10 Best Soundtracks of 2012

Later this awards season, we'll have the Academy and numerous other awards bodies talking to us about the best scores of the year, but what about the best soundtracks? No love for music supervisors from the movie hemisphere? Sure, the Grammys honor such folk, but coming from a completely different perspective; TV soundtracks are eligible, and the films are honored, in most cases, an entire year after the typical film awards season. So we took it upon ourselves to honor our favorite complete soundtracks of 2012.

10. 'Searching For Sugarman'

The soundtrack that defined an entire generation of …. South Africa! The music of a man on par with The Beatles … whom you've never heard of! But really, Rodriguez is that good, and the best of the Donovan meets Dylan blend of psychedelic tunes and powerful lyrics from the once upon a time failed late' 60s early '70s musician are compiled here onto one glorious disc so you can finally hear what all the fuss was about. Plus, the doc itself has been getting Oscar buzz all year long, so start crossing your fingers now that the elusive Sugarman himself makes an appearance at the Dolby theater a couple months from now.

Favorite Track: "I Wonder"

9. 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'

This compilation soundtrack is notable for many reasons. Aside from being an excellent selection of music from the *quality* part of what the '80s had to offer, featuring the likes of New Order, The Smiths, Sonic Youth, the Cocteau Twins and Galaxie 500, over the blaring power ballads, post-disco and dance-pop we're all so used to associating with that time period, they are all songs chosen by author/director Stephen Chbosky that actually influenced the writing of his book, from which the film is adapted, and are intended to mean as much to the listener as it did to him. As Chbosky writes in the liner notes"…since these songs have meant a lot to me, I just wanted you have them as a soundtrack for whatever you need them to be for your life." Fantastic music that perfectly fits the film, proof that music in the '80s was actually pretty damn good, and a sweet noble intent? How can we resist?

Favorite Track: "Could it Be Another Change?" by The Samples

8. 'Les Miserables'

Neither a score nor a compilation soundtrack, "Les Miserables", as we're positive you know, is a straight-up musical, which means the music can't really be honored by any entity. The stage production already won a slew of Tonys back in 1987 and sure, it has an original song-as-Oscar-grab, but considering that song is easily the worst in the film, its chances don't seem great. So leave it to us to honor this awesome soundtrack, allegedly all pulled from the live on-set recordings. The live singing (and Anne Hathaway's in particular) is easily the best part of the overlong and strangely toned Tom Hooper film, and the soundtrack takes you right back to that raw emotion. Just skip past the Javert songs like you would with any "Les Miserables" recording, and you'll be all set! Pre-order the highlights version now and cross your fingers that a full version will be released on its heels.

Favorite track: "I Dreamed A Dream." Duh.

7. 'Django Unchained'

You think we were going to leave a Quentin Tarantino film off a best soundtrack list? This time around, much of the soundtrack is made up of songs written for the film, from Rick Ross, Jamie Foxx John Legend, Ennio Morricone, and Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton, plus a James Brown/2Pac mash up. But fear not, just like past Tarantino soundtracks that show off his perfect ear and knack for picking the most obscure yet appropriate track possible for any given moment,  "Django" features older recordings as well, many of which came from Tarantino's physical vinyl collection. Most importantly - listen to Django (Main Theme) and just *try* to get it out of your head.

Favorite Track: "Djaaanngooooo" (by Luis Bacalov)

6. 'Moonrise Kingdom'

Same goes with Wes Anderson. If he's directing a movie, you can guarantee an entire subsection hipsters will be buying at least one film soundtrack that year. Alexandre Desplat's score is unfortunately ineligible for Oscar, but the film was honored earlier this week by the Boston Society of Film Critics for best use of music in a film.  The soundtrack includes original works like Peter Jarvis' Camp Ivonhoe ditty and Desplat's folky seven-part suite, The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe, and compiled music falling mostly in the classical genre, featuring a ton from Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, which plays an integral role in the film itself. Rounding out the soundtrack include multiple tracks from the Anderson appropriate Hank Williams and a stellar number from what-would-Suzy-be-without-her Francoise Hardy.

Favorite Track: "Le Temps De L'amour" by Francoise Hardy

On the Road5. 'On The Road'

A wonderful compilation of that strange and beautiful musical era in american history that bridged the gab between swing and modern jazz where bebop and soul vocals ruled the youth scene, and paved the way for the massive radical change to come. Beat era jazz rose to popularity in the early '50s and its proto-hippie fans could all be found jamming to upcoming entry "Not Fade Away'"s soundtrack 10-15 years later. But before we ever got there, we were toe tapping to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and slow dancing to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday. "On The Road" perfectly encapsulates a time rarely depicted on screen and the corresponding tunes are not to be missed. Oh and Gustavo Santaolalla's score will force you to get up and bop around - money back guarantee!

