The Year in Movie Music

Since Tim Burton's BATMAN debuted the dual-soundtrack -- one of them Danny Elfman's finest and most iconic score, the other featuring original Prince songs -- I've been hooked on movie music. I'm nothing of the film score expert that I'd love to be; I've barely dug into the bins of Ennio Morricone or Bernard Herrmann. But the scores to high school favorites like GATTACA and DARK CITY sat in my disc changer right alongside Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins, and my middle school life was lived to the tune of "I Will Always Love You," and "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" during the 90s' renaissance of movie love themes. Reading this year's list of songs eligable for the Best Original Song Oscar, it was more clear than ever that they don't make em like they used to, and the ones that they do make we never really hear or remember. Meanwhile, I started paying attention to new film scores again this year and my ears liked what they heard. So rather than a Top Five, Ten, or more, here's a virtual tracklist of my latest mix CD, covering both new and used scores and songs-- the best film music of 2006. (A few of my friends at TheThree will recieve limited edition hard copies; the rest of you will have to settle for making your own with iTunes).

First, some notes. The scores for OLD JOY and BUBBLE, provided by Yo La Tengo and Robert Pollard respectively, are so indie that you can't even listen to them on CD. It's too bad, since I liked Yo La Tengo's OLD JOY more than their new record.

Thomas Newman's THE GOOD GERMAN, Philip Glass' NOTES ON A SCANDAL, and Alexandre Desplat's THE PAINTED VEIL aren't out yet, so I haven't heard them. After the iTunes-only release of Newman's LITTLE CHILDREN, I'm worried about the state of the soundtrack CD in general, and I shouldn't get started on that lest I get teary eyed.

Sure enough, I ended up sifting out much more music than could actually fit on the 80 minutes of a single CDR. So some of film scoring's most familiar names got left on the cutting room floor (though the music's all quite good): Hans Zimmer (THE DA VINCI CODE), Danny Elfman (CHARLOTTE'S WEB and NACHO LIBRE), Craig Armstrong (WORLD TRADE CENTER), Mychael Danna (THE NATIVITY STORY and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), John Ottman (SUPERMAN RETURNS and UNITED 93), and Clint Eastwood (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS).

There wasn't even room to really represent what my friend Jason Jackowski talks about as a new concert film revival, including the music movies DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY, NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD, and The Beastie Boys' AWESOME! I FUCKIN SHOT THAT! The saddest cut from my CD? Probably the Dixie Chicks' "The Long Way Around," which ended SHUT UP AND SING. It's my latest guilty pleasure.

A few other tunes missing in action: Penelope Cruz singing "Volver" -- not only is the soundtrack hard to come by, but on it, someone else sings the titular song made so memorable by Cruz in the film. Also unavailable is Beck's "Holy Man" from NACHO LIBRE, though a few of his instrumental cues made the soundtrack. I liked Gwyneth Paltrow's "This Thing Called Love" from INFAMOUS, as well as the music of IDLEWILD, but I've heard that the latter's soundtrack doesn't properly refect the songs in the film. Another song I didn't know what to do with is "Whole Wide World," loosely strummed by Will Farrell in STRANGER THAN FICTION (which also includes a nice new Spoon song). I love the original version by Wreckless Eric. But some have compared this moment to SAY ANYTHING's "In Your Eyes," famously played over John Cusack's boom box; as if it were that easy to achieve movie music magic.

So here we go. Some scores, some songs, and hopefully a little something for everyone.

1. Nathan Johnson - "Emily's Theme" from BRICK
Pretty much everything about Rian Johnson's debut, a detective yarn spun in highschool, sticks in your mind after watching it, but particularly its score. This main theme, played by jangly bells over guitar, is so simple yet hard to forget.

2. Carter Burwell - "Crazy Times" from FUR
It's not often that a film score is done early enough to be cut into its movie's trailer, but I've been hooked on this cue ever since I heard it in Quicktime.

3. Thom Yorke - "Black Swan" from A SCANNER DARKLY
The interesting coincidence of the year seems to be using a Thom Yorke song over your closing credits. Can you name the other movie that did this?

