Top 5 Original Movie Scores

Posted on September 16, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Way back when this blog was just a baby I wrote a post about the importance of movie music and how I thought we should hold the film composers up against the classical masters.

Continuing on that idea I thought I’d write a post about my 5 all time  favourite pieces of movie music.  I’m restricting myself to individual movements rather than whole scores, all of these being instrumental pieces that I think are simply fantastic.  Narrowing down to just five was very tricky, so I’ve tried to pick a variety of music and composers.  I doubt any of my choices will shock you, but I’m interested to read your comments and find out which bits of movie music do it for you.

The best way I could think of to get the music onto the blog was to provide links to the Spotify tracks, since that shouldn’t upset any copyright laws as the music is freely available.  So hit the links to have the music playing while you read.

**I’m trying not to put spoilers in this, but it’s hard, so if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know then maybe skip that section.**

5. Father Kolbe’s Preaching-Burkhard Dallwitz-The Truman Show

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I’ll forgive you for not having heard of this guy, ‘cos even I hadn’t.  This particular piece of music plays right at the end of the film and is a perfect fit to what is happening on screen.  The simple piano and strings are tragic but at the same time seem to have a kind of optimism and the slow processing rhythm is a great match for the semi-biblical dialogue going on between Truman and Kolbe.

4. Star Wars theme-John Williams-Star Wars

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This man is the God of movie music.  I have no idea how he does it. Everything he writes is an iconic masterpiece, but I think if I had to pick just one track to sum up the genius that is John Williams it would have to be the Star Wars theme.  Every time that first brass note leaps from the screen I jump, even though I’ve seen Star Wars more times than I can count.  It’s such a triumphant march, giving way to the more fluid strings of Han and Leia’s theme, which take on a fantastically ethereal quality as the flutes echo the main theme in the background.  There are so many layers in that one piece of music it’s incredible.  And I dare you to find me a single person on the planet who can’t hum it.

3. He’s a Pirate-Klaus Badelt-Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

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I’ve never wanted to stand up and cheer at the end of a movie more, (in fact, me and my friends did the second time) and a big part of that is this awesome piece of music.  It just has pirate stamped all over it.  It works better when played through from the previous piece (One Last Shot) as the sudden drums and pace are an impressive contrast to the sweeping strings from before.  It’s a great example of a piece of music being custom-made to fit a scene.  In my head, the music always starts with the words, “Drink up me hearties Yo HO!”

2. Freedom/The Execution/Bannockburn-James Horner-Braveheart

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I know I’ve been on about this piece of music a lot recently but it really is magical.  The deep drum beat is symbolistic of death, and the strings are quintessentially tragic, but interweaved with the celtic pipes (I think it’s a chanter, it’s definitely not full bagpipes) we have a score which is both moving and able to transport you to a time and place in order to make the film seem more real.  The fact that one movement takes us through three key moments in the films finale shows how each event influenced the next, and the tone of the music adapts accordingly.  I particularly love the solo flute towards the end, and how it dissolves into what is essentially a roaring cheer in instrumental form.

One of only two pieces of music that will make me stop what I’m doing and just listen if it happens to come up on shuffle.  The other is my next choice.

1. The Breaking of The Fellowship-Howard Shore-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Infuriatingly the real version of this isn’t on Spotify so I’m forced to use a YouTube link.

I know nobody is shocked by this choice but this was the moment I fell in love with LOTR.  I absolutely love this score.  Howard Shore has this amazing ability to tell a story with music, which in a film like this is so important.  You can listen to the score and know what’s going on without needing to see the images that go with.

For me, this is the perfect orchestral capturing of Hope.  James Galway’s flute (I am a sucker for those things) is gorgeous and the understated horns are a great backdrop for the sadness after the loss of Boromir, but at the same time support the dialogue between the remaining Fellowhip members as they promise to stay true to eachother.

The piece moves from an achingly beautiful solo string to the dramatic revival of the Fellowship theme and then back to the restrained strings and flute as we watch the two hobbits picking their way across Emyn Muil.  Ben Del Maestro’s vocal kicks in just as the credits begin to roll, using lyrics from Tolkien’s own hand.  It’s both an ending and a beginning as we know that there is a whole lot more to come for the characters we have just been introduced to.

Honorable Mentions:

Here are some of the pieces that didn’t quite make it to the top 5, but I strongly suggest you check out.

Craig Armstrong: Love Actually

Alan Silvestri: Forrest Gump

Hans Zimmer: Gladiator

Gustavo Santaolalla: Brokeback Mountain

Stephen Warbeck: Shakespeare in Love

OK, I’m done with being artsy now. Your turn.

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Top 5 Tear-jerkers

Posted on August 1, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Carrying on with my Top 5 posts (an idea not even slightly nicked from Ross vs Ross) let’s look at those lump-in-the-throat moments we for some reason can’t get enough of.