Favorite Track: "Yip Roc Heresy" by Slim Gaillard

4. 'This is 40'

While some have joked that this soundtrack is humorously better built for those in their 60s than their 40s, truly anyone can appreciate the old school folksy jams Judd Apatow so regularly leans towards, in this case specifically courtesy of legendary rockers Graham Parker & The Rumour, a central part of the film. Aside from that band's reunion, the soundtrack showcases original tunes from the likes of Fiona Apple, Norah Jones and Lindsey Buckingham and features oldies but goodies from Ryan Adams, Wilco, Loudon Wainwright (duh), Jon Brion, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and The Avett Brothers. Wondering why you aren't listening to this right now? Us too.

Favorite Track: Wilco's reworked "I Got You (At The End of the Century)"

3.' Lawless'

If "The Hunger Games" is for the kiddies then consider "Lawless" for the grown men who speak unintelligibly while wearing sexy vests and the grown women who get nekkid with them. Hmm. That's how we all remember "Lawless", right? Anyhoo. This song listing shows off how well the new can blend with the old, used "as a way of stretching time…" according to music supervisor and composer, Nick Cave, with rousing bluegrass covers of punk songs from The Bootleggers (Cave and Warren Ellis featuring plenty of Emmylou Harris), Ralph Stanley and Willie Nelson, along with a gorgeous score also from Cave & Ellis. One of the most inventive soundtracks of the year, that you can't help but sing along to, whether you know the songs or not. If you loved the "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack, you'll flip for this.

Favorite Track: "White Light / White Heat" by the Velvet Underground, covered by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley

2. 'Not Fade Away'

While none of these songs were written *for* the film, unlike our #1 choice, "Not Fade Away" features the best compilation of the year, providing a freakishly accurate soundtrack to the lives of anyone who came of age in the late '60s and provides a lesson in the importance of the British Invasion on America to anyone who didn't. Rather than going for the obvious, music supervisor Steven Van Zandt (Springstein's longtime guitarist and "Sopranos" actor) delves into the obscure yet recognizable, going for options that are specific and meaningful to those who lived through this time, rather than a skewed version of what we today think music was back then. For example, while the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and the Sex Pistols all appear on the soundtrack, its with songs like Tell Me, She Belongs To Me, T.B. Sheets and Road Runner as opposed to their more well known tunes. Artists like Bo Diddley, Small Faces, The Rascals and Lead Billy balance out  the soundtrack, all artists that influence the in-film band, The Twylight Zones, and as an added bonus, a tune Van Zandt wrote for Norweigan girl band Cocktail Slippers, appears, as performed by The Twylight Zones (as do many other songs recorded by the band) and is so good, it'll make you mad it wasn't written for the film and is thus ineligible for Oscar.

Favorite Track: "Go Now" by The Moody Blues

1. 'The Hunger Games'

Our favorite compilation of music written for a film, "The Hunger Games" is to bluegrass/americana what the "Twilight" soundtracks have been for emo: the best of its genre, aimed to introduce the tween set to a stronger level music. The way Twilight took tweens' interest in emo and used it to introduce them to Muse and Florence and the Machine, "The Hunger Games" rode the wave of pop country and newgrass as emerging genres to introduce tweens to The Civil Wars through their stunning song written in collaboration with Taylor Swift, the Punch Brothers, Low Anthem and the Secret Sisters, just to name a few. Each song is inspired by a different aspect of the film and book and is the perfect example of what a soundtrack should aspire to be. Unfortunately, due to Academy rules, the exceptional Safe & Sound is ineligible for a nomination, but on the plus side, this may be the year we can say The Arcade Fire became Oscar-nominated.

Favorite Track: Aside from the obvious "Safe & Sound?" Secret Sisters' "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder" and "Run Daddy Run" from Miranda Lambert with Pistol Annies. 

Honorable Mention:

'The Master'

Though it doesn't exactly count here, it simply must be mentioned. "The Master" paired Paul Thomas Anderson with Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood once again, after their masterful collaboration on "There Will Be Blood". The score's haunting mix of scope and intimacy can't help but transport the listener to a thought provoking place of confusion and sadness, as if listening to a soundtrack that played over and over and over again during that time you spent in a 1920s era insane asylum. PT Anderson is another director whose soundtracks are always worth picking up, whether it's "Magnolia"'s Aimee Mann-laden album or "Punch Drunk Love"'s excellent use of the prolific Jon Brion's talents, the man knows what he's doing. This soundtrack, which features a smattering of select era appropriate vocals as well, transports you right back to the film in all of its disturbing glory and just makes you want to scream, hand jobs for everyone!

Favorite Track: "Able-Bodied Seamen," Get Thee Behind Me Satan feat. Ella Fitzgerald