I've been wanting to do a film score post for a very, very long time. However, I always ran into trouble when it came to picking entries. I am vastly affected by nostalgia where music is concerned, and grew up listening to Disney songs and John Williams soundtracks. If I did a traditional Top Ten list, I was going to end up with a list of Spielberg movies. I think I found a good happy medium by limiting myself to one score for each composer.
Entries are unranked and presented in no particular order below. Enjoy.
"Conan the Barbarian" by Basil Pouledouris - One of the earliest films I remember seeing was "Conan the Barbarian," and the opening scene with Mako's narration leading into the full "Anvil of Crom" theme remains one of my favorite in all of cinema. With it's use of violent drums, choral pieces, and an operatic scope, the "Conan" score remains my favorite for any fantasy movie. And it's a rare 80s score that still doesn't sound remotely dated.
"The Pink Panther" by Henry Mancini" - There's such playfulness and charm to Mancini's work, and it's perfect for the "Pink Panther" film series about bumbling thieves and detectives. The success of the eponymous cartoon character, originally a silent pantomimer, owes so much to the jazzy music, which helped to define his attitude and cool charisma. My favorite version of theme is the expanded, big band version from "Return of the Pink Panther."
"E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial" by John Williams - There were an overwhelming number of options, and I nearly went with Williams' score for "Hook." However, if I'm being honest, there's nothing that captures the excitement and innocence of those old Spielberg adventure films like the "E.T." theme. It's not only the perfect music for nighttime flying, but about as perfect an encapsulation of giddy childhood wonder as you could ever wish for.
"Cinema Paradiso" by Ennio Morricone - Again, I had far too many good choices for Morricone, and was very certain I was going to pick something from the "Dollars" trilogy. Then I remembered he had also composed the heartbreaking score for "Cinema Paradiso," which has one of my absolute favorite scenes in all of cinema. And that scene wouldn't be a tenth as effective without the score. So there was no way that I could leave it off the list.
"Psycho" by Bernard Hermann" - Hitchcock was loathe to have music in many of his scenes of suspense, but the effectiveness of Bernard Hermann's "Psycho" score could not be denied. To this day, it's impossible for me to think of the shower scene without those screaming strings, or the final shots of the movie without those accompanying harsh, final notes. Hitchcock would later claim "33% of the effect of 'Psycho' was due to the music."
"8 ½" by Nino Rota - He's best known for "The Godfather," but the Rota piece I can't get out of my mind is from the finale of Federico Fellini's "8 ½." After juggling multiple musical styles and forms throughout the film, here at last was the riotous circus music appropriate for a fully "Felliniesque" Fellini movie, a joyous celebration of love and life. And even after the majority of the players have left the stage, the music continues on, into the night.
"Edward Scissorhands" by Danny Elfman - The Gothic groaning, the manic violin solo, and those transcendent choral pieces all help to make the disparate parts of "Edward Scissorhands" fit together into one lovely whole. The film is a fractured fairy-tale, but one with so much soul, reflected by some of Elfman's most beautiful work. Nothing else he's done has ever hit me as hard as "The Snow Dance," the moment our hero finally wins over his love.
"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" by Michel LeGrand - Everyone knows "I Will Wait For You," even if they don't know that they know it. I actually prefer the LeGrand and Jacques Demy musical "Young Girls of Rochefort" of all their collaborations, but the music from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" can't be topped. Whatever language you heard it in, and in whatever context, from "Umbrellas" to "Futurama," the yearning melancholy always comes through.
"Out of Africa" by John Barry - This is one of the few pieces on this list that I was a fan of long before I knew that it came from a movie, and if I'm being honest this is one of the big reasons I bothered to watch the movie at all. The main theme, "I Had a Farm in Africa," is an absolute aural pleasure, a serene and romantic and utterly transporting piece of music. In the end I didn't like the movie much, but the score remains one of my favorites.
"A Clockwork Orange" by Wendy Carlos - I'm not a big fan of electronica music, but there's something so inescapably unique about Wendy Carlos's work for Stanley Kubrick. Her "Clockwork Orange" soundtrack in particular is full of these eerie, mesmerizing pieces that incorporate and transform other musical works into something sinister. I've never heard anything else quite like it, and it stands out as one of the most unique, iconic scores of all time.
Honorable Mentions: Rocky (Bill Conti), Koyaanisqatsi (Philip Glass), Shaft (Isaac Hayes), How the West Was Won (Alfred Newman), Back to the Future (Alan Silvestri), Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken), Deep Red (Goblins), The Silence of the Lambs (Howard Shore), The Piano (Michael Nyman), Glory (James Horner), Doctor Zhivago (Maurice Jarre), The Magnificent Seven (Elmer Bernstein), Princess Mononoke (Joe Hisaishi), The Company of Wolves (George Fenton), West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein), Amelie (Yann Tiersen), Return to Oz (David Shire), The Dark Crystal (Trevor Jones), Sherlock Holmes (Hans Zimmer), The Incredibles (Michael Giacchino), and Under the Skin (Mica Levi)