With all this year-end talk about the best of cinema, the topics that generally dominate the discussion and awards categories are recognition for acting, directing and writing. We've been highlighting a few of our other favorite movie-related subjects like the best quotes, the most GIF-able moments and now the best in movie music. Where would we be without the emotional, sweeping orchestral accompaniment and new-artist discoveries that help a movie leave a lasting impression upon our psyche? We'd be bored and bothered by too much uncomfortable silence, that's where we'd be.
Here are our favorite movie soundtracks (comprised of music with words, written and performed by a variety of artists to accompany the action onscreen) and scores (instrumental only) of 2012:
"The Hunger Games": In the midst of this movie's box-office-busting success, everyone was busy saluting the performances by lead actors Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, as well as the mostly seamless book-to-screen adaptation, but the soundtrack for "The Hunger Games" deserves just as much praise. It's a killer compilation of soulful, folksy music, with several tracks penned specifically for the film, like Taylor Swift's "Safe and Sound." Other favorites: "Kingdom Come" by the Civil Wars and "Come Away to the Water" by Maroon 5.
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2": The fifth and final "Twilight" soundtrack album featured an eclectic mix of artists new and established and complemented the intense and emotional themes of Edward and Bella's love story. There was an edgy emotive song by first-time contributors Green Day, a second helping of Christina Perri and an original tune penned by star Nikki Reed and her husband Paul McDonald.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower": How much do we love this soundtrack? Almost as much as we love the movie and its talented cast. Listening to this soundtrack is a perfect transport back to specific moments in the movie, like the excellently choreographed "living room routine" by Patrick and Sam at the school dance, as well as those looking for all the songs mentioned in the film like "Asleep" by the Smiths. Like the movie, it's indie enough to be both cool and satisfying.
"Pitch Perfect": This one is for those looking to continue the happiness high derived from watching the charming and talented stars sing their hearts out in "Pitch Perfect." Impressively, this soundtrack is a cappella only, crafted using just the vocal stylings of the cast and no backing instruments. You get to hear full versions of the songs featured in the film, as well as some new arrangements of the clever mash-ups. Holiday gift-giving tip: This is great for fans of a cappella or "Glee."
"Think Like a Man": This ensemble comedy was one of the most pleasant box-office surprises of the year, and so is its soundtrack. Anchored by John Legend's sensual catchy song "Tonight (Best You Ever Had)," which was recently nominated for a Grammy, the mostly R&B-themed soundtrack features a diverse mix of artists like Jennifer Hudson, Keri Hilson, Future and Marcus Canty.
"Les Misérables": This soundtrack is quickly becoming a best-seller of the year, due to the fan fervor over new recordings of songs from the beloved Broadway musical and the fact that the A-list actors in the cast do all the singing themselves. Anne Hathaway has virtually locked in an Oscar nomination, based on early reviews of her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" alone, so if you're a fan of these solemn, theatrical songs and of hearing the vocal stylings of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, this will be your favorite soundtrack of the year.
"Cloud Atlas" (Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Rienhold Heil): There is a lot going on in this film, from the overlapping and complicated story lines to the transformative makeup that rendered famous actors unrecognizable. Even more impressive is the fact that co-director Tykwer found time to help score the film as well, and it is a job well done. The emotionally supercharged orchestral sound and intricate character themes might be enough to bring appreciative listeners to tears (see: "The Cloud Atlas Sextet," "Death Is Only a Door" and "Cloud Atlas Finale").
"The Dark Knight Rises" (Hans Zimmer): When Hans Zimmer announced his plans involve millions of fans in the musical backing for fearsome villain Bane, we weren't quite sure what to make of it — only to trust the fact that director Christopher Nolan signed off on the idea and that Zimmer has enough Oscar-nominated scores under his belt to believe in him. The crowd-sourced chant was a great success, of course, along with the entirety of the climactic album and coda for Nolan's Batman trilogy. The score is big and booming where it needs to be and then soft and sentimental elsewhere. See: "Rise" for a wonderful blend of all these elements.
"Skyfall" (Thomas Newman): There are so many reasons to love the latest adventures of James Bond in "Skyfall," chief among them Daniel Craig's continued and believable intensity and this film's wholly original story line. Thomas Newman's score is just as enjoyable, as it uses clever nods of Monty Norman's original Bond theme throughout, as well as an eclectic mix of instruments for a more modern and not orchestra-only sound. In a nutshell, the music is as energetic and action-packed as the film.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Howard Shore): While the Tolkien and "Lord of the Rings" devotees were delighted that director Peter Jackson decided to return to helm "The Hobbit," the score nerds among us were thrilled to find out that Jackson enlisted "Rings" composer Howard Shore for his return to Middle-earth. The resulting score is as familiar as it is original, with a lot more innocence and lighthearted music here than we heard with "LOTR" — though there are two more films and increased danger and intrigue, so Shore will likely get darker for the next go-round.
"Argo" (Alexandre Desplat): Alexandre Desplat wins the award for busiest and/or most prolific composer of 2012, in that he wrote music for five major movies this year: "Argo," "Rise of the Guardians," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Rust and Bone." We can't ask him to choose a favorite score from this year's releases, because it's like choosing a favorite child, but our favorite is his unique and suspenseful musical composition for "Argo," the Ben Affleck-directed true story of the CIA's rescue of six American diplomats from an unstable Iran. What makes Desplat's music in this score particularly unique and memorable are the diverse soloists he enlisted to add Middle Eastern flavor to the music, like Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim and a Turkish flute player and percussionist.
"Lincoln" (John Williams): As with most of the scores John Williams has written during his longtime partnership with director Steven Spielberg, his score for "Lincoln" is a perfect complement to the film, and it feels and sounds as epic as the man who inspired the movie. If you love Williams, you will love what he did with "Lincoln," particularly the rousing patriotic themes and the more somber piano-driven melodies. Also, since this is supposedly Williams' last film score before he retires, we have to acknowledge an incredible legacy left upon the craft.
"Big & Best of 2012: A Year End Celebration Presented by T-Mobile" goes LIVE at 12 p.m. on 12/12/12. Watch bigandbestof2012.com for eight hours of showstopping performances by Bruno Mars, Miguel, Grace Potter, Metric, Alt-J, Thompson Square, First Aid Kit and Dustin Lynch, plus surprise guest appearances, prize giveaways, special editions of "RapFix Live," "Big Morning Buzz Live," "MTV News After Hours," "You Oughta Know" and much more!