of the three Bat-films to not feature James Newton Howard’s contributions, “The Dark Knight Rises” is Hans Zimmer’s big opportunity to show off, and does he ever. The compositions of Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film are relentless and unsubtle pieces, finally giving in to this series’ action picture leanings. There are moments of embarrassment, surely: Zimmer’s compositions have a surplus of heroic swells that end up tagging some of the more downbeat sequences in a film where the hero is frequently down-and-out. Our favorite has to be the shuddering da-da-da-da-da-da when Batman reads a computer revealing a cross-city chase has failed to prevent him from essentially going bankrupt. But when Zimmer’s score is on, it’s ON: Bane’s theme has a noodling sonic peek-a-boo synth effect in the background of gothic chants ostensibly provided by the League of Shadows, blurring the line between diegetic and non-diegetic sound. And Zimmer gives in to his inner Bill Conti during the film’s many training sequences: the rousing aural punctuation mark Zimmer gives the final scenes in Bane’s prison a fitting conclusion.  

Various Artists – “Django Unchained”
While reviews from The Playlist on “Django Unchained” were collectively a bit cooler than most out there, all of us can agree the soundtrack is great and one of Quentin Tarantino’s best in a long time. The anachronistic tracks by Rick Ross, John Legend, Anthony Hamilton, Brother Dege (and a James Brown/Tupac mash-up) stand out in particular, yet they also work pretty damn effectively in the film as well. Then there’s Tarantino appropriating existing songs from movies he loves and recontextualizing them for his own use. There is of course, the titular title theme "Django" by Luis Bacalov as written for Sergio Corbucci, tons of Ennio Morricone (obviously) and even one new track that Morricone wrote specifically for the movie, plus an amazingly utilized Jim Croce song, some awesome choice cuts by Jerry Goldsmith, Elisa Toffoli, Riziero Ortolani and more. You can often fault Tarantino in a lot of places, but musically his choices, even if ransacked from previous films most people have forgotten, are damn near unimpeachable.

David Holmes – "Haywire"
It seems that Steven Soderbergh, as he nears the end of his career (at least, for now, we hope), has been doubling back to work with some of his favorite composers on his last cluster of projects. He reteamed with frequent collaborator Cliff Martinez for the moody score to "Contagion," hired Thomas Newman (who did "The Good German") for February's "Side Effects," and for "Behind the Candelabra," he got the last score ever from Marvin Hamlisch, who also tuned up "The Informant!" For this year's "Haywire," though, Soderbergh wanted his artspoloitation spy movie conceit brought to funky life by David Holmes, who the director had worked with on "Out of Sight" (one of the best scores of the last few decades) and the three 'Ocean's' movies. The "Haywire" score is about what you'd expect from the Irish DJ – lots of glittery electronics, pulsating rhythms and a heavy emphasis on outright funkiness. Oh, and it's also completely brilliant. Since Soderbergh didn't want the action sequences scored, Holmes' work exists in the periphery, adding shading and color to this thriller movie experiment and giving some addition throttle to sequences like the Dublin chase and the Barcelona pick-up. It's overwhelmingly cool, too, culminating in the great closing credits music, which made you swagger out of the theater, ready to snap some necks. Or at least try.

Michael Andrews – “Jeff Who Lives At Home”
Goddamnit, Michael Andrews’ scores are so damn good, we need to stand up and shout it from the rafters so everyone can hear. This guy is one of the best non-traditional composers working today. Andrews forever landed on our radar with the wonderfully dreamy and ambrosial music for Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” a score so good we put it on our Best Film Scores Of The Decade feature of the aughts. The composer/musician has not sat on his laurels since then. He’s been drafted into the Judd Apatow universe (writing music for “Freaks & Geeks," "Walk Hard," "Funny People" and "Five-Year Engagement") and done outside related comedy work (“Bad Teacher”), but he's really been killing it when working with the Duplass Brothers. The score for "Cyrus" was one of the most underrated of that year, and it helped that picture with its sweet/demented/tender tone. Likewise, Andrews’ score for their underappreciated 2012 film “Jeff Who Lives At Home,” starring Jason Segel, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon, nails the tone of the film which is naive, hopeful, sweet, sad and funny. Yes, Andrews seems to be able to capture the nuance of each of those emotions with incredible dexterity. “Jeff Who Lives At Home” was labeled as uneven by some, but there’s no denying that its final sequence when Ed Helms saves his brother Jason Segel from drowning is outstanding and emotionally rich. Boosting it along the way is Andrews' lovely and winsome score which seems able to bottle up that moment when you’re crying and smiling, possibly regretting some of your past actions and giving your pain-in-the-ass brother the biggest hug in the world. No soundtrack was released unfortunately, aside from the Beck song “Looking For A Sign” used in the final credits (which is pretty damn good too).

