by Dan Goldwasser
2006 has now come to a close. This year we saw the unexpected passing of Basil Poledouris and Shirley Walker, and they will be missed. It was a busy year, and now it's time for our annual end-of-the-year event: The Best of 2006. As with any "Best of" listing, undoubtedly some of your personal favorites might not be represented - but this is the Editor's Picks, and you can feel free to chime in with your choices by clicking the User Comments link above. Please note that these lists aren't presented in any specific "ranking" order.
The Fountain (Clint Mansell)
One of the more convoluted films of the year actually boasts an excellent and powerful score by Clint Mansell. Reuniting with Kronos Quartet, Mansell's work is evocative and emotional, and is a great soundtrack to listen to.
The Nativity Story (Mychael Danna)
Mixing ethnic music with Latin lyrics and early Christian music, Mychael Danna take us on a musical journey to the past. Highlights include a tense dramatic cue based on "Carol of the Bells", and his strong theme for Mary even gets an appropriate song treatment towards the end.
The Queen (Alexandre Desplat)
Desplat is constantly churning out interesting work, and The Queen is a delightful thematic score that not only has playful moments, but some strong emotional bits as well. We have yet to hear The Painted Veil, but The Queen is a great album, and one that Desplat should be noted for.
The Good German (Thomas Newman)
Channeling his father (Alfred Newman), Max Steiner, Miklos Rozsa and Franz Waxman, Thomas Newman takes on the Golden Age era of Hollywood. His score is unlike anything he's done previously, but still retains his emotional sensibilities while paying overt homage to the lush sound of Tinsletown's yesteryear. Strong themes, including an elegant love theme, keep the music in your head long after you finish listening to it.
The Da Vinci Code (Hans Zimmer)
Zimmer goes classical, and creates a rather dynamic score that relies on orchestra, choir, and soprano. The highlight track of the disc, "Chevaliers de Sangreal" is evocative and powerful - one of the best tracks of the year.
Lady in the Water (James Newton Howard)
The film was a mess, but James Newton Howard's music for M. Night Shyamalan's bedtime story features some great themes, tender emotional moments, and a kicking dramatic finale track.
All the King's Men (James Horner)
While Apocalypto worked great in the film, All the King's Men is the best Horner album this year. Strong themes, stirring emotion and an overlying darkness permeates the album. It's Horner doing what he's known for, and it's a solid listening experience.
The Black Dahlia (Mark Isham)
Another composer doing what he's known for, Mark Isham performs all the trumpet solos and returns to his jazz roots in Brian De Palma's failed noir murder mystery. Forget the film, the album gives us the most noir since Goldsmith's L.A. Confidential. It has a nice blend of solo themes and underscore pieces, and the melodies will last long after the film has been forgotten.
X-Men: The Last Stand (John Powell)
If I had to pick Powell's best use of music in the film, it would be United 93 hands down - but on CD it just doesn't hold up as a listening experience. With that, Ice Age: The Meltdown and Happy Feet, Powell had a great year - but it's his soundtrack to X-Men: The Last Stand that gets the most time in the CD player. Large orchestra, choir, action, themes and more, it has it all!
The Departed (Howard Shore)
This guitar-heavy effort by Howard Shore allows him to move away from the large orchestral sound of Lord of the Rings and The Aviator. A tango-based main theme nicely complements the songs in the film (not on the score album, of course), but we also get some good tense underscore moments as well.
Pan's Labyrinth (Javier Navarrete)
The lullaby that Navarrete wrote for this score is excellent, and versatile enough to provide different emotional responses depending on the orchestration. There is a strong orchestral fairy tale that plays out over the course of the album, with some exciting percussive moments as well.
Mission: Impossible III (Michael Giacchino)
Giacchino takes Lalo Schifrin's themes, and twists them around in some exciting ways. There's a love theme too, but it only provides some brief moments to catch your breath as this sometimes-overly-lengthy album is filled with some very exciting action. The 112-piece orchestra plays hard, and your adrenaline will be pumping after you listen to the album.
The Promise (Klaus Badelt)
A strong orchestral effort by Badelt, who has been doing too much electronic work lately, features Asian themes, choir, vocals and percussion. It's an epic score, with ethnic instruments and influences, and worth noting if you haven't checked it out.
Stranger than Fiction
With some great songs by Spoon - the lead singer of which even co-wrote the score - this compilation album works well in the film. It's a good mix of indie rock, and the song "The Book I Write" is definitely a highlight.
Little Miss Sunshine
Modern folk band DeVotchKa collaborated with composer Mychael Danna to create one interesting soundtrack. Mainly songs, with some score, the album has a very enjoyable acoustic sensibility that leads up to the hilarious climax of the film: Rick James' "Superfreak".
