Top 10 Scores and Soundtracks of 2012


best-film-soundtracks-and-scores-of-2012-master-django-dark-knight-ruby-sparks-more-featureIf you’re anything like me, you’re still recovering from the Oscar nominations a few days ago. Well, it’s also that time of the year again folks…time for my annual Awards Circuit tradition of talking about the best that the year had to offer in terms of scores and soundtracks! While I didn’t fall in love with too many this year, I still consider it a very solid year for film, musically. One composer in particular had a massive year, but overall the quality was spread around pretty evenly in 2012. I began compiling this last late last month, so I’m finishing this with the knowledge of what wound up with Academy Award nominations, but this only reflects my personal tastes. Below you’ll find my picks for the 10 best movie scores and 10 best movie soundtracks of 2012. Let’s get started, shall we?


Honorable Mention: The Avengers, The Grey, Paperman, Prometheus, and Skyfall

10. Lincoln– Yes, John Williams has done better work before, but I still really enjoyed his latest score for a Steven Spielberg film. It was never intrusive, which is something many people have taken Williams to task on of late. I may have slightly preferred their work on ‘War Horse’ in terms of the music, but this is still a really good score…and a part of a much better movie too.

9. Ruby Sparks– As with almost every other part of this gem, the score has gone under-appreciated by most. Nick Urata helped to elevate this magnificent film with a composition that completely fit the whimsical mood of the work. As more people discover this movie, I hope they discover Urata’s work as well.

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild– This indie hit underwhelmed me, but I did enjoy the score a great deal. Having the director Benh Zeitlin help to compose the work makes me admire it as well. Pretty much the DIY film of the year, that extended to the music and helped in my appreciation of it.

7. Looper– There’s something different about this work, and I can really dig on that. Nathan Johnson fit distinctive sounds into a distinctive movie. I love the flick and thought the music really helped set the mood, so including Johnson’s score was a no brainer here.

6. Cloud Atlas– I’m very conflicted about this film, but the music did manage to mostly sweep me off my feet. Another score that was partially composed by one of the filmmakers, it’s probably the strongest element of the movie. I don’t love the score quite as much as many do, but it’s definitely one of the year’s best.

5. Argo– Alexandre Desplat has had a hell of a year. While none of his work was bad at all (and I still need to put up the interview I conducted with him last month), this and one other score to be seen later in this list really were the ones that impressed me the most. This movie is a crowning achievement of 2012 in my eyes, and the music was surely a part of that.

4. The Dark Knight Rises– Not all of the elements of this conclusion to the Batman trilogy were superior to the last installment, but I think this score was. Hans Zimmer has made the quintessential Batman compositions in my eyes, so I had to recognize him.

3. Zero Dark Thirty– As much as I enjoy Desplat’s score for Ben Affleck’s movie, I think I’m ever so slightly partial to this one here. It’s in the background a lot, but much of the tension is elevated by masterful use of music. An all around amazing achievement.

2. Life of Pi– I have a number of problems with this flick, but the score was one of the highlights for me. Mychael Danna has long been a composer I’ve enjoyed, but he stepped up his game in a big way here and likely is about to win the Oscar. He certainly deserves it.

1. The Master– Maybe I’m just a sucker for unique scores, but I was sucked in immediately by Jonny Greenwood’s work here. The fact that he still hasn’t gotten an Oscar nomination is a crime. Suffice to say, I’m trying to make up for it here. This is my favorite score of 2012.


Honorable Mention: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Silver Linings Playbook

10. Lawless– In many ways the soundtrack tells a better story than the movie. Especially with Willie Nelson’s track, there’s songs I’ll find myself listening to just on my own. Credit is also due towards Nick Cave and Warren Ellis for essentially forming a band and creating some surprisingly good songs instead of a traditional score.

9. Pitch Perfect– Since I’m not a fan of the ‘Les Miserables’ songs aside from a handful, and ‘Rock of Ages’ disappointed me, I find myself citing this forgettable comedy. That being said, the singing is the highlight of the film. No one song stands out, but they’re all done with such a sense of fun that I was unable to resist their charms…

8. The Hunger Games– This was a great soundtrack, even if not all of the songs on the release made it into the final cut of the movie. The pair of Taylor Swift songs were tops for me, but that might have something to do with how much I enjoy her work in general. Still, a lot of interesting artists contributed to this release, not just her.