Michael Giacchino – “John Carter”
There are a lot of things you can openly mock "John Carter" for (like being the science fiction flop that cost the Walt Disney Company more than $100 million), but one thing that is unimpeachable is Michael Giacchino's rousing score. Combining "Lawrence of Arabia"-style expansiveness with the kind of hard-hitting action stuff Giacchino is known for (like his terrific "Star Trek" score), complete with gladiatorial overtones and a through-line of twinkly emotionalism (just listen to the "A Change of Heart" track on the score album and try not to get choked up), it's one of Giacchino's greatest scores… and one of his least appreciated. We should all keep in mind that just because it's attached to a movie nobody liked, that doesn't mean that the music isn't any good. The "John Carter" theme, which is heard at the beginning of the movie after our hero steals Bryan Cranston's horse, and then again at the end of the movie, when he assumes his position as John Carter of Mars, is absolutely stirring and totally brilliant – the kind of thing that Giacchino does best (complete with a heavenly choir). It's almost enough to make you wish for a second movie, just so you can hear more of this music.

Various Artists – "Lawless"
Many expressed some minor disappointment with John Hillcoat's latest, but those who didn't like the Prohibition-era gangster tale, and even those who didn't see the film at all, must have found some pleasures in its soundtrack, one of the few this year that stands alone as a cracking album, even divorced from the movie. Once again re-enlisting regular collaborator Nick Cave, who also wrote the film's script along with his Bad Seeds colleague Warren Ellis — the pair wrote the excellent scores for "The Proposition" and "The Road" for the filmmaker — a different approach is taken for "Lawless," with Cave and Ellis forming a bluegrass band called The Bootleggers, and performing both original Cave and Ellis tracks and anachronistic covers of songs by the likes of Link Wray, Captain Beefheart, Grandaddy, Townes Van Zandt and even The Velvet Underground. They weren't shy of enlisting some all-star collaborators either with Mark Lanegan, Emmylou Harris and The Duke Spirit's Leila Moss all making appearances, along with 85-year-old bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and a new song by Willie Nelson. While something of an acquired taste, arguably, the songs are pretty careful, giving a riotous, muscular feel to the soundtrack, blending the old and the new in a way that perfectly mirrors Hillcoat's film. It's basically what would happen if the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack got hammered on moonshine and started a bar fight 'cause someone looked at his girl.

Mychael Danna – "Life Of Pi"
While this Canadian composer has been working for decades, it’s in the last few years that his profile has been boosted. His work on “Moneyball” was one of our favorites from last year, a beautifully minimal, undulating score that managed to find and help evoke the emotional underpinning of the baseball drama. But remarkably, his work on “Life of Pi” is almost a total 180. Going from the green grass of the baseball diamond to the blue ocean of the open sea and the vibrant colors of India, his compositions for Ang Lee’s film couldn’t be more different. The standout pieces find Danna working with ease on Indian-inflected tunes, with tablas and sitars lending authenticity to the composer’s still decidedly modern approach. But again, Danna’s strength is in plumbing a deeper well of feeling, and his work on “Life of Pi” matches the soulfulness and yearning of the picture, while also delivering the bombast it needs to for the picture’s key setpieces. Somehow, Danna has gone this long without a single Academy Award nomination, but hopefully that will be rectified this year.

Fall On Your Sword — “Lola Versus”/”Nobody Walks”/"28 Hotel Rooms"
If you’ve been paying attention, you know we’ve been championing Fall On Your Sword — an offshoot of LCD Soundsystem — all year long. They have become the go-to indie film composers of late and it’s easy to see why. Led by Will Bates and Philip Mossman, their moody and often effervescent scores have already benefited indies like "Another Earth" and Ry Russo-Young's "You Won't Miss Me." In 2012, they had a banner year writing awesome pieces for Russo-Young’s "Nobody Walks,” “Lola Versus” and “28 Hotel Rooms” that are all distinctively theirs, but also show some range. Twinged with a electronic-hum, but never quite electronic-music per se,  "Lola Versus" has a sweet ebullient vibe, “Nobody Walks” is alternatively dreamy, pulsating and atmospherically romantic like a night swim, and “28 Hotels” is propulsive, heavier and dramatic (which fits the subject matter of two adults weighing the pros and cons of their affair).  For "Nobody Walks," make sure you check out "Opening Titles" and "Kolt" (among many others), "Fireworks" and the more orchestral “Between The Sheets” for "28 Hotel Rooms" (and the entire soundtrack here), and for “Lola Versus” a sampling of all the songs below. Lastly, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the soundtrack choices in “Nobody Walks” which include Acrylics, Small Black and Margo Guryan, all of which add to the picture’s dimly-lit, L.A. at sundown vibe with a dash of the dreamy, experimental thread that travels through it as well.