The big musical of 2006 boasts solid singing performances from everyone, including Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles and Eddie Murphy. But it's American Idol star Jennifer Hudson who steals the show, and the variety of music on the album (ranging from straight-up-Broadway to James Brown styled soul) will keep your toes tapping.
The History Boys
This soundtrack features a few vocal songs from the film itself, but overall it's a nice well rounded selection of early 80's alternative rock.
Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man
The famed songwriter gets respect on this soundtrack to the documentary about his work. Featuring some big artists, like U2, Rufus Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, Nick Cave and more, this tribute album to a great songwriter is sincere and heartfelt and very enjoyable.
"Still" - Over the Hedge
This moving song is written and performed by Ben Folds. It works great in conveying the emotional story of the film, and is thought provoking and melancholy.
"Kyrie for the Magdalene" - The Da Vinci Code
It's not eligible for an Oscar for some reason, but technically this is a song written by Richard Harvey for the film. It's liturgical music, lush and classical with a strong choir and female solo. I don't know what they're saying exactly, but it's certainly emotional.
"You Know My Name" - Casino Royale
James Bond gets a modern update in the film, and appropriately a modern song. It's performed by Chris Cornell, who also wrote it along with Bond composer David Arnold. The result is a fresh sound, with some classic Bond elements that might take people some getting used to, but it's a knock-out track in my book. (Note: it's not on the score album, and only available as a "CD single".)
"Listen" - Dreamgirls
Henry Krieger, who wrote the original Broadway show, wrote some new songs for the film adaptation of Dreamgirls. Jennifer Hudson is a knockout with the upbeat "Love You I Do", but it's Beyonce Knowles' performance in "Listen" that packs an emotional punch.
"Our Town" - Cars
It's rare that Randy Newman doesn't sing his own material, but the song "Our Town" that he wrote for Cars is perfect as sung by the legendary James Taylor. It's touching and wonderfully performed.
Lost: Season One (Michael Giacchino)
This album whisks us away to that remote island in the Pacific, and doesn't let go. Strongly thematic, at times emotional and other times frightening, Giacchino is writing some excellent music for television, and this disc, featuring music from the first season of "Lost", is a great listen.
Battlestar Galactica: Season Two (Bear McCreary)
McCreary's work on the hit sci-fi series revival of "Battlestar Galactica" is more than percussion and ethnic instruments. Recurring themes and motifs build on top of each other to create an exciting and moving album.
Doctor Who (Murray Gold)
This is not your father's "Doctor Who", and Gold takes us on a musical adventure with the time-traveling doctor with a few original songs, and an exciting electronic/orchestral blend that should have David Arnold fans take note.
Scrubs, Vol. Two (Various Artists)
This seemingly eclectic selection of songs is anything but random, as fans of "Scrubs" will tell you. It's an iTunes exclusive, but it's a solid collection of indie rock, and a nice souvenir of the musical sound of the show.
24: Seasons Four and Five (Sean Callery)
As we approach the new season, "24" finally gets another soundtrack release, with energetic and sometimes introspective music from the last two seasons of the show. There are also a few tracks from the video game for seasoning, but this album is worth it for the fully orchestral version of the main theme.
CHiPs - Vol. 1: Season Two 1978-79 (Alan Silvestri)
Without a doubt, this is the "guilty pleasure" album of the year. Disco lives again, as Silvestri showcases some punchy brass and string work, as well as some seriously brown grooves.
Farewell to the King (Expanded) (Basil Poledouris)
One of his most sweeping and emotional scores gets the deluxe treatment, with bonus tracks and nicely remastered sound. Definitely pick this up if you don't already have it!
Ghostbusters (Elmer Bernstein)
It's been very long time coming, but finally we get Elmer Bernstein's 1984 score to the classic supernatural comedy, Ghostbusters. It's not complete, but it's still mighty satisfying and the sound quality is superb. Ondes Martineau fans will rejoice with this one!
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - The Complete Recordings (Howard Shore)
Following last year's release of the complete Fellowship of the Ring, this box set takes things a step further with even more material that was not used in the film. It's a wealth of material and the inclusion of the DVD-Audio for an immersive surround sound experience is definitely enjoyable.
Tom and Jerry & Tex Avery Too! - Vol. 1: The 1950s (Scott Bradley)
This two disc set contains only a smattering of Bradley's work, but it's still an amazing wealth of material. Some of the tracks are in stereo, making it even more delicious, and the very informative liner notes document Bradley's historically important musical contributions. Knowing that more is on the way is even more exciting!
