Inception: Han Zimmer
It's the only soundtrack score out this year with its own flash driven button and is easily the single most recognizable score of the year. After countless parodies, mash-ups, and fan tributes, this score will no doubt go down as one of the classic scores of the era. Add to its mystique the fact that the core of the soundtrack is a reworked version of a slowed down Edith Paif track and you end up with a truly Oscar-worthy masterpiece.
Toy Story 3: Randy Newman
What would Toy Story be without Randy Newman? Well, Newman delivered just as strongly as Pixar did with the much beloved third film in this classic series. He managed to recapture the childlike wonder in the originals without simply repeating himself.
Book of Eli: Atticus Ross
The biggest crime against The Book of Eli is that its early January release means most people have forgotten that it was even one of this year's films. Ross turned in a wickedly cool soundtrack that evoked a post-apocalyptic wasteland in a film in which the soundscape is incredibly important. I often play this film in the background while I'm working and just listen to the world Ross and the Hughes brothers create with sound.
Let Me In: Michael Giacchino
Giacchino is well on his way to becoming one of the greats, and this score is easily in the same league as his other remarkable scores. Quiet, subdued, and evocative, this moody score sets the stage for a sadly ignored modern horror masterpiece.
The Social Network: Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross
Once again Ross turns in something very, very cool, this time teaming up with musical legend Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) to create not only Reznor's best album in years, but the biggest competition Zimmer is going to face come Oscar time. There's a very good chance we could hear the words "And the Oscar goes to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross."
Iron Man 2: John Debney
There have been a lot of superhero movies over the last few years, and most of them sound like the grand, sweeping love child of John Williams and Danny Elfman. Debney manages to sidestep that with a sleek, rock and roll score that has become a trademark of the Iron Man we all love. Dark, heavy, and gritty as hell, it almost feels like orchestral gothic industrial, without leaning too heavily on any of those elements.
Jonah Hex: Mastodon
Had they not chopped 30 or 40 minutes out of the film, it could have easily been one of the worst of the year. The soundtrack by Mastadon, however, released as an EP almost as abbreviated as the movie, is great. A chugging, driving, clanging gothic Western.
Jackass 3-D: Various Artists
This one is just plain fun. Twisted Sister, Weezer, Karen O., and of course Roger Miller's adorable "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd." It's a great album to crank in the afternoon or when drinking with friends.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Various Artists
The only soundtrack this year with half a dozen tracks embedded firmly on my MP3 player. There's so much fun on the soundtrack -- Beck, T. Rex, the Rolling Stones, Frank Black, not to mention the songs crafted for the bands in the film -- that you might forget about the incredible work by Nigel Godrich, who tears up the soundscape with some fantastic video-game inspired tunes, including all the fight music that is so reminiscent of '90s era gaming. His eight-bit version of the Universal Theme is also one of the single greatest things ever in the history of man. It's shoot-it-into-space-on-the-next-Voyager good.