Various Artists – “The Man with the Iron Fists”
Arguably the greatest soundtrack of the year, which had the unfortunate distinction of being attached to one of the lousiest movies of 2012, the tunes on "The Man with the Iron Fists" were considerably more fun and inventive than the movie itself – a beat-heavy, collaboration-intensive ode to old school kung fu and new school hip-hop. Writer/director/member of the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA, must have thought the movie was destined for, at the very least, a kind of awed cult classic status, since he sprinkles dialogue from the movie all throughout the soundtrack (in the style of his mentor and friend, Quentin Tarantino, who "presented" this movie). That somewhat takes away from the experience, but not by much. "The Baddest Man Alive," an absolutely soul-shredding collaboration between RZA and bluesy rock band The Black Keys, which played over the end credits, takes center stage here as the first track and most fun joint. Elsewhere, Kanye West puts in his most compelling song since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with "White Dress," and the reunited Wu-Tang Clan contribute two tracks. Even seemingly lesser tracks like "Tick, Tock," a collaboration between Pusha T, Raekwon, Joell Ortiz and young pup Danny Brown, turns out to be an epic near-classic, with a slightly kung fu string sample slinking through the background. It's also good to be able to turn up the soundtrack really, really loud – in the actual movie the songs were mixed way too low.

Jonny Greenwood – “The Master”
Like all good scores, it’s impossible to untangle Jonny Greenwood’s compositions from Paul Thomas Anderson’s engrossing, mordantly funny audience tester. From the very first moments of “The Master,” Greenwood’s sinister, stabbing strings atonally throw the viewer off balance, linked with our introduction to Joaquin Phoenix’s diseased Freddie Quell. Greenwood’s music almost is the narrative at first: who is this man, and should we like him? Is he tragic, or is there something sinister lurking beneath the façade. Several of the film's queasier moments are scored with these borderline-nauseating, atonal musical moments, obscuring our naked sympathies to create a dissonant effect. Others, usually serving as an intro point to Lancaster Dodd’s The Cause are achingly melodic, grand in an Old Hollywood sense, pieces with bombastic orchestration that slowly start to come apart as we get a closer look at Anderson’s world of Dodd’s backroom cult. Special mention, too, to some immaculate song cuts, including Ella Fitzgerald's marvelous "Get Thee Behind Me Satan."

Various Artists – "Moonrise Kingdom"
Appropriately for a film that saw Wes Anderson do things a little differently, "Moonrise Kingdom" found the director and regular music supervisor Randall Poster take a very different approach from their eariler films. OK, so there's a little "Darjeeling Limited"-style French pop from Francoise Hardy, and Hank Williams, who featured on the "Fantastic Mr Fox" OST, returns with multiple cuts. But for the most part, Anderson and Poster leave behind their usual go-tos like The Kinks and The Rolling Stones (indeed, there's no sign of any British Invasion pop anywhere) in the shape of a classical-leaning selection mostly using songs by Benjamin Britten and Leonard Bernstein. Given that they're often picks from the works by the two early 20th-century composers aimed at children — Bernstein's "The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra" and "La Carnaval des Animaux," and Britten's "Midsummer's NIght Dream" and "Noye's Fludde" — it's a perfect match for a film that's so much about the freedom and possibilities of childhood, one which qualifies almost as Anderson's first film for kids. It might not enthrall the Instagram crowd, but we can't imagine the film any other way, particularly when it comes to the wonderful credits over the coda, when young star Jared Gilman "covers" Bernstein's "Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra." And Alexandre Desplat's score (a suite known as "The Heroic Weather Conditions Of The Universe") while brief, fits in perfectly too.