7. Moonrise Kingdom– I never got the fuss over this flick, but the songs in it are very strong indeed. The quirk of the movie bothered a little, but the offbeat nature of the soundtrack wound up working for me. I’m going to revisit this Wes Anderson title soon, and it’s partial due to my fond memories of the music.

6. Celeste and Jesse Forever– Perhaps a bit too indie for some, I dug the choice of music for this dramedy. Lily Allen gets a very strong song in, and while it may not be as memorable as the ‘(500) Days of Summer’ soundtrack, I feel like they were both shooting for similar things and are both quite successful in that regard.

5. Take This Waltz– Few movies used song as well as this one did in 2012. Of course the song that gave the film its title is made impeccable use of, but the way Sarah Polley works in “Video Killed The Radio Star” makes for one of the best scenes of last year. That alone scored this a slot, and the rest of the soundtrack just moved it up and up the list.

4. 10 Years– It’s a shame that Oscar Isaac couldn’t score a nomination for the song “Never Had”, which is the best Original Song of last year to me and a strong reason why this soundtrack is here. The rest of the songs are solid, but it’s a credit to Isaac’s soulful acoustic track that this one places so highly on my list.

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower– I don’t love this film like most others do, but I do love the soundtrack. David Bowie’s “Heroes” is essential to the plot and is a personal favorite song of mine, so between that and “Come On Eileen” the music had won a place in my heart to begin with. Another movie I’m going to give another shot to, and partially due to the soundtrack to boot.

2. This is 40– Judd Apatow always uses music well, but he has a new high point for me with his use of a Ryan Adams song to close out his latest film. “Lucky Now” is an incredible song, and Apatow gets a nice little original track from Fiona Apple to add to the good tidings. Even those who didn’t love the movie should listen to this soundtrack, as it’s something special.

1. Django Unchained– The best soundtrack of the year is this one for me, hands down. John Legend’s work especially is a winner, though Quentin Tarantino again makes fine work of Ennio Morricone and even does something special with Jim Croce. “Who Did That To You?” has been stuck in my head since I first saw the movie, and I suspect it will stay there for quite some time!

There you have it folks, the cinematic music that moved me most last year. I turn it over to you all now though…what scores and soundtracks were your favorites in 2012? Did my list reflect your preferences? Either way, be sure to let me know, as I’m all ears…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!

  • Kel D

    Have you seen Benh Zeitlin’s short film that was posted on awardsdaily? The soundtack has some of the same beats as the soundtrak for BOTSW, which kinda disappoints me…also, great choice with Django…

    which makes me wonder why BFCA gave up on that music/film award they previously gave to Tarantino and Scorsese. What about Cameron Crowe? What about Sofia Coppola? What about Mike Nichols (for The Graduate)? Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill)? Heck, even Michael Bay, who has used some good songs in his moies?

    • Joey Magidson

      I haven’t seen it yet, no…

  • Kel D

    Have you seen Benh Zeitlin’s short film that was posted on awardsdaily? The soundtack has some of the same beats as the soundtrak for BOTSW, which kinda disappoints me…also, great choice with Django…

    which makes me wonder why BFCA gave up on that music/film award they previously gave to Tarantino and Scorsese. What about Cameron Crowe? What about Sofia Coppola? What about Mike Nichols (for The Graduate)? Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill)? Heck, even Michael Bay, who has used some good songs in his movies?

    • Joey Magidson

      Beats me there…

  • jmlatinsir

    I’m in agreement on Django Unchained, especially the use of Jim Croce’s song though the film left me underwhelmed…especially the last 3rd. I liked the scores of Zero Dark Thirty, and Life of Pi a lot.