4. The Radio Dept. - "Pulling Our Weight" from MARIE ANTOINETTE
When I heard this band's songs in this movie, used just like instrumental score as Marie louges around or travels through Versailles, I figured they were another 80's band I never discovered. Turns out their music is new, and it just so happens to fit perfectly into this great soundtrack.

5. Howard Shore et al. - "The Departed Tango" from THE DEPARTED
Score nuts say that Horner's is one of the best scores of the year. I haven't got around to listening to it all again, but this is a nice place to start.

6. Gustavo Santaolalla - "Deportation / Iguazu" from BABEL
Beautiful work from the composer of the Oscar-winning BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN score. I may not yet have a grasp on how good BABEL was, but its soundtrack was definitely on point.

7. Alexandre Desplat - "People's Princess 1" from THE QUEEN
I don't think Desplat's score perfectly fits THE QUEEN-- a movie with multiple tones in need of some musical guidance. But like BIRTH, my introduction to Desplat which became one of my favorite scores, it stands up wonderfully on its own.

8. James Newton Howard - "The Great Eatlon" from LADY IN THE WATER
As long as M. Night Shyamalan keeps making nearly-laughable films like this one, Newton Howard's film scores will be there keep the price of admission worthwhile.

9. Ben Folds - "Still" from OVER THE HEDGE
Seeing four of Folds' songs in contention for the Best Original Song Oscar reminded me to back up and check them out. Jack Johnson got most of the attention for writing kiddie songs for CURIOUS GEORGE, but this is where it's at. I like Daddy Ben.

10. David Julyan - "The Prestige" from THE PRESTIGE
After re-listening to this score, it turns out that the most memorable theme really only gets played once, during the film's last moments. After an hour of ambient, ominous strings, this final melody is only a few notes long. But it's perfect.

11. Gael Garcia Bernal et al. - "If You Rescue Me" from THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP
Dreamy, fun, and French, just like Michel Gondry. There's lots of great original music in this film. This tune, a Lou Reed cover, can also be heard on the movie's neato e-cards.

12. James Taylor - "Our Town" from CARS
I was all but alone defending CARS up against the rest of Pixar's classics, and I'm sure it's partly because this song just about had me weeping. Who knew I could so miss the good ole days of Radiator Springs without it ever having existed?

13. Thomas Newman - "End Titles" from LITTLE CHILDREN
My favorite composer plays it safe for most of this score, then drops this bad boy over the credits.

14. Clint Mansell - "Together We Will Live Forever" from THE FOUNTAIN
My favorite score of the year. Mansell's music, performed by Mogwai and the Kronos Quartet, seems to play through the entire film. It's best when listened through in its entirety, which makes it hard to pick just one track. This is the soft piano piece that plays over the credits.

15. Ryuichi Sakamoto - "Bibo No Aozora / O4" from BABEL
Again, I'm in need of a second viewing of BABEL. But the one image that's stuck with me? The long, slow zoom away from a Tokyo apartment building at night. And it's tied to this gorgeous piece of music by a composer I've always wanted to learn more about. The only song iTunes won't let me buy is an even longer version of this piece with Santaolalla.

16. Mogwai - "Auto Rock" from MIAMI VICE
Mogwai may have been the busiest indie rock band in Hollywood this year (also working on THE FOUNTAIN and the experimental soccer film ZIDANE) now that filmmakers are realizing how cinematic post-rock can be (see also Explosions in the Sky's FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS score).

17. Snow Patrol - "Chocolate" from THE LAST KISS
This song merely heralded THE LAST KISS' trailer and opening credits, and it didn't do all that much to help elevate it to the level of L'ULTIMO BACIO, the outstanding Italian film on which its based. But it's absolutely perfect for this story, as if it were written for it. My most addictive, most played song this year.

18. Dropkick Murphys - "Shipping Off to Boston" from THE DEPARTED
It screams Scorsese and adds some much needed spunk to my CD.

19. Erran Baron Cohen - "Oh Kazahkstan" from BORAT
Great vocal performances in movies rarely make it onto the soundtrack, like Julie Delpy's in BEFORE SUNSET, or Jack Black's "Encarnacion" in NACHO LIBRE. So instead of Borat's painfully awkward National Anthem sung at a Texas rodeo, this song will have to do. Just remember that if it's nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar, you heard it here first.

