Best Scores and Soundtracks of 2011

Music is an integral part of any good film, not that this comes as a surprise to any of you. I like to pay tribute to this aspect of cinema with a list of the best scores and soundtracks of the year. Last year, a number of flicks had superior scores and soundtracks, and I wanted to highlight my admiration of each. There’s only one film in 2011 that overlapped in both categories, unlike in 2010 when I had a few more like that, but many were contenders for that sort of dual honor. There’s a really nice mesh of musical stylings to be found below, and I hope you all enjoy the list. Of course, definitely let me know your picks at the end (as is always the case in a piece of this ilk), but for now, let’s get on with it and look into the best movie scores and soundtracks of 2011!

The Best Scores of 2011

10. War Horse- A vintage John Williams score is hard to beat, and this year we had two of them in ‘War Horse’ and ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’. I slightly preferred the former to the latter, but both would be great choices. This one made the cut for me due to its overwhelming success at drawing emotion out of you. Williams can do this like few others, and he’s in fine form here, even earning Oscar nominations for both of his compositions.

9. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol- An emerging master composer in Michael Giacchino continues to impress with this latest score. A perfect action score, it compliments this Tom Cruise romp in a spectacular way. A lot of things about the flick was better than expected, and the music was chief among them.

8. Hanna- I know that I personally wasn’t expecting The Chemical Brothers to deliver one of the finest scores of 2011 at all, but here we are never the less. It’s even arguable that the music is the best part of the flick, though I enjoyed it for more than just that. There was a time when I thought that this could have been a Best Original Score nominee…that didn’t happen, but that speaks volumes about its quality. I was never a fan of their work, but I must say…I certainly am now.

7. Moneyball- A minimalist score to be sure, but Mychael Danna’s contributions to this film are undeniable. Danna has been doing underrated work in mostly lighter fare for a few years now, but I think he’s about to break out in a big way. I had at one time thought a surprise nomination this year was in the cards, but that didn’t come to pass. His time is coming though, believe me there.

6. The Artist- I may have some issues with ‘The Artist’, but the vintage style score by Ludovic Bource is definitely not one of them. The music draws you in and allows you to properly associate the visuals as being part of a silent film. It may not have been as organic to me as it was to most others, but I definitely admire the music and take no issue with its Oscar nomination in this particular category.

5. Super 8- A second mention for Giacchino comes here for his best score of 2011, and one of his 5 best career works. An homage film in every way, the music was as successful in that as any other part of the flick. I really loved the score and it shows with its top 5 placement on this list. Giacchino at this point can pretty much do no wrong for me, musically at least.

4. The Tree of Life- Another film I have major issues with, though the score by Alexandre Desplat was (along with Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography) not one of them. Tender and fitting for the story that Terrence Malick is telling, the sounds of ‘The Tree of Life’ often lull me to sleep in the comfort of my own home. I’m pretty discriminating with what scores and soundtracks I deem purchase worthy, so me picking it up is a sign of its top notch quality. It’s hypnotically good, much like certain other parts of the movie itself (though other parts are hypnotically bad to me, so there’s that).

3. Drive- You’ll be seeing more of ‘Drive’ (spoiler alert) in the soundtrack category, but for now let’s focus on the score that Cliff Martinez put together. It’s got a beat and composition unique from almost everything else this year, and ties into the work on the whole rather perfectly (including the songs). Martinez also turned in good work composing ‘Contagion’ this year, but the score for Nicolas Winding Refn’s modern classic is far superior.

2. Shame- Harry Escott got my attention in a way that he’s never ever done before with his score for Steve McQueen’s devastating drama ‘Shame’. For a while, it was the best work of the year to me (it doesn’t hurt that the film itself was my second favorite of the year as well). As a composer, Escott fits the mood of the work in an incredible way, while tying into the songs of the film quite well too. It’s really an underrated score that I urge everyone to check out on its own. You’ll be glad that you did. I know that I was.

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- It was very hard to decide between ‘Shame’ and ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ for the #1 spot, but in the end the epic scope of the work by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross broke the tie. I may very slightly prefer their score for ‘The Social Network’, but this one is the best of 2011 and sits comfortably (and favorably) alongside almost any modern score. Reznor and Ross are geniuses, plain and simple.

