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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The 10 Best Musical Tapestries in Film, 2010


I do not think I sound too guilty of overpraising one of my heroes when I express my belief that nobody in the film industry creates better songscapes than Martin Scorsese. His longtime collaborator Robbie Robertson has assembled a magnificent array of modern classical music for this psychological thriller: Penderecki's Passacaglia from Symphony #3 is an unforgettable theme, along with Ingram Marshall, John Cage, John Adams, and Max Richter. Scorsese and Robertson even use Ligeti's Lontano, previously heard in Kubrick's The Shining, which used as allusion directs us to Shutter Island's intentions. The music reflects the lost generation of the post-modern in all of its dissonant chaos. Gustave Mahler, whose Quarted in A minor is the score for a Nazi death camp, is an appropriate memory for a civilization before it crumbled. Richter's "On the Nature of Daylight" mixed with Dinah Washington's vocal "This Bitter Earth" over the end credits is an overwhelming tear-laden coda for this descent into insanity.


Alexandre Desplat's exhilarating score matches the momentum and odd kinks of Polanski's absurd political thriller, taking charge from the opening image up through the story's relay of futility upon conclusion.


When so many other alternative rock artists of the 1990s would sell their music conveniently for movies where the song had little to do with the content, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails always seemed to work well with constructing satisfying soundtrack albums for great directors – Oliver Stone' s Natural Born Killers and David Lynch's Lost Highway being as good as song compilations for films got in that decade. Working with his How To Destroy Angels collaborator Atticus Finch, Reznor writes a full electronic score for David Fincher's film about the Post-Human Condition where technology has swallowed human conversation – slow melodies tip-toeing on a bed of electronically pulsing needles.


I Am Love was released in Europe before Shutter Island's own premiere, and I guess it was quite a big deal to have the modern classical minimalist composer John Adams agreeing to have his music used in a film. Here it works perfectly, just as it does in Scorsese's picture, but as a kind of expansive greatest-hits collection. I Am Love needs to rely on its music being that it wants to rid itself of explanatory narrative (i.e. – language). Adams is the perfect tool that enables the film to fulfill its goal.


I think the Rick Rubin-produced Johnny Cash song used in the trailer for True Grit may have fooled some into thinking that it would be another T. Bone Burnett compilation of terrific source music, like O Brother, Where Art Thou? No, this is the Coens working with their usual composer, Carter Burwell, but the score beautifully models itself on old time Protestant hymns to give the sound a flavor distinct from so many other generic film scores or Westerns. Iris Dement sings the one source song during the end credits, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms", at which point to hear it is to be engaged in the transcendent worship of the characters.


The retro Motown funk grunge soul of The Heavy's 2009 single "How You Like Me Now?" serves as my favorite theme song for a movie this year, capturing an energy so powerful that it makes me want to start working out. But the quiet spots in this fight film are handled by the ambient former 4AD Eno protégé Michael Brook, whom I first heard used memorably in 1995's Heat, and has since occasionally scored movies, but never this well.


Danny Boyle is also no flunky when it comes to great pop film scores (Trainspotting introduced me in 1996 to New Order, Pulp, Blur, Primal Scream, and Iggy Pop). Here he kicks off with Free Blood's "Never Hear Surf Music Again" and joltingly channels us into the brain of free spirit Aron Ralston. Slumdog Millionaire collaborator A.R. Rahman fills in the blanks, while Sigor Ros sends us off in uplifting glory.


With some themes taken from Swan Lake, imbued with foreboding electro walls of sound, Darren Aronofsky and Clint Mansell create sonic magic.


Some people may be taken aback by synths in a Norseman era period piece. I love it. I dug director Nicolas Winding Refn's song sensibility for his previous film, Bronson (New Order could not be used more perfectly), and here Peter Kyed and Peter Peter create some entrancing ambient sound haunts.


Local Star Tribune critic Tom Horgen bashed Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, saying that Oliver Stone "employs a soundtrack that could be interchanged with Katherine Heigl's next romantic comedy." Horgen didn't know what he was listening to, just as he didn't understand Stone's ironies. I don't know about you, but if Katherine Heigl's next romantic comedy was set to the songs from David Byrne's collaborative album with Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, I'd be all over it. The calming and rich sounds of Byrne and Eno are perfect for Stone's secretly maladroit sequel, whose end credits feature the song "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)" by Talking Heads, memorably the theme of the first Wall Street. Hearing it is a reminder for us that Stone is cognizant of everything – including how history will unfortunately repeat itself.

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