I am absolutely useless when it comes to crying at movies.  In the right (wrong?) mood I will end up crying at the most pathetically not sad things.  Despite this distressingly girly quality it is ironically quite often boyish movies that get me going.  So without further ado, here are my Top 5 tear-jerker moments. *Sniff*

**Beware Spoilers and thanks again to all the YouTubers**

5. Mufasa dies

I think everyone of my generation has this scene burned into their consciousness.  It was our “Bambi’s Mum,” except this time, and for the first time in Disney history, there was a dead body on screen.  Scary stuff for little kids.  Add to that Hans Zimmer’s score and you have a really moving scene.  Don’t worry though kids, he’s up in the clouds keeping an eye on things.

4. Billy gets into Ballet School

Even though you can sort of guess where it’s heading, the tension is so high by this point that when that letter appears on the table we are right there with his family waiting to hear what happened.  There is almost no dialogue and a very sparse piano accompaniment to go with some great acting from the young Jamie Bell.  This scene is also the first time we see Billy’s family really getting behind him, as they all are obviously desperate for him to succeed.  The fact that Jackie’s joy is so short lived brings us smack back down to Earth, emphasising what Billy is escaping, and how lucky he is to get out.

(It’s the first 5 minutes you want.)

3. Armageddon Goodbye

I think this might have been the first film to really make me cry.  I know that it tops the list of films tha make most men cry too, and I bet I don’t even have to tell you what scene I’m talking about.

I can flick to this film while I’m watching anything else on TV and the effect will be almost instant.  From here to the end of the movie is a cry fest for me.  I’ve only managed to get through it dry eyed once, thanks to two friends (you know who you are) continually checking to see if I was crying yet.

I always think Ben Affleck has had a bit of a rough deal when it comes to criticism, but he’s pretty good in this movie.

2. “You died on a Saturday morning.”

Everything that happens in Forrest Gump is about him trying to get back to Jenny, which makes the ending all the more heartbreaking.  Tom Hanks is fantastic as ever, and the dialogue is simple but effective.  I love the final scene where he sits on the stump watching the school bus leave, because we know he is probably going to sit there all day waiting for Little Forrest to come back home.

(Start from 2:15)

1. “They fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom.”

As I’ve said before, I can honestly only watch Braveheart once a year.  I know that there are huge embellishments in this movie, but it is still essentially a true story.  I’ve been to Bannockburn and I’ve been to the Wallace memorial; they are both incredible places.  The part of this scene that always gets me is Robert the Bruce’s voiceover telling what happened to Wallace’s body, because that part at least is true, and shows just how ruthless the monarchy used to be when it came to so-called traitors.

Despite being hugely outnumbered, with no resources and having just watched their leader being brutally tortured, the remains of his army still stood against the English.  God I wish I was Scottish!  James Horner’s score is absolutely magical.  It holds all of the power of this scene.

Hope I didn’t depress you all! I promise my next post will be more upbeat.  Meanwhile if you want to share you’re favourite weepies please do.

Interestingly, 3 of these movies made it into my Desert Island Discs picks.  Guess we all need a good cry to keep us going.

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I want to play too!

Posted on April 14, 2010. Filed under: Memes and Blogathons, Movies to see before you die, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

If you haven’t been paying attention, like me, you may have missed all the fun that’s been going on in the movie blogging world over the last week or so.

It all started with Andy over at Fandango Groovers, who thought it might be an idea to play Desert Island Discs with DVDs.  For those of you not from the UK, the game works like this: if you were stranded on an island for an indeterminate length of time, what 8 films would you take with you to keep you sane while you waited for the rescue boat?

You might have noticed that making decisions is not my strong point. Trying to list my favourite films is an impossible task as far as I’m concerned, so I’m taking a slightly different tack here. Yes, all the films I pick will be firm favourites, but, fickle as I am, I reckon if I was stuck on an island I’d need variety to keep me going.

Right, here goes.

My first choice isn’t going to shock anybody. I am, of course, going to pick a Lord of the Rings film. However, cruel fate means I can only pick one, and that’s a harder decision to make.  I get asked a lot which is my favourite of the trilogy and I honestly don’t have an answer. I have a particularly soft spot for Fellowship because when I first saw it I had no idea what Middle Earth was or how I would react to the film.  In this case though, I’m going to pick Return of the King, for two reasons.  First of all, value for money! It’s the longest (and if I  take the extended addition, it’s over 4 hours) so it would keep me more than occupied while I sat on my beach; and secondly, it’s got everything in there.  Almighty battle scenes, heartbreak and laughter. And of course, I’m never going to get tired of watching it over and over.

Onto number 2.  I’m going to need a guns-blazing action flick while I’m stranded and when it comes to action there’s only ever one real choice. Die Hard. Bruce Willis, British actors playing German terrorists, Enough C4 explosive to blow a hole in the world, what more could you ask for?

Round 3. This one has proved a popular choice, which I’m picking for much the same reasons as Ross McD.  This is a movie I can (and have) start watching again straight away as soon as it’s done.  It’s full of energy, colour, great music, humour and heart.  It’s a story about Truth, Freedom, Beauty and above all things Love. It’s Moulin Rouge.

