Continuing with our comprehensive collection of best-of 2011 movie stories, in which we count down our favorite elements of our obsessive movie love (including the top 20 movie trailers and the ), this compilation is focused on yet another crucial element involved in a film’s success: the music. A good film score can make or break a scene, move you to or prevent you from shedding tears, make you smile. A great one can do all of the above. Here’s a look at our favorite musical masterworks this year.
This south-of-the-border-inspired score was a clever and creative companion to Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp’s quirky animated western about a domesticated chameleon who dreams of becoming an actor and leading a more adventurous life. Hans Zimmer’s spin on spaghetti-western sound with an authentic kick of Mexican folk from Los Lobos made for a perfect musical marriage.
9. “The Muppets”
If there’s anything better than seeing the Muppets back on the big screen, it’s the concerted effort put into the film’s multiple musical layers. For example, you can’t talk about composer Christophe Beck’s excellent original instrumentals without mentioning “Flight of the Conchords” star-turned-music-supervisor Bret McKenzie’s catchy tunes “Life’s a Happy Song” or “Man or Muppet.” Not to mention the star-studded Green Album that features favorite artists including Weezer, OK Go, the Fray, My Morning Jacket, Amy Lee, Feist, Hayley Williams and Rachael Yamagata belting out updated versions of classic Muppet tunes.
8. “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin”
Any year in which John Williams composes a film score is a year in which you’ll likely find his work named to the tops of all the best-of lists. And this year Williams is serving up the one-two punch of “War Horse” and “Tintin,” both of which feature the Oscar winner’s sweeping, stand-out, magical touch. They are paired together on this list because they’re both uniquely terrific but it’s too hard to rank one above the other.
7. “The Artist”
One of the year’s most buzzworthy films, “The Artist” features an appropriately memorable score. Composed by Ludovic Bource, this score is light and happy with a delicate and glamorous finish reminiscent of the film’s 1920s setting.
It makes perfect sense that Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese would pair up with Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore to score a family-friendly crowd-pleaser. There’s a sense of wonder, magic and magnitude in Shore’s music that fits perfectly with the film’s underlying theme.
5. “Midnight in Paris”
Similar to the variety of music featured in “The Muppets,” Woody Allen chose to incorporate old-school classics by Cole Porter, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, along with original instrumental music composed by Stephane Wrembel that further enhanced the film’s love letter to nostalgia and self-reflection.
As much talk as there has been surrounding the story and performances in Nicolas Refn’s violent thriller “Drive,” the film’s score, composed by Cliff Martinez, has been getting just as much attention for its unique and classically cool ’80s retro synthesizer sound. Much like how Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ different and daring score for “The Social Network” took the critics by storm, Martinez’s work on “Drive” is poised to do the same.
3. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
Speaking of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, fans can’t wait to hear and see what last year’s Oscar winners have done with the music for David Fincher’s adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Although the film doesn’t open for a few more weeks, a special sneak peek of the score has appeared online via the company producing it. Unsurprisingly, the music is as chilling, complex and captivating as the film’s poster and trailer.
2. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2″
In looking at prolific composer Alexandre Desplat’s résumé, it’s a wonder the man has any time to sleep with the number of film scores he churns out annually. Not that we’ll ever complain, however, because the fruits of his 2011 labor include “The Tree of Life,” “Carnage,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and our #2 favorite score of the year: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.” Desplat’s work had our emotions perfectly in tune with what played out on screen: on the edge of our seats, prepped for battle, celebratory and sniffling.
1. “Super 8″
There are several wonderfully epic scores on this list, but the biggest, baddest, bell-iest was Michael Giacchino’s brilliant music for “Super 8.” It is so many things: sweet, sentimental, wondrous, fascinating … Plus, in trying to pinpoint that very specific tintinnabular sound that plays throughout the film, we learned about a new instrument: a celesta, which Giacchino told us is kind of a “bell piano.”
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