Welcome to the first installment of Keeping Score, Cinematical's new epicenter of coverage and commentary on movie music. In coming weeks you'll read interviews with composers, reviews, profiles, and critical analyses of entire genres and bodies of work. Before we get to that, however, as a sort of introduction we thought we'd take a look at the best of 2009.
The year was surprisingly full of really strong movie music, from hit-heavy compilations to original orchestral work and almost everything in between. Runners up to our Top Ten list included the soundtracks to Where the Wild Things Are, Funny People, A Single Man, and even New Moon, if only for Thom Yorke's throbbing, irresistible contribution "Hearing Damage." But the following ten were the year's cream of the crop – the best, most beautiful, and, ultimately, most moving pieces of music set to moving images in 2009.
10. The Box – virtually everything else about Richard Kelly's latest (and let's hope last) film is unbearable, but Arcade Fire members Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, along with wunderkind Owen Pallet, nevertheless provide a compelling aural backdrop for the film, creating a Bernard Herrmann-esque score that perfectly encapsulates the story's '70s sci-fi paranoia.
9. Bronson – writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn primarily assembles a collection of classical pieces for his character study-cum-biopic, brilliantly bringing to life Michael Peterson's maniacally operatic self-portrait, but it's The Walker Brothers' "The Electrician" and Glass Candy's brilliantly brooding "Digital Versicolor" that really puts the fight in this film about the relentless, self-destructive pugilist.
8. Star Trek – Michael Giacchino synthesizes 40 years of Trek music and mythology into one gorgeously epic theme (never mind the full score), elevating the eleventh film in an ailing franchise to no less than the event movie of the summer.
7. The Informant! – Marvin Hamlisch dusts off his iconic '70s repertoire to create the comically imaginative sound that Steven Soderbergh's hero Mark Whitacre hears in his head, conjuring Taxi Driver-style melancholy, 007-esque intrigue, and sitcom absurdity all at the same time.
6. Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino's hand-picked pieces from Ennio Morricone's massive filmography provide a throughline for most of the music in the writer-director's WWII opus, but it's the theatricality of David Bowie's "Putting Out the Fire" (from Cat People) that exemplifies Tarantino's wish-fulfillment chronicle of cinema literally winning the war.
5. Sherlock Holmes – Hans Zimmer channels Morricone's rickety spaghetti-western sound through the atmosphere of 19th Century London for this jaunty, invigorating and most of all, fun score for Guy Ritchie's reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective.
4. Up – Giacchino switches gears from his terrific Trek work to create this whimsical, wonderful score that finds the humanity hidden beneath Carl Fredericksen's animal-filled adventure, using a musical spectrum that seems culled from the candy colors of Carl's balloons and yet doesn't shy away from seriousness in its efforts to be, well, uplifting.
3. The House of the Devil – Mike Armstrong's Goblin-by-way-of-John Carpenter title theme perfectly sets the tone for writer-director Ti West's homage to 1970s and '80s horror, but it's Jeff Grace's powerful, varied work that effectively builds the simple story from unseen, undeniable menace to inescapable, monstrous terror, creating a musical backdrop that cements the mystery and fear that lurks behind every corner long before we see what's actually hiding there.
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Alexandre Desplat makes a departure from his typically piano-driven work to provide this frothy, fun collection of melodies that set the stage for Mr. Fox, and find a full range of relatable emotion in order to make his adventures that much more fantastic.
1. Crazy Heart – creating music that not only suits Bad Blake's whiskey-soaked career, but his effortlessly poetic personality, T-Bone Burnett, the late Stephen Bruton and newcomer Ryan Bingham assemble a collection of songs that sound appropriate for an aging country star, and yet manage to be timeless – and best of all, brilliantly evocative and effective, even if you don't typically like country music.