Welcome back. For anyone just joining us welcome to the second half of “Music in the Movies” where I complete the list of my ten favorite movie scores of all-time. If you want to see/hear the bottom five scores from last time (and for a review the rules and restrictions that made this list possible) you can click here, for the rest of us – on to the top five.
#5 Road to Perdition – Thomas Newman
As I began to think about this list I was sure that Thomas Newman would be on it somewhere. I’ve loved his work ever since he caught my ear during “American Beauty”. Like the next composer on this list Newman can sometimes be guilty of plagiarizing himself but every now and then he comes out with something really breathtaking. Every time I watch “Wall-E”, for example, his music brings me to tears as Wall-E and Eve “dance” together in space. But looking back over all of Newman’s work I think “Road to Perdition” really stands out as the strongest example of his talents. Every time I watch the movie I’m surprised just how big of a role the music plays. Put Newman’s name into IMDb sometime and you just might be surprised at how many of your favorite movies are set to his music.
#4 Braveheart – James Horner
The first time I saw “Braveheart” I was 14 years old. The PERFECT age to be completely blown away by everything about it. I laughed, I cried, I cheered. I became obsessed with big swords, and Scotland, and Mel Gibson – and I became OBSESSED with James Horner’s score. From what I remember pretty much every one I knew at the time was knocked out by that music – even James Horner seemed impressed by it (and pretty much all of his scores since then have been reconstructions of those “Braveheart” themes). Particularly great was the music set to the Wallace’s execution scene (spoiler alert). It’s so powerful and effective that it brings me to tears every time I watch it (and even sometimes when I’m listening to it in my car… so what). Horner has done a ton of great film work, even the stuff that all sounds the same, and I definitely felt he belonged on this list. Other notable scores of his include “Glory” and his Oscar/Grammy winning work on “Titanic”.
#3 Requiem for a Dream – Clint Mansell
Anybody who’s seen “Requiem for a Dream” knows that it leaves you feeling shattered. The first time I saw it (as a serious “film” experience with some high school friends) we all just sat in silence at the end and watched the credits roll. The movie just rips your heart out in every way and the score is a huge part of that. Performed entirely by the Kronos Quartet, Clint Mansell’s themes are as trippy as the movie, hypnotic, despairing and unrelenting. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that anyone could divorce THAT music from THAT specific film experience but then a few years later I found myself hearing those familiar violin notes swelling in the background of a trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I am continually bewildered to hear it in random movie trailers and commercials. Mansell’s “Requiem for a Dream” soundtrack is everything a movie score should be – a true companion to the experience of the story and the characters – and as unforgettable as the images and dialogue it compliments.
#2 Star Wars – John Williams
In my opinion “Star Wars” has the best and most important opening fanfare in all of cinema history. The opening notes of John Williams’ brilliant score are some of the most famous ever heard in a movie theater and they are just the beginning of a whole host of memorable themes that span a six film saga. John Williams is one of the best (and most awarded) film composers in history and I could go on and on about his genius and his importance to movies… but that deserves its own blog. For now let me just say that I considered each one of Williams’ scores for this list and there was a strong argument to be made for a lot of them. “Hook” and “Superman” probably came the closest but in the end I felt like “Star Wars” just couldn’t be beat. I’ll be curious to see what my brother thinks about it. There’s going to be more “Star Wars” movies for better or (likely) worse and all anyone should really care about is who’s composing the music. Hopefully it’s John Williams or else I really have a bad feeling about this.
#1 The Mission – Ennio Morricone
Well here we are folks. The number one spot. I think that pretty much at any point in my life if you were to ask me what my all-time favorite movie score was I would, without hesitation, have said “The Mission”. The whole beating heart of “The Mission” is Ennio Morricone’s score and it is a masterpiece. I was very young the first time I saw “The Mission” and the only thing I remembered about it was the music. My parents had the soundtrack on vinyl and I used to love just listening to it over and over. The tympani, the cellos, the oboe, the choir… it’s all just magical. I really don’t know how to talk about this movie, or its score, other than to ask you to experience it for yourself. It is a long movie, and at times a slow movie, but it is one of the most interesting stories about Christianity that I’ve ever seen – a movie that dares to tackle important subjects like jealousy, forgiveness, salvation and whether or not it’s ever okay for a Christian to use violence. If you haven’t seen it seek it out – Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons round out a terrific cast (and keep an eye out for a young Liam Neeson). “The Mission” packs an emotional punch that you won’t forget.
Well, that’s it. Thanks for reading/listening. As always feel free to leave your own choices in the comments and check out some of these movies!