Various Artists – “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
The adventure of discovering music is a bit of a quaint and nostalgic notion these days. With Spotify and countless Internet and satellite stations catering to more niches than we knew existed, finding new tunes is never more than a couple of clicks away, with endless music blogs to keep you supplied with suggestions. But back in the old days, your musical taste was usually first shaped through whatever your parents or siblings listened to, but as you got older and made new friends, mixtapes (or mix CDs) were like codes of communication written in song. Of the many details of teenage life the underrated “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (why this wasn’t rolled out wider or promoted harder is baffling) gets right, it’s how music is traded, shared and coveted like life-altering secrets. How, especially at that age, one song can seem to understand every complicated feeling and relationship you’re going through. And the tracks in the movie is a well curated bunch, only helps matters. Set in the ‘90s, the soundtrack is bursting with college radio staples — Sonic Youth, New Order, The Smiths, Galaxie 500, The Innocence Mission — but also allows that even then, a song like Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen” was a jam that everyone knew. And while some have quibbled that there’s no way a teenager wouldn’t know “Heroes” by David Bowie, every kid had a musical blind spot, no matter what they were listening to. So Bowie didn’t make it on the radar right away, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about who he is, but what the song captures in that moment that carries the most meaning.

Various Artists – "Pitch Perfect"
Look, we're not saying we'd actually listen to the thing. It is, after all, a record consisting of a capella covers of the likes of Bruno Mars and Miley Cyrus, and as we all know, a capella groups are the worst. But despite being far from the target audience, you have to acknowledge that the song sequences were the absolute highlights of the mostly winning (but too often willing to go to lazy "Family Guy"-esque offensive gags) musical sleeper hit. While we're not exactly fans of every song in there, the filmmakers picked out a smart mix of megahits, credible pop (Cee-Lo, La Roux) and classics. And they've been arranged in an ingenious mash-up style, so much so that the a cappella nature of things becomes progressively less irritating. Plus, the vocal talents of the cast — Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Alexis Knapp, Adam DeVine et al. — are hardly in doubt. Not every cut works, but when it does — an electric take on modern pop classic "Since U Been Gone," the riff-off track — it's like "Glee" done right. And it's worth it, if nothing else, for Kendrick's rendition of Lulu & The Lampshade's "You're Gonna Miss Me," done with a couple of cups.

Nick Urata – “Ruby Sparks”
You’ll soon read why we think “Ruby Sparks,” the Zoe Kazan-penned romantic comedy directed by the duo that brought you “Little Miss Sunshine” is criminally underrated. About a novelist who wills his dream girl into existence, the film does, admittedly, sound annoyingly twee, but it’s actually quite the lovely and devastating cautionary tale about control in relationships. As such, “Ruby Sparks” is fanciful, funny, moving, and at times painfully heartbreaking. Nick Urata of DevotchKa, the band that scored "Little Miss Sunshine" with composer Mychael Danna, flies solo on this one and delivers as lush, sonorous and gorgeous score that hints at the magic and wonder inherent in the story. But also a sense of inspiration, manic operatic discovery, elation, melancholy and more emotional contours are a perfect snapshot of this unusual narrative. There’s not much else to say other than the cooing female voices, balletic violins and orchestral sweep to a lot of these tunes are just breathtakingly beautiful. It's not one to sleep on and soundtrack fans definitely need to queue this one up if they haven’t already.

Various Artists – "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"
Between this film and her screenplay for “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” director Lorene Scafaria is proving to have a knack for projects boasting a vital, vibrant assortment of songs. Using The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to ironically introduce the pending apocalypse may not be subtle, but the use of ‘80s tunes thereafter to represent the party-hearty children of said era (INXS, Wang Chung, a P.M. Dawn track that samples Spandau Ballet) suits the devil-may-care behavior of those characters. And as the film’s scope becomes more personal and the tone more wistful, Scafaria dusts off some lovely ‘60s and ‘70s cuts from The Hollies, The Walker Brothers and Herb Alpert with which to send us off. (Plus, bonus points for introducing us to the wispy stylings of French Kicks.)