    • Joey Magidson

      Well, we’re in agreement about almost everything there…

  • Kel D

    Great choices, especially Django and Moonrise Kingdom…

    But this makes me wonder why the BFCA gave up on their special music/film award that they gave previously to Tarantino and Scorsese. Could they not be bothered to award Cameron Crowe, Sofia Coppola, Mike Nichols (for The Graduate) and even Lawrence Kasdan (for The Big Chill)?

    • Joey Magidson


  • Eric

    Sorry Joey, I’ve never understood the obsession with Zimmer’s latest scores and the hype surrounding each and every one (I personally am frightened for what he might do for Man of Steel). As much as I respect Zimmer and like TDKR, its score is almost indiscernible from his previous Batman works. I mean, Batman’s theme is only just two notes: an ascending minor third. Otherwise, I find Zimmer’s recent scores (including Inception) to be a combination of mindless, repetitious string lines and and grating brass instruments that don’t really *move* the score anywhere (Zimmer also refuses to modulate key signature, preferring D minor).

    I think Zimmer needs to work on different projects: he’s been working with Batman, Pirates, cutesy animated films… the same sort of films for too long. Even John Williams admits he couldn’t do five space movies in a row (though people would like to see that) in fear that he would run out of musical ideas. Hans just needs to diversify his choices because I’d like to hear more of his versatility (see: Driving Miss Daisy… say what you will about the film, the score is still excellent).

    I always thought Best Original Score should balance a music’s use in a film AND if it has a life outside the film.

    So with that, disagreed on placing TDKR and, to a lesser extent, Cloud Atlas (everybody talks about the main theme, what about everything in between?) . And I personally think you severely underrate Lincoln and Beasts.

    • Joey Magidson

      Fair enough there. I certainly respect your points…

  • JamDenTel

    I agree with both your #1 picks. Greenwood’s score for The Master covers such a gamut of style and emotion–from Freddie’s inner turbulence to the sense of elation and anticipation we feel after he falls in with Dodd–and does it all beautifully. For my money, the best score of the year by a pretty wide margin.

    As for Django, we all know how good Tarantino is at assembling soundtracks (here also making use of original songs–a first? I’m not sure), and while my own #1 might be the classical selections that make up The Deep Blue Sea’s soundtrack, Django is way up there.

    • Joey Magidson

      Glad I’m not alone with my top picks…

  • Some great music in 2012!

    • Joey Magidson

      100% agreed, even if other years have been stronger in my view…

  • UBourgeois

    No mention for Dario Marianelli’s Anna Karenina score? The movie wasn’t so hot, but I was humming the music for days afterward.

    • Joey Magidson

      I enjoyed the score, but not as much as most, it seems…

  • George

    Zero Dark Thirty’s score is absolutely masterful in every way. So intense and subtle, but head-bobbing at the same time. The fact that this and The Master didn’t get nominated for score saddens me, even though I do LOVE Skyfall’s score.

    • Joey Magidson


  • Great choices. Hard to argue any. Happy to see you remember Looper’s score, one of the best and most unique. Would have made my top 10 as well. Just missed my cut for our awards.

    • Joey Magidson

      That was one I was alway going to be sure to include…

  • Alek S

    I certainly agree with your pick for The Master as #1, but right behind that would have to be ParaNorman’s terrific score by Jon Brion. The atmosphere of his music complimented the excellent visuals perfectly.

    • Joey Magidson

      Duly noted…

  • steve

    One of a few categories where The Master outdid everything else in 2012. Too bad nobody’s going to recognize Greenwood’s work for this at the Oscars. Not upset that Life of Pi will win. It was another great one.

    • Joey Magidson


  • Al

    In complete agreement about Jonny Greenwood’s beautiful score for The Master. It was the best of the year. I was disappointed that it didn’t make the Oscar cut. I thought for sure they would include his work after disqualifying There Will Be Blood’s wonderful score years ago. I also wish that they would go back to a Best Adapted Score or Song Score award. It would get so much wonderful and unique music recognized.

    Also, I wish there were an award for Best Soundtrack to reward filmmakers like Tarantino and Wes Anderson for constantly driving their brilliant films with such eclectic flavour! Keep up the good writing.

    • Joey Magidson

      Thank you kindly…