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 Magical Movie Moments

Posted on June 6, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Yet another post inspired by channel hopping to films on TV.  Back in October I told you about my Top 5 fight scenes, but today I want to get you thinking more generally about those moments that are just great pieces of cinema.  The ones where the direction, the acting, the score, the cinematography, everything just comes together for a scene that makes you think “wow.”  When I was thinking about what I’d put down, I realised that for a lot of these scenes, it’s the combination of the action and the music that really makes it a perfect scene for me.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a great score can really make a movie.

Although I’ve called it Top 5, these aren’t necessarily in ascending order.  It’s more 5 great moments.

1.Where does my allegiance lie if not here?

This is the scene that got me thinking.  Now, we all know that I can rave about LOTR until the Orcs come home, but before you start rolling your eyes hear me out.  This scene really is pure magic.

Howard Shore’s score is so perfectly matched it’s scary, building the drama and then breaking away for Billy Boyd’s (self-penned) haunting melody.  What I think really makes this scene though is the foley work.  As the score takes over, we lose some of the sound.  The commands of the men and Orcs are silent screams, but the creaking of the bows remains, really hammering home the suicidal misson that faces the brave riders. It’s just epic.  Add to that the juxtaposition of Denethor almost frantically eating while he tries to ignore what’s happening, with blood running down his chin, and you end up with an awesome movie moment that is just melodramatic enough without over doing it.

2. At the Moulin Rouge you’ll have fun!

I have written about this scene before but I just couldn’t exclude it when talking about my favourite cinematic moments.

Energy and colour are what Baz Luhrmann does best, so when it comes to Moulin Rouge that first scene when you’re taken on a rollercoaster ride through the dance hall is just mindblowing!  In one 3 minute scene we get a mash up of no less than 6 songs culminating in a supercharged Can-Can.  The best thing about the scene is that we’re seeing it from the same position as Christian, so we too are bewildered and enthralled by all the flashing colours (and flashing flesh!)

3. Welcome to Port Royal Mr Smith

Best. Entrance. Ever.

Before he even says one word we know eveything we need to know about Captian Jack Sparrow from his incredible entrance to Port Royal. Who else would stand so proudly on the top mast of a ship which was more than three quarters sunk?  The best part is it doesn’t even seem to faze him.

As soon as he set foot on that board walk I knew I was going to love this film

4. He is The One.

Another great moment for movie music.  This scene is slightly marred by all the crazy superman stuff we see Neo do in the two Matrix sequels, but when he first stands up and stops those bullets I always want to jump up and cheer!  I love how effortless it all becomes for him, he just turns and says “No.” He even fights with one hand behind his back!  It’s a great turn around having just watched him have the crap kicked out of him.  The music is perfect here too, that great strings slide that runs through the film really captures the idea of being in a dream while still sounding artificial, but the addition of a choir brings back the human element, mirroring what’s going on on screen.

5. Oh Captain my Captain

I know it is incredibly cheesy. And I know that it is orchestrated to be a heart wrenching moment. But cynicism aside it’s still a great scene.  Ethan Hawke makes it for me.  It’s not so much the getting up on the desks that has the magic but the obvious guilt and pain of Hawke as everything he has been taught not to believe in is once more forced down his throat.  And Robin Williams is a better actor than he lets on…(may have to come back to a post on that later)

Those are mine, what are your stand out moments of cinema?

**Disclaimer: thank you to all the YouTubers whose clips I’m borrowing.**

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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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