Andy Cabic & Eric D. Johnson – “Smashed”
As we noted earlier in the year, Fruit Bats founder Eric D. Johnson has taken a slight detour from indie-rock of late to make some charming scores for indie movies such as "Ceremony" and "Our Idiot Brother." Along with Vetiver singer-songwriter Andy Cabic, they co-wrote the score to the Sundance indie hit "Smashed." It’s simple, unassuming, mostly guitar-based, but twinkling, lovely and beaming when it’s not introspective and minor key. A lot of it jumped out at us in the trailer immediately and with good reason. It’s a sweet, doleful and alluring in a really nice low-lit manner (you can sample more of it here). Its soundtrack is pretty solid too, making choice use of an awesome Richard and Linda Thompson tune “I Want To See The Bright Lights,” plus tunes by Cass McCombs and the indie genius Bill Callahan aka Smog (“Our Anniversary”)

Various Artists – "Take This Waltz"
Sarah Polley’s superb and challenging “Take This Waltz” has a lot of below-the-line talent that no one’s really heard of before, or at least not routinely celebrated. “Holy shit, who shot this?" (cinematographer Luc Montpellier). And then with the lonesome, wistful swaying breeze of a score, so tragic, so alone, so directionless with its little cries and backwards magical swirls, you also think: "Holy crap, who scored this?" It’s a gentleman named Jonathan Goldsmith, but like Montpellier, we’d never really paid close attention before. All that changes now. Goldsmith’s score, which captures the “momentary melancholy that we succumb” to gracefully, quietly radiant, and utterly heartbreaking, is possibly one of the most underrated and least talked about scores this year (part of the problem being it was never released). It’s dreamy and mournful, like a slow-motion wail and it just reflects the restlessness, regrettable actions and ache all the characters feel in this movie. Meanwhile, there’s a great selection of soundtrack choices as well. Polley obviously completely recontextualizes The Buggles' “Video Killed The Radio Star” (see that scene in our Best Music Movie Moments of the year) and there’s tremendous use of songs by Feist, Jason Collett, The Parachute Club (hilarious use), Corinna Rose and the Rusty Horse Band, Leonard Cohen (who provides the title track) and two devastating songs by Micah P. Hinson that reach inside your chest and crush your heart.

Jon Brion – “This Is 40”/”ParaNorman”
Comedy scores tend to be a little bit more invisible than the usual dramatic fare; background window dressing for a scene. But Jon Brion, much like his contemporary Michael Andrews, know how to pull off a lot with a little in comedy, generally with some sweet, swaying lilts with memorable melodies. Brion does just that for the gentle, pacific breeze of a score for "This Is 40" that’s soft, occasionally punchy, and dolorous just at the right moment. And unlike a lot of comedies, Judd Apatow puts a lot of of Brion’s plaintive score really up front and center to maximize the emotional value from these pretty subtle but honey-eyed numbers, that, much like the family the film centers on, are grounded in a very palpable affection. "ParaNorman" is another beast entirely. It's seemingly more traditional, but actually just as quirky and inventive as you'd expect from Brion. Utilizing a lot of vibraphones at its center, and largely composed on the same model synth that John Carpenter scored his classic films on (yes, seriously — listen to the “Zombie Attacks in the Eighties” soundtrack cut and it becomes very apparent), Brion was unafraid to mix classical elements with electronic ones, combining new and old sounds and technology. The score ended up perfectly capturing the movie’s John Hughes-meets-John Carpenter vibe of “ParaNorman,” both scary and heartfelt at the same time.

Alexandre Desplat  – "Zero Dark Thirty"/”Rust & Bone”/”Argo”
Having scored films by Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Roman Polanski, George Clooney, Jacques Audiard and more, every year is generally a good year for French composer Alexandre Desplat, who has become fortunate enough to be every auteur’s favorite composer. 2012 was no different. One of the most in-demand composers alive wrote excellent scores for “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Argo” and even “Rise of the Guardians.” But if we had to pick our favorite, it would be some kind of toss-up tie between Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and Audiard’s “Rust & Bone.” The war procedural is almost nothing like what we’ve come to expect from Desplat, and it centers on a kind of droning/throbbing, sinister pulsations (with a little Middle East flavor) that appropriately palpitates sweatily through the intense and sometimes stressful picture (you can listen to the entire soundtrack here). “Rust & Bone” is a little bit more familiar with its mournful and dirge-like horns, but it’s beautiful nonetheless and once more illustrates why he’s one of the top three film composers working in the world today. Also, using choice cuts by Bon Iver, Lykke Li (a nice dance remix of "I Follow Rivers") and more, the “Rust & Bone” soundtrack is rather amazing too, elevating a Katy Perry song to something like a glorious work of art (see that scene here).

Various Artists – “Silver Linings Playbook”
While yes, Danny Elfman does a minor little score for “Silver Linings Playbook,” the films of David O. Russell don’t really have much room for score (see the fact that Jon Brion tried to write a score for “The Fighter” at the director’s behest, but Brion was right all along; it didn’t need one so it was dropped). And so front and center musically for Russell’s latest film are well-chosen soundtrack cuts, much like he did with “The Fighter.” He changes Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” into a hilarious trigger for anger, and makes great use of Led Zeppelin, who seem to have taken a shine to him, giving the thumbs for their tunes in two straight films for Russell, turning “What Is and What Should Never Be” into Pat's theme song. The picture also organically employs Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Alabama Shakes and even the White Stripes in the film's funny crescendo.. Russell’s always got a good selection of tunes in his films and this one is no different. "Music is at the emotional heart" of filmmaking," Russell said. "I learned how to use music from my great teacher, Martin Scorsese." Amen.

– Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth, Oliver Lyttelton, Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro, William Goss

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Would You Rather has a great score also.

Austin Bond

Cloud Atlas had the best soundtrack of the year. Brave was also spectacularly Scottish. :-)


Seriously, Playlist: Where is "Laurence Anyways"???


Camille Saint-Saëns wrote Carnival of the Animals, not Leonard Bernstein…


Great feature

Aaron Hillis

You missed my favorite this year, The Caretaker's magnificent, beautifully sad score for PATIENCE (AFTER SEBALD). Guess it wasn't loud enough to be heard.


And LOOPER was amazing. Very original.


Oh wait, it hasn't come out in the theaters in the US yet, so IndieWire's awareness is skewed. The film broke box office history in Spain and the screening I saw blew me away. Loved the score.


Agree, great list. But….guys…COSMOPOLIS by Howard Shore & Metric is one of the greatest soundtrack of the year. Don't know how you can forgot that score. Also, i think that the one by Thomas Newman for "Skyfall" was good.


Oh, yeah. I agree with you on the "John Carter" score. Giacchino's music is lovely. It's been on my iPhone and iPad since it was released.


Ok. It's a little easy to just lump-in and say that "John Carter" is a movie that nobody liked. I love that movie – I actually saw it 3 times in cinema to see it in 3D before it was pulled. I suggest that you do a bit of reading. There's quite a bit of revisionist critiquing going on with some saying they were overly harsh towards the film. Don't just blindly jump on the bandwagon because everyone else is doing so.


Kind of weird that you guys didn't include Nathan Johnson's score for Looper. That one was definitely one of the best of the year as well as Paul Leonard-Morgan's score for Dredd.


Kind of weird that you guys didn't include Nathan Johnson's score for Looper. That one was definitely one of the best of the year as well as Paul Leonard-Morgan's score for Dredd.


Kind of weird that you guys didn't include Nathan Johnson's score for Looper. That one was definitely one of the best of the year as well as Paul Leonard-Morgan's score for Dredd.


" It might not enthrall the Instagram crowd" lol, perfect. I know a lot of people that are like, "wait, not the same hipster-lite music i like over and over again?" Grow with the guy, kids. Hopefully you're gonna grow some day too.


Pretty weak year for film scores imo. Cloud Atlas, Looper, Paranorman were really cool, but the most brilliant score of the year is from Ruby Sparks. I remember The Gray and this Must be the place had cool scores as well but i dont really consider them 2012 films. And yes the sounds from Jeff Who Lives at Home were lovely too.

The Bark Fright

The Dark Knight Rises – best of this year? So, since it sounds like a near carbon-copy of The Dark Knight, I guess it's not really new. Or good, honestly. Only real gripe I have and we all know how you guys love dem gripes.


Yes Cloud Atlas but didn't you listen to Dredd 3D?!


agreed, not putting Cloud Atlas here negates the cred of this specific 'best of'


both Cloud Atlas and 21 Jump Street were on our shortlists. We didn't want to go on forever though. But yes, Mothersbaugh very good in 21 Jump.

Chet Desmond

Second Cloud Atlas and don't forget 21 Jump Street. A nice change of pace for Mothersbaugh.

Chet Desmond

Second Cloud Atlas and don't forget 21 Jump Street. A nice change of pace for Mothersbaugh.

Chet Desmond

Second Cloud Atlas and don't forget 21 Jump Street. A nice change of pace for Mothersbaugh.

Chet Desmond

Second Cloud Atlas and don't forget 21 Jump Street. A nice change of pace for Mothersbaugh.





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