Halfway through now, time for pick number 4.  At some point during my time in isolation I’m going to get a craving for some Disney magic.  It was a tough battle between this next film and Toy Story, but in the end I had to go for The Lion King. The score alone is enough to make me want to take it with me and it’s probably the last truly great Disney film before Pixar came along.

It’s getting a bit harder now.  I’m trying not to over think my choices and just go on instinct.

So pick number 5.  Well, I couldn’t have a list that didn’t have some Johnny Depp in now could I?  I’ve got to take Pirates of the Caribbean with me (the original and the best) if only to remind me that being stranded on a desert island might not be the end of the world. Unless the Rum is gone.

Time for a sweeping score, wide angle landscape shots and some patriotic passion. If only I was Scottish. Braveheart is my 6th choice mainly because I never seem to get around to watching it.  I love the film, but it does make me hate the English and try and claim a larger proportion of Celtic heritage than I’m due, but if I’m stuck on an island I might as well have something that reminds me of home (sort of)

Number 7 I think is going to have to be Billy Elliot. It’s my go to film when I’m feeling down.  Full of great British actors and even better British music, it’s a beautiful story that reminds you that even when things look hopeless they can still turn out OK.  Think that might come in handy.

Right. The last one. This is really tricky…

I think what this list is missing is a comic book movie, and if I’ve got to pick my favourite, I think it will have to be X2. Close run thing with Wolverine, but I think the former just has the edge.

And that’s it.  I think with those 8 to keep me company I’d be quite happy on my island for a while.

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Mozart, Beethoven, Bach…Williams?

Posted on April 3, 2009. Filed under: Ramblings, Trivia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

OK, first, right click here, open in a new tab, press play, and then read while you listen. I wanted to add the track myself but it was the wrong file type and I’m not clever enough to convert it.  Hopefully they’ll appreciate the hits.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll probably have noticed that music is something of a big deal to me.  When it comes to film scores, I’m becoming more and more convinced that composers like John Williams, Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer are the new classical masters.  Modern classical music (oxymoron?)  tends to be the more contemporary Maxwell-Davies style, which is definitely not to everyones taste, while the great sweeping scores seem to be left more or less to the movie composers.

Movie scores are quite often beautiful and I would argue comparable to the greatest symphonies.  (Before you start, I’m expecting to get shot down in flames for that, and I am fully aware that my classical knowledge is limited at best, but I do have some idea what I’m talking about).

Take Howard Shore for example.  I’m a firm believer that a huge amount of the success of Lord of the Rings is owed to his breathtaking score.  The orchestration mirrors the plot so perfectly that you could almost remove the dialogue and still understand what’s going on.  Of course, it helps that he’s also got the stunning New Zealand backdrop to set it off.  Shore’s The Breaking of the Fellowship the final “movement” of the Fellowship of the Ring (to which you are currently listening, I hope) is quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard, and I know that it forms a big part of why I love that film.

In the case of someone more prolific, John Williams has penned some of the most famous themes in history.  Not every man on the street will be able to hum Beethoven’s 9th or Mozart’s Requiem, but ask him to sing Star Wars or Indiana Jones and he’ll definitely know what you’re talking about.

*Random trivial aside* The Indiana Jones theme is actually part of the Star Wars theme played backwards, an in joke by Lucas and Williams, go ahead, try it.

Williams is responsible for most of my library of movie scores, from Jaws, Jurassic Park, and even Home Alone to Harry Potter (which I hate but still love the score of).  He’s the most famous movie composer of all time, and deserves the respect he has.  In fact, I think he deserves more. Why shouldn’t he sit with Beethoven as a modern classical master?

Other composers I urge you to look out for are Hans Zimmer, the man behind Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean (along with Klaus Badelt) who has a particular theme he re-uses in all of his movies as a kind of signature (once you’ve heard it you can’t miss it, its even in Rain Man!) and James Horner, the genius creator of the heart breakingly beautiful score to Braveheart.  Coming second only to LOTR in my favourite scores of all time, he magically combines traditional Scottish themes (and pipes) with sweeping orchestration which undoubtedly plays a major role in the effect that film has on me (read: unecessary floods of tears)

And it’s not just the original scores that can transform a movie.  As Watchmen showed, the re-use of modern or even classical music  can be just as evocative.  The moment in Equilibrium when Christian Bale hears the first movement of Beethoven’s 9th is a perfect example.  Layer Cake also springs to mind, with a soundtrack that brilliantly reflects the action, especially the Ordinary World scene.  Billy Elliot is also one of my favourite films for soundtrack, with songs like Town Called Malice and London Calling perfect reflections of the rioting and conflict on screen, not to mention the iconic opening to Apocalypse Now (This is the End), or the perfect settings of Philadelphia, Good Morning Vietnam, Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate

I could carry on like this for hours. Believe me.  I guess the point of this post is to make you listen as well as look.  I remember once remarking on the beautiful strings in the final scene of Pirates while watching it with a friend, and she was surprised I payed that close attention to the music.  So this is me asking you to open your ears.  The underscore of your favourite film will have already had a big effect on why you love it, you just might not have realised it yet.

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