So tonight is the 90th Academy Awards and with all the attention being on who’ll win the acting gongs and the best film and director Oscars I thought I’d take a look at another award; that being the award for best film score. In this years awards there are a couple of very interesting nominations with for me, the two front runners being Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread and my favourite, Hans Zimmer, for his fantastic work on Christopher Nolan’s wartime masterpiece, Dunkirk. Zimmer has consistently created atmospheric work, and this is in the same form; the limited dialogue left him with the role of telling the story which he does by splitting the work into three pieces, land, sea and air. Influenced by Elgar the work is a sumptuous piece of movie telling to rank with some of the very best there have been.
And here are ten more great movie soundtracks starting with another by Hans Zimmer.
Gladiator – Hans Zimmer with Lisa Gerrard
An epic film requires an epic score and for Ridley Scott’s immense 2000 Gladiator Zimmer and Gerrard provided just that. Whilst not overwhelming the action or overshadowing the quieter moments this soundtrack has set the template for historical and fantasy films and tv series with its influence being seen in such works as Game of Thrones.
Lawrence of Arabia – Maurice Jarre
David Lean’s 1962 film about the life of T.E.Lawrence featured the most amazing technicolour landscapes of the Arabian desert which were enhanced by both Peter O’Toole’s amazing performance and piercing blue eyes as well as Jarre’s soundtrack that soared to create a sense of space and heroic loneliness.
Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence – Ryiuchi Sakamoto
From probably my favourite war film of all time (and certainly in my top ten of all time), the film, starring Tom Conti, David Bowie and Ryiuchi Sakamoto who composed the theme, is based on the experiences of Sir Laurens Van Der Post as a prisoner of war during the Second World War. The haunting theme by electro-synth pioneer, Sakamoto, has led him to more film score work including the Last Emperor in 1987 and 2015’s The Revenant.
Chariots of Fire – Vangelis
Colin Welland’s story, produced by David Puttnam and directed by Hugh Hudson, of the rivalry between the religiously devout Scotsman, Eric Liddell and persecuted Jew, Harold Abrahams at the 1924 Olympics was scored by Greek Electro-prog veteran Vangelis. The main theme has gone on to soundtrack inspirational moments in sporting history mainly on the back of the famous beach race scene from the film.
The Magnificent Seven – Elmer Bernstein
Often the work of Ennio Morricone’s work on films such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is said to be the high benchmark in western films, but for me Bernstein’s score for John Sturges 1960 classic is the one by which all others should be marked. The soundtrack expands into the wide open spaces of the wild, wild west whilst adding to the magnificence of the seven gunslingers.
Midnight Cowboy – John Barry
When talking about film scores you really cannot mention John Barry. In a career lasting 60 years Barry has been responsible for some of the most iconic film scores. The 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy, starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, was one many years ahead of its time as was Barry’s lilting and evocative theme, later covered brilliantly by Faith No More.
Jaws – John Williams
And if you can’t not mention John Barry, John Williams is in the same league. The go to composer for the likes of George Lucas and Steven Speilberg, Williams has had a career that has included some of the most iconic movies of the last 50 years. For sheer foreboding and horror his theme for Speilberg’s Jaws takes some beating.
The Deerhunter – Stanley Myers
As performed by classical guitarist, John Williams (no relation to above), Cavatina, from Michael Cimono’s Vietnam War film, The Deerhunter, is a virtuoso piece of music that fits so perfectly with the story of the lives of three soldiers falling apart as they return to an uncertain future in their American homeland.
The Dambusters – Eric Coates
In the immediate years after the Second World War films were made, often telling the story of heroic deeds against Nazi Germany, that required great heroic scores. Michael Anderson’s 1955 film about the exploits of Squadron Leader Guy Gibson VC and the 617 Squadron of the RAF in bombing the dams of the Ruhr valley with Arthur Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb, certainly got that with Eric Coates’ march that has become as synonymous with the film and the actual action.
Local Hero – Mark Knopfler
As popular musicians started creating concept albums many of them became interested, and were actively sought, to turn their hands to film scores. In the early 1980’s Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, was one of the biggest musicians in the world and was asked to score Bill Forsyths film about an American oil representative trying to buy up a Scottish town. The Local Hero theme is a brilliant piece of work allowing Knopfler to show off both his composing and guitar playing skills.