Amazing Stories: Anthology One / Anthology Two (Various Artists)
Intrada has somehow managed to dig into the Universal vaults and pulled out some great early material by some of Hollywood's biggest composers. Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, Bruce Broughton - they're all here (and more), and it's great to listen to see how they've changed and grown.
Lifeforce (Expanded) (Henry Mancini)
This deluxe edition release contains not only Mancini's complete score for this sci-fi film, but also includes a young Michael Kamen's contribution of "additional music". Top it off with the original album recording, and it's about as complete a release as you can expect!
Elmer Bernstein's Film Music Collection (Various Composers)
This monumental 12-CD release includes not only everything Bernstein recorded for his Film Music Collection back in the 1970s, but also includes a newly produced recording of his score to Kings of the Sun. Classic Golden Age composers like Rozsa, Steiner, Herrmann, Waxman and Bernstein himself are all represented here. It's truly a must-have primer for the best of Hollywood scores.
Tombstone (Expanded) (Bruce Broughton)
Bruce Broughton's excellent Western score gets the deluxe 2-disc treatment, including source cues and informative liner notes. With a score as strong as this, we still have to wonder why Broughton never seemed to get the projects he so obviously deserves, but pick this up and relish it for the great work it is.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (John Williams)
One of John Williams' earlier film scores gets the best presentation possible. It's a musical, and so we're given the original film tracks, underscore, alternates, demos, interviews, album recordings, and more. It's three solid discs of music, and we can only wish that other scores would be treated with such respect.
True Grit (Elmer Bernstein)
Elmer Bernstein's score to 1969's True Grit gets an excellent re-recording produced by Tadlow Music. It's a classic Bernstein Western score that is a bit darker than some of his others. The inclusion of some bonus suites from other Bernstein Westerns is a nice touch too.
Film Music Masterworks: Ennio Morricone
The City of Prague Philharmonic does a nice job representing some of Morricone's best works on this disc. The highlight is the Henry Mancini arrangement of The Untouchables. It's a great Morricone primer, and while far from complete, it's very well done.
Serenada Schizophrana (Danny Elfman)
It's not a film score, but Elfman's first commissioned concert work gets a stellar recording conducted by John Mauceri and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony. Eight tracks of pure Elfman gold, and it's even provided as an SACD-Hybrid allowing those few with the right hardware to enjoy it in high resolution multi-channel surround sound.
Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most (Alf Clausen)
Best known for his work on "The Simpsons", Clausen showcases his other love: big band music. This swingin' album starts off with kick, and doesn't end until over an hour later. Stylish and jazzy, this is some of Clausen's best work, and his love of the musical idiom shines.
Mighty Joe Young (and other Ray Harryhausen animation classics) (Various Artists)
Monstrous Movie Music does an excellent job recreating some vintage B-movie horror scores. This volume focuses on some stop-motion classics like Mighty Joe Young, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The Animal World, and while the cues are sometimes extremely short, with compositions by composers as Max Steiner, Paul Sawtell and Roy Webb, it's nice that these overlooked scores are getting the treatment they so rightfully deserve.
Call of Duty 3 (Joel Goldsmith)
Joel Goldsmith pays tribute to his father with a main title that is full of classic Jerry Goldsmith nods, as well as some Poledouris-esque string writing. It's powerful and enjoyable, and the music helps propel the game forward with exciting momentum.
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Combined Assault (James Dooley)
Dooley provides an orchestral and choir-heavy score that has large patriotic beats as well as plenty of tense action. It contains strong themes with recurring motifs and makes the gameplay tense and riveting.
Prey (Jeremy Soule)
This synth score sounds orchestral, and with a variety of themes - both heroic, action-based, and romantic - it's a well rounded album split up over two volumes. "Splitting the Arrow" is a highlight track, and while it's available as a digital download only from DirectSong, it's well worth checking out.
BLACK (Chris Tilton)
Featuring a main theme co-composed by Tilton and Michael Giacchino, BLACK features some exciting orchestral Williams-esque cues. It's a solid album running about 36-minutes long, and is available as a digital download on iTunes .
SUN: Soul of the Ultimate Nation (Howard Shore)
Shore's first computer game score places him in familiar territory - it's like an alternate reality version of Lord of the Rings! Large brooding moments combined with epic orchestral and choral battle music will give everyone a warm fuzzy who has wished for more of that kind of music from Shore since 2003.
Please note that we had previously listed Christopher Lennertz's game score for From Russia With Love, but it was pointed out that this was a 2005 release, and we were reminded that last year we picked his game score to Gun over that.