In this blog post I’ve decided to unleash my inner soundtrack geek. Unfortunately John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Thomas Newman don’t make the cut, but I just want to acknowledge their soundtracks had equal influence on my musical life as the soundtracks I have listed below. This isn’t a list of the ‘Top 10 soundtracks of all time’… that would be impossible to quantify and organise. It is simply a list of my personal favourites.
10. Birdman – Antonio Sanchez
To my knowledge this is still the only film soundtrack that is composed for drum kit. It’s used to great effect is this film, underscoring the mental state of the main character played by Michael Keaton. I remember reading somewhere that Sanchez improvised the whole jazz influenced soundtrack- placing his drum kit in front of a screen, and playing along to the different scenes. A very unique approach to an industry that’s starting to get a bit tired and generic.
9. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005) – Harry Gregson-Williams
At the age of 8, this was the first soundtrack that I remember being completely in awe of. From the low rumble and staggering brass at the start of the blitz scene, to the flowing piano, flute, and choral motif representing the intrigue of ‘The Wardrobe’. A personal highlight for me is when the film surprisingly places the music within the scene (diegetic) , where Mr Tumnus plays a wonderful flute motif, that builds and builds with the added fade-in of the orchestra that is non-diegetic. The crowning duel of this soundtrack is the unforgettable battle soundtrack, which I’m sure is on most ‘epic soundtrack’ playlist.
8. Broadchurch – Olafur Arnolds
I was introduced to this fanatic television series last year, and completed the first season within a week. Not only is the writing amazing, but so is the music. The drones used to create the element of mystery underpin the plot from the start. But what Arnolds does brilliantly throughout, is score the emotions of the characters. By the end of season 1, when the very traumatic story comes to a close, I almost shed a tear when Beth’s Theme, is unveiled in it’s full beauty.
7. Tron Legacy – Daft Punk
The game certainly did change when Daft Punk took a step into the world of soundtracks. The film’s revolves around Flynn being digitised into the game- to combine ‘the real’, with the ‘digital’. This aspect of the story is prevalent in the soundtrack, and Daft Punk brilliantly combine the orchestra with their hypnotic arpeggiating and modulating synths.
6. Sicario – Johann Johannsson.
The passing of Johannsson a couple of weeks ago was a shock. His work on Arrival as well as Sicario have influenced me greatly this past year. The soundtrack in Sicario is a triumph- without it, the film would definitely not be as intense as it was. As one YouTuber puts it excellently; “the soundtrack drips with dread”. I think he used about 15 double bases in The Beast, probably one of the most successful pieces at creating tension since Jaws. Even without the picture, it sends a shudder down the spine.
5. Game of Thrones – Ramin Djawadi
The Thrones soundtrack does something that is rare in film and television. Like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, the leitmotif’s in the music are part of the story. The music foreshadows, reveals, and adds to the action. The soundtrack is so secretly clever, that someone worked out that the Stark and Targaryen themes actually intertwine perfectly when played together… a plot point that become apparent six more seasons down the line. I constantly revisit the best scenes after the trauma of watching them for the first time, to listen to the brilliant soundtrack again in context. My favourite season in terms of soundtracks was definitely Season 6- Hold the Door and the entire score to the blowing up of the sept are exemplary.
4. Gladiator – Hans Zimmer
As a kid, I loved a good modern sword and sandals movie- and Gladiator is without a doubt the second best (after Troy of course). Zimmer’s track is enthralling, and a great pre-curser to what he would go on to do in King Arthur and Pirates of the Caribbean- both of which could have made it onto this list. I remember going to Blockbuster and getting permission from my mum to rent this out. It was the first movie I watch where the hero died. It made me angry and emotional, and the soundtrack combination of Lisa Gerrard’s voice perfectly embodied this.
3. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – Alexandre Desplat
There’s a much darker tone to the last two Harry Potter movies, created not only because of the darker turns in the plot, but also because how amazingly emotional Desplat’s score is for the films. The first part begins with Obliviate, which sets the tone of the movie perfectly- the heartbreak of loss, and the magnitude of the task ahead.
In part II, Desplat takes the soundtrack to another level with the solo, choral mystery of Lily’s Theme, and finally the emotion and shear orchestral power behind The Courtyard Collapse, a section of the film that purely relies on the music to tell the story.
2. Inception – Hans Zimmer
At first glance the soundtrack throughout the movie isn’t seen as Zimmer’s best work, but the devil is in the detail… Before the characters are woken up from their dream state, Edith Piaf’s Non Je Ne Regret Rein is played. Zimmer brilliantly takes this timeless classic, and slows it down. What this creates is a pulsating 12/8 rhythm, that can be heard in the brass part- now commonly referred to as the Zimmer Hit. But of course the crown jewell of this soundtrack, and in fact all of Zimmer’s works, is Time- the emotional piece we here at the end, that builds and builds, and then drops away to nothing. On a third and fourth watch, it’s clear how the music notation in Time is suggested throughout the film, another fantastic use of the leitmotif.
1. Lord of the Rings – Howard Shore
In my opinion it’s the best film soundtrack of all time. Taking influence from Wagner’s operas, the leitmotif is used to great effect throughout the trilogy. The scene where the riders of Rohan come over the hill in Two Towers is always a joy to watch, and it’s because of the music. Another highlight for me has to be Uruk Hai theme- I’m a sucker for anything with a time signature of 7/8. However the piece that sticks out to me the most is The Bridge to Khazad Dum. In this piece Shore scores the climax of the chase through the Mines of Moria, by pulling back the heavy brass and percussion, to leave us with just strings and the chorus. It’s so good that you get the same sinking feeling as the characters do when they witness Gandalf the Grey fall to his death.
God have mercy on the soul of whoever has to reproduce this timeless soundtrack, if the rumours around the Amazon TV remake are true.