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My Favorite Movie Scores

This week the accomplished film-music composer Hans Zimmer spoke to one of my classes at UCLA, regaling us with stories of getting fired by Stanley Kubrick (on Full Metal Jacket), hired by Terrence Malick (who sought Zimmer out for The Thin Red Line because he loved the music in Disney’s The Lion King), and composing the “unprecedented” two-note Joker theme for the upcoming film, The Dark Knight.

Zimmer was quite interesting and gave me a new appreciation for the importance and artistry of film scoring. He also got me thinking about the films scores I have loved over the years—those that (in my opinion) elevated the films they accompanied to goosebump-inducing heights. The following is my list of my favorite ten movie scores of all time. What are your favorites?

10) Mulholland Drive – Angelo Badalamenti:
Like in his other work for David Lynch, Badalamenti creates a score here that is thick and layered and mysterious. Just like the film.

9) 25th Hour – Terrence Blanchard: This brooding, daring, deeply emotional score provides a cathartic and memorable accompaniment to Spike Lee’s sadly overlooked post-9/11 elegy.

8) Pride & Prejudice – Dario Marianelli: Marianelli received a lot of attention for his Atonement score last year, but I think his best work so far has been the lush, piano-driven score for Joe Wright’s 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice. Who can forget the impressionistic effect of the minimalist music in the famous sunrise scene at the end?

7) Hoosiers – Jerry Goldsmith: Music is so important for rousing sports movies (see Chariots of Fire), and in my view Jerry Goldsmith sets the standard with his synthy work in Hoosiers. Totally 80s… but totally timeless. It almost always makes me want to stand up and cheer.

6) Dances With Wolves – John Barry: Say what you will about the movie itself, but the sweeping, romantic score by the legendary John Barry is absolutely unforgettable. Combined with the film’s gorgeous western landscape photography, this music really soars.

5) Lord of the Rings trilogy – Howard Shore: The music in LOTR is bombastic and ubiquitous… but in all the right ways. So many memorable themes and melodies and moments. The climactic moment in Return of the King when Sam picks up Frodo on Mt. Doom and the music swells to the theme… Oh, man, it gets me every time.

4) Days of Heaven – Ennio Morricone: It was either this or The Mission for the obligatory inclusion of an Ennio Morricone score. I’ll go with Days, because it’s one of my favorite movies of all time… and Morricone’s score is such a beautiful tragedy.

3) Star Wars (the entire series) – John Williams: What can I say? It’s iconic. The Imperial March, the Cantina theme, the stunning main titles, even the “Duel of the Fates”… I don’t know what Star Wars would be without its wonderful music.

2) Braveheart – James Horner: Okay, so it’s true: music has never been more shamelessly employed for a tear-jerker ending. But it’s an ending that—thanks in no small part to the music—provides one of cinema’s most emotionally cathartic moments. Add in some bagpipe and woodwind glory and this is one of the most satisfying film scores I’ve ever heard.

1) The Thin Red Line – Hans Zimmer: A lot of people will tell you that Gladiator is Zimmer’s best film score, but in my view it doesn’t hold a candle to his masterful soundtrack to Terrence Malick’s epic WWII film. Utilizing a cacophony of dreamy strings, exotic chants, riffs on folk hymns, and otherworldy melodies, Zimmer creates a soundscape of Germanic romanticism and Heideggerian phenomenology—so fitting for a Malick film.

Just missed the list: The Hours (Philip Glass), American Beauty (Thomas Newman), The Godfather (Nino Rota), E.T. (John Williams), Last of the Mohicans (Randy Edelman), The Fountain (Clint Mansell), Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood), The Mission (Ennio Morricone), There Will Be Blood (Johnny Greenwood), Out of Africa (John Barry), Letters from Iwo Jima (Kyle Eastwood), The Cider House Rules (Rachel Portman).