August 4, 2010
Yes. It is that time again. I’ve made a list. An awesome, awesome list. Because Genevieve Valentine did a post entitled „Nine Movie Composers To Know“, and my first thought was „Nine?!? What do you mean, only nine?!?“, and then I read the post and thought „Those nine?! But what about…“ …
…and the list was born.
The following is a list of my favourite film composers, complete with the obligatory commentary and sternly voiced orders recs for getting to know their work.
Some of you may bring up the reasonable point that these happen to be very nearly all the movie composers I know. That’s true, BUT, ask yourselves, dear readers, would I have bothered to remember their names if they hadn’t made me love their work? I think not. So there.
Yes, he scored „X-Men Origins: Wolverine“, but let’s not hold that against him. Instead, let’s look at him as the only person who did good work on „Kingdom of Heaven“, the person who made the entrance of the Lion Neeson Christ exciting rather than craptastic, and the person who gave „Metal Gear Solid“ a fantastic score. If you look at him that way, you’ll like him, too ^_^
I’d like to give you a bit from „Smilla’s Sense of Snow“, but I can’t find it, so have a listen to his wonderfully subtle work on „Veronica Guerin“:
You know him. He wrote the music for „The Piano“. The main theme from „The Piano“ has since become so overused it’s easy to forget that it’s actually good. Like, really good. And I’d have been happy with him if he hadn’t lifted a finger since, but he has since produced excellent work on films as diverse as „Gattaca“, „The End of an Affair“, and „The Libertine“. And then there was this little film for which I have no love at all [/sarcasm]:
Before you get all excited, this man has scored every single M. Night Shyamalan movie. Every single one. Clearly, Man-Who-Thinks-He-Is-A-Great-Director-But-Is-Very-Very-Wrong (that’s his secret name – speak it and he goes POOF!, like Rumpelstiltskin) has some kind of hold over the man. Maybe there is an embarrassing sex tape, or something. Apart fom his slightly puzzling loyalties, the man keeps producing charmingly non-bombastic scores for every occasion.
Case in point:
He scored „Requiem for a Dream“. The music alone is worth putting yourself through this movie for. Or you could just download the soundtrack. Or you could listen to „Lux Aeterna“ on YouTube, at the very least. If you aren’t haunted by this, I’m afraid you have no soul.
But rest assured, he also does achingly beautiful:
He had me at the first notes of the first cut of his „Finding Neverland“ score. He creates those lovely moods and takes you along for the ride, all the while keeping his touch so light it seems completely effortless. Bastard ^.~
She has got to be one of the most consistently good composers out there. Her score to „Chocolat“ is a regular on my stereo, and sometimes in my head, especially when I’m in a good mood. Listen to her stuff. All of her stuff. Right now!
Apart from other things („Okuribito“, „Sonatine“), he just so happens to be Hayao Miyazaki’s composer. Need I say more? I thought not.
Start here, do not stop:
The guy has done everything. And I mean everything: „Romancing the Stone“, „FernGully“, „SuperMario Bros“ (yes, really), „Lilo & Stitch“. There were also such little known arthouse-gems as the „Back to the Future“ trilogy and an underappreciated little flick called „Forrest Gump“ (the soundtrack to which I absolutely love, btw). As I said, he’s done everything. And he’s done it well.
How ‚bout this:
A master of his craft. Check out his filmography. Go on, I’ll wait. By rights, I should be posting some of his Trek-related stuff here (because it’s good and I’m me, duh), but I won’t do that to you. I’m spoiled for choice, anyway. Where do you even start singing the praises of a man who gave the world the scores to „Papillon“, „Alien“ and „Rambo“?
How about you start here, then work your way forwards and backwards at your own leisure?
He works with Tim Burton. He has composed the theme for „The Simpsons“. He works with Tim Burton.
Start with this, then go on with „Big Fish“:
A fantastic composer who always, always, always relies heavily on the piano (which I happen to love), Desplat appears to be an adherent of the Morricone school of movie composition, the major tenet of which appears to be „I’ll do anything for money, but, damnit, I’m going to do it so well it will shame your crappy little excuse for a movie“ (*cough* New Moon *cough*) His scores are always worth listening to, and on occasion, when he gets great material to work with, brilliance ensues.