Honorable Mentions: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Hugo, The Ides of March, Jane Eyre, Like Crazy, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Best Soundtracks of 2011

10. Bridesmaids- I have a confession to make. I love the Wilson Phillips song “Hold On”, so I was overjoyed when it came on during this hilarious flick. When you factor in how well it was integrated into the film, dialogue-wise, it automatically qualified this flick for the list. There are other good songs in the film, like “Paper Bag” by Fiona Apple, but this one top notch choice gets it just over the bar and on to this list.

9. We Bought a Zoo- I would have expected to have a Cameron Crowe film higher up when it comes to talking about soundtracks, but this is still a very solid grouping of songs. From the Jonsi songs that he commissioned (my favorite was “Gathering Stories”), to the classical tunes he’s so well known for (including personal favorites such as Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and the Cat Stevens tune “Don’t Be Shy”), there’s a certain amount of pleasure found in the music Crowe uses. He’s done better before, but this still makes the cut for me.

8. Young Adult- The musical choices of Jason Reitman’s career have all been superior, and this trend continues here. The two top choices are the ones most strongly factored into the story, like Teenage Fanclub’s “The Concept” and “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. Reitman has an ear for cinematic music, and this offbeat movie benefitted greatly from it. I can’t wait to see his next flick, but that goes without saying…he’s one of my very favorite filmmakers working today.

7. Midnight in Paris- Woody Allen sticks usually to the classical tunes that he’s fond of, and here he’s found both a way to integrate them even better into his work while also introducing a bit of different music into the equation. Allen loves classic jazz, but I’d argue his inclusion of Cole Porter’s song “Let’s Do It” is as fine a choice as he’s ever made. It’s easily one of his 5 best works in terms of the music, and as I’ve written before, it’s one of Woody’s 10 best flicks overall.

6. The Descendants- The Hawaiian tunes fit the movie perfectly, as you’d expect. None especially stand out, but they work as a great tapestry to the story. It’s also worth noting that this could be the first American film to exclusively use this type of music, so there’s a bit of history to this selection as well. It’s a joy to listen to, whether in the film itself or just on your own…

5. Like Crazy- A moody movie like this needs good music, and this has that in spades. It also happens to have a real good score by Dustin O’Halloran that just missed the cut above, so that never hurts. The tunes selected by co-writer/director Drake Doremus for the flick speak of love in all its forms, but the movie’s trailer hit best with the Ingrid Michaelson cover of Elvis Presley’s classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. In the film itself, the Stars song “Dead Hearts” is powerful too, making for an emotional roller coaster of music (not to mention the film being like that on the whole) and one of the 5 best soundtracks of 2011.

4. Winnie the Pooh- I’m secure enough in my masculinity to say that Zooey Deschanel’s band “She & Him” is one of my current favorites, so it makes sense that I’d enjoy her contributions to a childhood cartoon that I adored. Her renditions of classic songs are great, but the best work in the flick is the song “So Long” that She & Him provide. It’s possibly the second most played song from a film this year on my iPod…it’s just that catchy.

3. Drive- If only for “A Real Hero” alone, this is one of the best soundtracks of the year, but its limited song selections manage to impress even beyond that. Had there been more songs to choose from, I think it might have even been my #1 choice of 2011 for soundtracks. Desire’s song “Under Your Spell” is terrific too, even if the aforementioned song by College is iconic at this point. Between these songs and the score mentioned above, it’s hard to find a better disc of music out there from a 2011 release than this one.

2. Bellflower- A haunting set of tunes for a haunting flick, Jonathan Keevil came up with some brilliant work here. None is better than the opening track “Bland”, though they all work on their own too. It’s a group of songs that stay with you long after the movie is over, and bring you back to specific images when you listen to it. That’s a real achievement in my book.

1. The Muppets- A staple of Muppet cinema is strong songs, and this latest adventure for the icons was no exception, and for my money is as good as they’ve ever done. My personal favorite original one is “Life’s A Happy Song”, but they’re all good. We all know that bringing back “The Rainbow Connection” brought me to tears, but I laughed my ass off during the barbershop quartet treatment of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. There’s a crazed brilliance to the Muppets, and it easily extends to their music, making for the best soundtrack of last year.

Honorable Mentions: Beginners, The Help, The Lincoln Lawyer, Submarine, Sucker Punch, and Take Me Home Tonight

Well, there’s my countdown of the best scores and soundtracks of 2011. Now, I’m curious about yours…which musical selections were your favorites last year? I’m all ears (literally in this piece), so get on it and let me know!

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