This past weekend, the American Film Institute announced their picks for the Top 25 Film Scores. As part of the "100 Years, 100 Movies" celebration, the best scores were picked from a list of 250 nominees, and the top 25 were announced at the Hollywood Bowl during a live concert dedicated to the countdown.
The jury consisted of over 500 leaders of the creative community, including composers, musicians, film artists, critics, and historians. By looking at the list of the 250 nominees, it's clear that the focus was on American films, but as a result, many foreign film scores that one would expect to be up for consideration were missing. (As an example, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was not on the list.)
Conductor John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra - consisting of many Hollywood Studio Symphony session players - started off the evening with the "Star Spangled Banner". Then, a video montage of clips from over 150 movies was shown, edited amazingly well to the overture from How the West Was Won (Alfred Newman). Mauceri then explained that they would be going through the list of the Top 25 Film Scores (which no one in the audience knew in advance), and play music from them as they went. It turns out that #25 was indeed, How the West Was Won.
From there, the list was played out, with Mauceri dropping hints and clues before the orchestra would reveal the piece. As there was a lot of music to go through, they couldn't play full pieces of every score, so for many of them, just the main theme was played, with the title of the film and the composer's credit being shown projected on screens.
They did, however, play scenes from certain films, with dialogue and sound effects. Notable segments included the scene where Jesus gives water to Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur (Miklos Rozsa), the scarecrow/clothing theft/hunt scene from Planet of the Apes (Jerry Goldsmith), and the finale from Sunset Boulevard (Franz Waxman). The technical problem with this approach was made clear with Jaws and Star Wars (John Williams), because the sound effects would overpower the orchestra, leaving us with very little music making its way to our ears.
Aside from the occasional problem of being unable to actually hear the music, it was a very well done concert, and the performances were quite good. As with any "Best of" list, not everyone can be satisfied. Some popular choices were missing, and others raised some eyebrows. But I think that most people can agree that it's a very solid list, and when the AFI announces the remaining 75, we'll get to see where things landed.
The concert did have one encore. As Mauceri himself said, it's a "Top 25" list - so there's not much room for one! However, they did play the #1 Film Song (as picked by the AFI in their "100 Years, 100 Songs" listing): "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. In this situation, it seemed like the orchestra was just playing along to the original recording, which made their actual contribution kind of hard to hear. Still, it was a fine concert and most people seemed to be pleased with the outcome.
The full list of the AFI Top 25 Film Scores follows:
25. How the West Was Won (Newman)
24. On Golden Pond (Grusin)
23. The Mission (Morricone)
22. On the Waterfront (Bernstein, L.)
21. Ben Hur (Rozsa)
20. Pink Panther (Mancini)
19. Streetcar Named Desire (North)
18. Planet of the Apes (Goldsmith)
17. To Kill A Mockingbird (Bernstein, E.)
16. Sunset Boulevard (Waxman)
15. Out of Africa (Barry)
14. E.T. (Williams)
13. King Kong (Steiner)
12. Vertigo (Herrmann)
11. Adventures of Robin Hood (Korngold)
10. High Noon (Tiomkin)
9. Chinatown (Goldsmith)
8. Magnificent Seven (Bernstein, E.)
7. Laura (Raksin)
6. Jaws (Williams)
5. Godfather (Rota)
4. Psycho (Herrmann)
3. Lawrence of Arabia (Jarre)
2. Gone With The Wind (Steiner)
1. Star Wars (Williams)
For more information, check out the American Film Institute's website.
Special thanks to Matt Velasco at the Hollywood Bowl Press Office