Try this for his light-hearted side, and work your way through, keeping the fantastic „Chéri“ for last.
He scored those three films. He also worked before and after that. He wouldn’t have needed to, but he did it anyway, and films sound better for it. He isn’t always my favourite composer, mostly because the gritty, occasionally weird movies that seem to be this guys natural habitat (Scorsese, Fincher, Cronenberg) are not my cup of tea, but when this guy is at the top of his game? He’s at the top of the game.
Will be forgiven for starting the trend of great composers working on the „Twilight“-franchise, because he has scored every film by the Coen brothers. There is no selling out with that kind of credibility.
So…listen to the Coen soundtracks, especially „Fargo“, listen to the brilliant „Gods and Monsters“, and let me leave you with this:
Another old master. Barry. John Barry. Versatile doesn’t begin to describe him. Personally, I’d say his greatest achievement was making „Dances With Wolves“ suck a lot less than it could have, but that’s just me. Also, should you ever need a beautiful piece of music to wake you up in the morning, you could do a lot worse than John Barry – I suggest „Out of Africa“.
And then there’s this:
Much like his good friend James Cameron, Horner isn’t really comfortable on a small scale. Unlike his good friend James Cameron, Horner is capable of it, though (check out his score to „Iris“). Still, if you’re looking for epic music on an epic scale for epic impact, ships sunk, floating mountains discovered, comets crashed, cities razed, Horner’s your man. And he will deliver every time, because that’s how he rolls.
Listen to the „Braveheart“ theme at full volume in a place where nobody minds you taking up a flag in a sudden urge to storm something. While you’re here, try this:
Reliable blockbuster scores that worm their way into your brain and stay there forever. I don’t know what his recipe is, but I’d like a bottle of it, thank you very much. I personally love the „Rain Man“ score to bits, and then there’s „The Thin Red Line“, and „Gladiator“, and the „Pirates of the Caribbean“-films, and… also, he did this little thing called „The Lion King“, because he’s annoyingly brilliant that way.
Since any linking to his work in the fantastic „Inception“ would inevitably lead to spoilers, here’s one that you’ve all heard, but you’ve probably never paid much attention to:
Give the man a philharmonic orchestra and neither rain nor sleet nor chrystal skulls shall keep him from achieving a symphony. You always recognize a John Williams score. Sometimes only because it sounds like any other John Williams score, but sometimes because it’s just that brilliant. Name one other film composer who has managed to put so many of his tunes into our consciousness. If I had to choose a favourite among his themes, I’d go with „E.T.“, because it lifts you up and makes you soar for a few minutes and you walk around with a grin on your face for hours afterwards. (The same, although to a lesser extent, goes for „Jurassic Park“, strangely enough.)
Listen to all of his stuff, but keep the uplifting stuff for after you’ve heard this:
Always different, and yet always identifiably his own style, he’s sort of the anti-James Horner. For deceptively simple, „small“ scores to go with deceptively simple, „small“ situations. The man gets better and better and better, so work your way forward chronologically. Make sure you don’t miss out on „Little Women“ and „American Beauty“. My absolute favourite of his is the score for „Wall-E“.
For a start, I suggest you try this:
Last, but by no means least. I recently read somewhere that soundtrack woes for any film can be avoided by throwing a large sum of money in the direction of Ennio Morricone. Whoever wrote it (I honestly can’t remember) was absolutely right. I grew up with Morricone scores as the background to my Sunday afternoons, when my father would watch Spaghetti Westerns, and I still listen to his music pretty regularly. He was the first film composer I came to appreciate without ever having paid attention to the films themselves. Because when you’ve got the Master at work, who needs pictures?
Try listening to the more famous Western scores, even if you don’t care for the films, then check out „Once Upon A Time In America“, „The Mission“, „The Legend of 1900“, and everything else you can get your hands on. If you can, watch „Morricone conducts Morricone“ (a concert recording) – that should cover the bases and whet your appetite for more ^^ In case you’re wondering what my favourite is: