With the power to bolster a flailing scene, add emotional complexity, and round out a film, the soundtracks and scores of 2012 were often as good (or better) than the films that contained them. Below is a sampling of the best soundtracks of 2012, scores and compilations — with a highlighted track embedded at the end of the post.
Reliable connoisseurs of the cross-over between music and movies, The Playlist listed "The Master," "Anna Karenina," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," the plucky soundtrack of "Celeste and Jesse Forever," Nick Urata's elated score of "Ruby Sparks," Fiona Apple's "Dull Tool" for Apatow's "This is Forty," and Hans Zimmer's showy turn in "The Dark Knight Rises" among their favorites of 2012. Their full list of Best Film Soundtracks and Scores here as well their Best Movie Music Movements here.
MTV highlighted mostly teen-targeted fare: "The Hunger Games," "Pitch Perfect," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2," as well as some heavierscores including "Cloud Atlas" (one of the director trio, Tom Tykwer helped to score this), Howard Shore's work in "The Hobbit," Desplat's score for "Argo" and John Williams' work on "Lincoln."
"Les Miserables" factored first on EW's list, followed by "The Hunger Games," "Marley," the mid-nineties heavy soundtrack from "The Avengers," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Man with Iron Firsts," with high praise for "Pitch Perfect," described as a soundtrack that "Glee" could envy. They also had a Worst of 2012 which strictly included movies centered around music: "Magic Mike," "Sparkle," "Joyful Noise," and "Rock of Ages."
Head below for highlights from the best of 2012's soundtracks and scores:
The score for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," by Dan Rohmer and director Benh Zeitlin, is entrancing, complex, and soulful – clearly a part of the film's general vision as it helps guide us through the perspective of young Hush Puppy.
"Silver Lining's Playbook" featured a comical use of Stevie Wonder, as well Alabama Shakes, Led Zeppelin, the late Dave Brubeck, the Lumineers, and some scoring by Danny Elfman. The soundtrack makes you want to train for a low-level dancing competition with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively.
Highlight: the superb capsule of rock via "Fell in Love with a Girl" from The White Stripes.
Music docs should simultaneously recall the best of the musicians while introducing you to older obscurities. "Shut Up and Play the Hits," about LCD Soundsystem, did this skillfully, but it was director Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching for Sugarman" documentary that stood out. The documentary contrasted Sixto Diaz Rodriguez's popularity in South Africa with his obscurity in his home, the States. Bendjelloul's documentary ultimately prompted recognition of Rodriguez stateside and music tour.
Highlight: the gorgeous "Crucify Your Mind."
"Lawless" featured eclectic folksy and rocking mix that could stand apart from John Hillcoat's movie, no doubt due to the involvement of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis both from the Bad Seeds (Nick Cave helped to write the script). The soundtrack features covers of a range of musicians from Townes Van Zandt to the Velvet Underground.
Listen: the bluegrassy "White Light, White Heat" and "End Crawl."
"The Hunger Games" boasted a roaring soundtrack to match undercurrents of anger bubbling in the oppressed characters. Arcade Fire, the Civil Wars, and the Decemberists were tasteful, though obvious choices. It was Kid Cudi's unexpected "The Ruler and the Killer" that stood out and added some growling gravitas to the set.
Listen: the rough and angry "The Ruler and the Killer."
In "Anna Karenina" the Italian composer, Dario Marianelli's dreamy, rich melancholic score was a centerpiece of the film. This is the fourth time that Marianelli worked with director Joe Wright (he won an Oscar for his "Atonement" score). Marianelli wrote the music before filming started — an unusual practice — so that Wright could match movement and choreography to the score, inducing a ballet-like vibe that informs the whole world.
Listen: a preview of the soundtrack
Two more short-lists worth noting:
Movies outshone by their soundtracks:
- Michael Giacchino's expansive and epic score for Disney's flop "John Carter" stood out among some ridiculousness.
- The soundtrack for “The Man with the Iron Fists” also impressed, featuring Wu Tan Clang, RZA, Black Keys, and Kanye West.
Excellent decisions to unexpectedly select a well-worn hit:
- Though "Take This Waltz" was named after a sweeping Leonard Cohen ballad (used brilliantly in the end of the film) the best music moment is on a carnival ride to Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star"
- Honorable Mentions:
- "Perks of Being a Wallflower" and its use of Dexy's Midnight Runner's "Come on Eileen"
- "Flight" and its use of Rolling Stone's "Gimme Shelter"
- "Rust and Bone" and its use of Katy Perry's "Firework"