20. Jennifer Hudson - "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Leaving" from DREAMGIRLS
Let's make this clear: DREAMGIRLS was a cheesy, awkward, disappointing mess to me. That said, former Idol Jennifer Hudson had me clapping after this first-act closer that stole the whole movie. But this song pretty much destroys the flow of my CD, and it's only on here because I feel like it would just be wrong to neglect it. And in retrospect, Hudson went way over the top with this one. Maybe your inner diva will thank me for leaving it on, and if not, just proceed to the last track.

21. Garrison Keillor et al. - "In the Sweet By and By" from A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
I know, I know. You're tired of hearing me gush about Altman's last movie, and this will be the last time I do... until my Top Ten list. Here, Altman's cast sings him out. As for Lindsay Lohan's mic-hogging, just think of it as part of her character, caught up in the excitement of her first show with the grownups. The only fitting way to end this compilation.

So what do you think? Do you remember any of these songs? What was your favorite score this year? And of course, what did I forget?


Reel Fanatic said...

Great list .. my own, however, would not be complete with at least one track by Dead Prez from Dave Chappelle's Block Party .. they just stole the show in a very crowded field

Grant said...

The other movie with Thom Yorke over the closing credits was The Prestige, wasn't it?

Sam's Myth said...

That was fast! And nice suggestion.

Freddie O'Connell said...

I think you're missing Broken Social Scene's efforts from Half Nelson.

Also, what about Cobra Starship from Snakes on a mothafuckin' Plane?!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

FWIW, emusic.com is a treasure trove for morricone scores.

jason.jackowski said...


I never got around to re-writing my comment here... but, here it goes...

Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World" would be on my list. Easily, my favorite movie moment all year was when Ferrell picked up his guitar and started strumming for Maggie. Was there anything so romantic and hopeful and just plain movie-ish that happened in another movie all year?

Good choice on Ben Folds. But, personally, I preferred the Paul Westerberg-penned music for OPEN SEASON. However, Folds one-upped Westerberg in one respect -- his songs gave OVER THE HEDGE a subversive edge. His simulatenously hilarious and awful re-recording of "Rockin' The Suburbs" (featuring Bill Shatner no less!) and his solid cover of The Clash's "Lost In The Supermarket" were probably the edgiest thing in a CG-animated, talking animals movie all year.

also, the story on Bob Pollard's "Bubble" music is that he gave Sode-y 30 demos he was working on at the time, and told him he could pick whatever he wanted for the film. What is in the film are the demo versions of parts of those songs that later appeared on the "Music From Bubble" EP that Pollard released as part of his Fading Captain Series. The demos are available for download on Pollard's website.

For the record, I would have taken the "Chaiya Chaiya" song that bookends INSIDE MAN over "Shipping Up To Boston." Spike Lee's choice of a Bollywood number was more inspired, more interesting, and just a better song than any thing that appeared on the soundtrack for Scorsese's THE DEPARTED.

If I had to pick a NACHO LIBRE track, it would have to be the movie's theme -- the whimsical and very hummable "I Am A Real Religious Man." As I was rewatching that movie and that song came on, it made me smile instantly. Really perfect.

Also, any song from INLAND EMPIRE would have been worthy of inclusion -- Beck's "Black Tambourine," "At Last," and "The Locomotion" were three of my favorite music movie moments all year.

And, I can't even start tackling stuff from the three brilliant concert films from 2006. Too much to pick from (but if I had to, off the top of my head -- "Jesus Walks" with full marching band, "Heart of Gold" and "Brass Monkey").

Nice job!

Sam's Myth said...

Well nice job yourself, J! Maybe you should make the sequel to my mix CD...

Anonymous said...

Glad to see the two Babel tracks in there. Both the Santaolalla and Sakamoto pieces caught my attention during the movie and made me buy the CD.

jason.jackowski said...


I'd love the ability to make a prairie home companion to your delightful mix CD. However, at home in Brooklyn I am sans internet -- making the task a difficult (and expensive) one.

again, great work my friend.


Sam's Myth said...

Understood. Maybe next year!