Music is so powerful and so important – its impact on the creativity of filmmaking cannot be measured. There is just no way of boiling all of the miraculous film scores throughout history down into a meaningful list but for the purposes of this blog I will try. As per always I will preface this list by saying that the following film scores are simply my own personal favorites. Music is deeply personal and so are movies, put them together and everyone will (and should) prefer things just their own way.
Just like I did with my favorite movie scenes of all time, I’ve restricted this list to one score per composer (in order to keep myself from putting 8 John Williams scores on here) and I’ve tried my best to pick my favorite score from whichever composer I pick. Hopefully this will explain why I don’t have the Indiana Jones theme on here.
Here are my ten favorite movie scores of all time starting with the first five.
Below each selection I have included a small segment for your listening pleasure. Enjoy.
#10 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Jon Brion
“Eternal Sunshine” is one of my favorite movies. Right from the very beginning of the very first time I watched it I was struck by the music. It was only long afterwards when I was falling asleep to the film’s director’s commentary that I heard just how much thought and design went into this movie’s score. During the scene in the train when Joel and Clementine first meet the music springs to life with each of Clementine’s attempts at conversation and dies down again as they lapse back into silence. The instrumentation seems simple but is often quite complex, mixing quirky with sad in a way that perfectly complements the movie. For more Brion check out the totally underrated “Punch Drunk Love”.
#9 Cast Away – Alan Silvestri
What you might not remember about Cast Away is just how long it is into the movie before the score kicks in. Most of the movie has no music whatsoever, with the ocean and wind and coconuts being the only soundtrack. At the beginning of the film there is some diegetic music, mostly Elvis, as characters are introduced and the story is set up. It’s right near the end of the movie when Tom Hanks’ Chuck Nolan finally escapes the island and looks back for the last time at the place that had been both prison and home for four years and now, for better or worse, is out of reach forever. In that moment the music finally comes in. Sound is so skillfully used in the movie that you honestly don’t realize the music is not there until it is. And then when it comes in it just breaks your heart. I’ll never forget it. See also Silvestri’s classic scores for “Back to the Future” or “Forrest Gump”.
#8 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Howard Shore
There are many people out there (some of them in my own family) who are not particularly impressed with Shore’s work on Lord of the Rings. I was an early skeptic and remember that some of my first criticisms of Fellowship revolved around how forgettable I found the soundtrack. It was my dad, I remember, who stuck up for Shore and said that he had liked a lot of the melodies. The movies have been on constant rotation in my life and the music has become so iconic for me that Shore’s inclusion on this list is a give in. This track in particular, recently used in the Man of Steel trailer perfectly captures Shore’s ability to set music not only to Peter Jackson’s films, but also to Middle Earth itself. It’s a pity The Hobbit ended up being such a rehash of Rings, here’s hoping the next two movies showcase Shore’s creativity a little bit more.
#7 The Usual Suspects – John Ottman
It was watching this movie the other day that gave me the idea to make this list. I know it’s not the most conventional choice but it’s one I think you should consider. John Ottman, who was also the film’s editor, creates a really creepy set of themes that give the movie a vibe that’s both scary and kind of melancholy. The movie, in spite of Spacey’s Oscar win and the buzz around the film’s infamous plot, remains underrated – and nobody EVER mentions the music. Both are extraordinary and I recommend checking “The Usual Suspects” out and if you’ve already seen it give it another watch, it really is one of those films that gets richer with a re-watch. With that being said the clip I posted will thoroughly spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it (great music though) – so… consider yourself spoiler alerted.
#6 Dead Poets Society – Maurice Jarre
I’ve seen “Dead Poets Society” about a million times. It might be the single greatest rainy day/sick day/snow day/find it on tv movie of all time. It has a great cast, a great story and a very inspiring performance by Robin Williams. Every time I watch it I cry at the end. Part of that is Ethan Hawke’s steely expression of defiance as he stands in honour of his teacher Mr. Keating, part of it is Williams whose last line “thank you boys, thank you” just gets me every time, but most of it is the bag pipe heavy score. I whistle it endlessly as I walk the roads of my life trying to remember to seize the day!
Watch out for part two of my top ten favorite movie scores of all time. John Williams makes the top five but some of the others might surprise you.