[Article - The Best of 2003]

Well, it's that time of the year again, and so here are my picks for the Best of 2003.  It should be noted that this list is only based on soundtracks I've heard - there are some out there (Cold Mountain, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Peter Pan) that I just don't have - and could not consider when compiling this list.  So, keeping that in mind, here we go!

Top 10 Soundtracks of 2003

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Howard Shore)
The album is a seriously condensed version of this wonderful score, so it works better having seen the film, but this is a great score that wraps up the two films before it.  A must have, and if you're going for the Limited Edition, the bonus DVD has a great 20-minute long documentary about Shore and his work.

The Matrix Reloaded / The Matrix Revolutions (Don Davis)
I'm listing these both as one, since the two films really only work when seen together as one long film.  Davis has pulled out all the stops here, and his collaborative cues with Juno Reactor give an edgy kick to the score.  In Revolutions, the "Neodammerung" track is so epic and powerful, it simply must be heard.

X2 (John Ottman)
He didn't get to score the first X-Men film, but composer/editor John Ottman composes a very strong lietmotivic score, while still honoring Michael Kamen's work on the first film.  With plenty of action, drama, and even romance, this score has it all - and while there are some great cues in the film missing from the CD, it's still a great soundtrack.

The Last Samurai (Hans Zimmer)
While the film was highly entertaining (but a tad formulaic), it was the score by Hans Zimmer that really stood out as high quality work.  Weaving an emotional theme throughout, and imbuing his score with ethnic percussion and woodwinds, there is a sense of honor and tradition that works well here.  As a soundtrack, it plays very well, and is one of Zimmer's best scores since Black Hawk Down.

Big Fish (Danny Elfman)
Tim Burton's latest film takes us along a journey of one man's slightly exaggerated life, and Elfman's score helps add the emotional undertone that I found to be somewhat lacking in the film.  As the soundtrack progresses, we take a journey through different musical styles from Elfman's past.  With this and the rather interesting and complex Hulk in 2003, Elfman might be reaching a new milestone in his film scoring - and we'll see where he goes with it in 2004.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (Harry Gregson-Williams)
This swashbuckling adventure score to this not-quite-successful animated film is actually quite exciting and a great album to listen to.  Gregson-Williams trades the electronics he used in Spy Game and Phonebooth to deliver an orchestral romp through legend.  The "Sirens" cue is especially delicious, using sensual female vocals that lure and tease us.  It has a memorable theme, and if you missed this one in the theaters, it's certainly worth a rental.

Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (Various Artists)
It's not that I necessarily need to pick one song album to shake things up; it's just that this album is incredibly well put together!  Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to assemble such an eclectic collection of music that takes us from Bernard Herrmann to Isaac Hayes - without feeling out of place.  With some dialogue and sound effects tossed in, as well as some exclusive multimedia content, this is a very well put together album.

Matchstick Men (Hans Zimmer)
Zimmer gets on the list twice?  What gives?  Well, I suppose I should point out that Nino Rota is credited with some of the themes, but Matchstick Men is a very enjoyable album.  Quirky and a little offbeat, much like Nicolas Cage's character in the film, this score works nicely amidst the few songs on the album, and you might find - as I did - that the disc stays in your player much longer than anticipated.

Finding Nemo (Thomas Newman)
In a rather unusual switch, Thomas - not Randy - Newman scored a Pixar animated film.  As a result, Finding Nemo took on a more dramatic edge, with the humor not coming from the music, but appropriately, the voices.  We do, however, get to hear Newman's take on surfing music, and emotionally the score works better after seeing the film, which is excellent, as expected.

Seabiscuit (Randy Newman)
Randy Newman re-teamed with Pleasantville director Gary Ross to score this inspirational film about a jockey and a horse who few people believed in.  Unfortunately, there was some behind-the-scenes clashes, and Newman wasn't happy with the final result.  But the soundtrack represents the bulk of his work, and it's quite good - a bit of The Natural and Pleasantville pop in from time to time, and the nostalgic feeling makes this a comforting album to listen to.

Two Quick Noteworthy Unreleased Scores

Bubba Ho-Tep (Brian Tyler)
Forget Children of Dune.  Forget Timeline.  The best Brian Tyler score of the year is Bubba Ho-Tep.  Yeah, there's no orchestra, and Tyler is playing most of the instruments himself.  But this rockin' score is such a fun romp that it's a crime it didn't get a wide release.  (Word is that there is a limited edition promo, or something, but we haven't gotten one!)

Agent Cody Banks (John Powell)
Not only does Powell deliver a big action score with plenty of groovy spy motifs for Agent Cody Banks, but he even surprised the heck out of me with a climactic action cue that sounded like it belonged in an Errol Flynn swashbuckling film!  Who else but Powell would use the kazoo in a dramatic CIA march?  A shame this never got a full release; the score was a real blast in the film, and stuck with me for most of the year.

Top 5 Songs of 2003

"A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" - A Mighty Wind
Helping provide the emotional backbone to this comedic mock-umentary, this touching love song describes hope and belief in love.  Performed by Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, this heartwarming duet was not the only song they sang, but it was the one that had the most weight.  It has a classic love song feeling to it, and that makes it one of the memorable songs of 2003.

"Into the West" - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
This latest end title song for the final Lord of the Rings film features Annie Lennox, whose last great film song was about a decade ago, with "Love Song for a Vampire" from Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Thematically consistent with the score, and with lyrics by the screenwriters, this emotional capper to the trilogy will push you over the edge into tears - unless the last 20 minutes of the film have already done that.

"One More Day" / "Bad News" - Veronica Guerin
The first song, "One More Day", is powerful, stirring song performed by Sinead O'Connor and uses Harry Gregson-Williams' theme from the film.  Full of hope (for an otherwise downer of a movie), this song is drastically contrasted by the emotionally wrenching "Bad News" performed by Brian O'Donnell.

"A Mighty Wind" - A Mighty Wind
As an ensemble cast, this film was excellent, and this title song is performed at the end of the film by all of the actors.  Upbeat and fun, it's a knee-slapping, hand-clapping tune with a double entendre at the end that made me spit out my drink.  Gotta love those guys!

"Man Of The Hour" - Big Fish
In Big Fish, Ed Bloom (Ewan McGregor / Albert Finney) leaves a lasting influence on those around him throughout his life.  With "Man of the Hour", Pearl Jam's new song for the film talks about a man who is at the center of things at the end of his life.  It fits within the film, and is somber and moving in a contemporary way.

Top 10 Special Releases / Re-Recordings of 2003

The James Bond Soundtrack Remasters (Various Composers)
Sixteen albums, all remastered, some with never-before-released content.  And all James Bond.  What could be cooler than that?  It'll set you back a pretty penny to get them all, but they're worth it!

Predator (Alan Silvestri)
Two bootlegs, and then finally this soundtrack gets the release it deserves.  With significantly improved sound, this album puts you in the jungle and allows you to experience Silvestri's powerful score in all of its glory.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann, Cond. Joel McNeely)
This re-recording of Bernard Herrmann's seminal science fiction score might not have the most accurate theremin performance when compared to the original, but the sound is great, and McNeely is one of the best at interpreting Herrmann's work.  Definitely a must-have!

The Robe (Alfred Newman)
This two-disc set provides us with the complete score to Alfred Newman's biblical epic, and boy is it a great one.  Kudos to Varese Sarabande and Nick Redman for digging into the Fox archives to release this one.  It's not an album you realized you needed until you got it - and then you can't imagine how you lived without it!

The Thin Blue Line (Philip Glass)
Considered a pivotal work by Philip Glass, this special release of The Thin Blue Line features remastered sound, and while it might only appeal to Glass fans, it's worth taking a risk on.

Bernard Herrmann: The CBS Years Vol 1: The Westerns / Vol 2: American Gothic (Bernard Herrmann)
Prometheus Records is digging into the archives, and pulling out some rare Bernard Herrmann television material.  Already we have two (yes, two!) volumes of music - and all at the end of the year.  If they keep this up, we're going to go broke - but a lot of this material is gold!

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Vol 2 (Various Composers)
Following up the excellent compilation from last year, Film Score Monthly releases more music from "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." with a smashing two-disc set.  Sound quality isn't the best, given the age of the source, but ultimately it's about the music, and with cues from Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, Gerald Fried, and others, it's a winner.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (Erich Korngold, Cond. William Stromberg)
William Stromberg and John Morgan have become legends in the score restoration and reconstruction business. While we hear rumors that their run at Marco Polo is coming to an end, they're certainly going out as good as they've ever been. Korngold's swashbuckling classic score to The Adventures of Robin Hood has never sounded this good, and all film score aficionados should take note.

Hawaii (Elmer Bernstein)
Varese Sarabande, as part of their Club releases, dug into the MGM archives and pulled out a wonderful two-disc set of Berstein's score to Hawaii.  Not only is the original score presented to us, but we also get the album re-recording release as well.  It's over 2 hours of classic Bernstein, and a much requested release.

The Dark Crystal (Trevor Jones)
This album could have been better, had the composer been more co-operative with the release.  However, that doesn't make the album any less noteworthy, and this two-disc release of The Dark Crystal features nearly all of the score from optical elements, and the original digital album release as well.  While Jones's score is by no means a masterpiece, it's a cult favorite, and if you're able to get your hands on this one, it's bound to be a collectible.

Top Computer Game Soundtracks

Secret Weapons Over Normandy (Michael Giacchino)
Had this been a film score, it would have easily made our Top 10 list above.  But instead, it's for a computer game.  Giacchino once again blows the lid off of the computer game music industry with this powerful, heroic, energetic score that everyone really needs to have.  A two-disc set, with bonus cues and exclusive multimedia content, La-La Land Records is starting to put out some seriously quality releases - take note!

Primal (Bob & Barn)
Silva released the score to this computer game, and it surprised me.  Big action, choral cues (always a personal favorite) and a solid length.  This album is filled with good themes, and you should certainly consider giving it a whirl.

Medal of Honor Rising Sun (Christopher Lennertz)
Taking over from Michael Giacchino is Saint-Sinner composer Christopher Lennertz, and now the game takes us to the Pacific theater.  Japanese influences are presented, but Lennertz firmly grounds the score in the musical world that Giacchino created, while lending his own personal flavors.  A very solid effort, and a must-have for Medal of Honor fans. Available as a promo only for now, a score album is expected to be released early in 2004.

Enter the Matrix (Erik Lundborg)
Unfortunately not released officially, but available as a promo soundtrack, Lundborg took Don Davis's music material from the various Matrix projects, and created a new soundtrack that supplements it, and fits snugly into the world of The Matrix.  If you can get your hands on this one, consider yourself lucky!

He passed long before his time, and he was a special friend to SoundtrackNet - he was even our first composer interview back in 1998.  So, it is with great sadness that we present to you, for your consideration:

Top 10 "Must-Have" Michael Kamen Scores

  1. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
  2. Lethal Weapon
  3. Brazil
  4. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
  5. Die Hard
  6. Mr. Holland's Opus
  7. The Dead Zone
  8. Iron Giant
  9. Don Juan DeMarco
  10. Event Horizon