Music Muse Awards 2012

Well 2012 has long come to an end and the world is still standing, giving listeners plenty of time to catch up with the scores 2012 had to offer. It was a year full of promising projects, ripe with great expectations. And yet, looking back, it’s hard to say that the year lived up to expectations. There were certainly stellar moments in parts, but ultimately, aside from The Hobbit (which in itself didn’t please everyone), there were no real stunners. Deciding on a final top 10 turned out to be an incredibly difficult task. It was hard to rank scores over the other simply because none of them warranted that kind of enthusiasm. Coming straight from the admirable strength of 2011’s out, 2012 ended up a disappointment. Having said that, there is still plenty to remember fondly. Let’s take a look back at the year when it was all supposed to end.

Top 10 of the Year

1)      The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Howard Shore)

From day 1, it looked like Howard Shore’s highly anticipated return to Middle-Earth would be topping everyone’s lists by the end of the year. That more or less has to come to be true, but not  without some reservations. It is a step down from Shore’s original magnum opus (reasonable considering the source material) and its treatment in film has left several heads scratching since its release. But it keeps the crowning spot regardless. It’s wonderful to have the familiar sounds we heard 10 years ago, wash over us in new forms and vessels. The same riveting soundscape with new themes interspersed with Shore’s knack for thematic complexity. And it really is as a whole the most engaging score of 2012. This new foray into Tolkien’s universe successfully leaves us wanting more for next year.

2)      Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Andrew Lockington)

What’s so impressive about Lockington’s Journey 2 is how much he expands the sound of its predecessor. By themes, the orchestrations and the scale in itself is pushed towards new directions to offer a thrilling swashbuckling adventure. Strangely enough, I’ve been rather hesitant to place this score so high up the list. There’s something lacking in the thematic writing and other portions that prevents me as a listener from returning to this score too often. But when compared to the rest of 2012, you can’t help but smile at the merits of Lockington’s score. May he continue to push his career forwards with success.

3)      For Greater Glory (James Horner)

CUE THE DANGER MOTIF! Yes, this score rips pages directly from The Four Feathers, Avatar, The Missing and Braveheart, but if you can find peace with Horner’s self-borrowing, then you can’t help but begin to marvel at how everything is pieced together. It may not be the most original score out there, but it is one of the most emotionally engaging works of the year. Being one of the most replayed scores of 2012 in my book, I can’t help but rank it above the scores listed below.

4)      The Amazing Spider-man (James Horner)

One of the most refreshing superhero scores in the last couple of years, which is ironic, coming from Horner and his other score on this list. Horner creatively painted the perfect atmosphere for the Spider-man film. This score shows off Horner’s keen ability to integrate electronics and is surprisingly original by Horner standards.

5)      Lincoln (John Williams)

It’s a simple score that may not have the flashy extravagance of its peers, but it permeates genuine craftsmanship. Williams’ pastoral, hymn-like setting for the score exuberates a sense of great care for the music written. The themes are incredibly poignant and there are many moving cues in the score. Everything is written with a purpose and despite all its subtleties, it’s all very carefully crafted. Williams does it again.

6)      John Carter (Michael Giacchino)

John Carter is the product of the evolution and maturation of Giacchino’s stylistic devices. It’s all packaged into a great adventure score, one that offers plenty of highlights. It would be nice to hear Giacchino branch out a little from the harmonic progressions of Lost, but that doesn’t change the fact this is quite the score.

7)      Life of Pi (Mychael Danna)

Mychael Danna is certainly one of the most intelligent, dedicated and perhaps underappreciated composers in the industry. Life of Pi is yet another wonderful feat in his oeuvre. Danna claimed that he originally had a more musically complex approach in mind for the film, but with Ang Lee’s support decided to simplify things a bit. The result is quite wonderful. Mychael Danna shows off here his keen ears for ethnic colours and heartfelt themes. It may not impress everyone with its subtelty, but it is a beautiful work regardless.

8)      Rise of the Guardians (Alexandre Desplat)

One of Desplat’s most fun and engaging scores. It’s not perfect and in many portions it sounds like Desplat trying to imitate other composers. But it ultimately comes off as an entertaining score. Fanfares and all, it’s good fun.

9)      Metsän Tarina (Panu Aaltio)

Nature documentaries seem to have a knack for inspiring great music from composers. Metsän Tarina is simply another example of such. It balances the playful and the introspective into a rather beautiful score. Panu Aaltio’s work does lack the grandeur of George Fenton’s work for the genre, and the score is not nearly as riveting as Kolja Erdmann’s score for Russland was last year, but for what it is, it’s rather enjoyable.

10)   Anna Karenina (Dario Marianelli)

Some may be disappointed to find that Marianelli’s didn’t employ as lush a sound as he employed in past period pieces like Jane Eyre. But there is great merit how the composer works with various Slavonic instruments and chamber ensembles.


11)   Conquest 1453 (Benjamin Wallfisch)

Benjamin Wallfisch is a composer to look out for. Much of his career has been known for his conducting work and his role as Dario Marienalli’s orchestrator. But his few scores showcases his compositional talents. Conquest 1453 has lovely echoes of Marianelli’s massive sound for Agora and is quite engaging. It’s a shame that the colourful orchestrations are often marred by distasteful electronics. If not for that and the slight RC-esque vibe it had going at times, this would definitely have made the top 10. Regardless, it comes fully recommended.

12)   Frankenweenie (Danny Elfman)

Rather derivative of Elfman’s past works (the Batman traces will certainly irritate some) and doesn’t add much to his career, but it has a great deal of heart to be expected from a score like this. It’s nice to just sit and enjoy Elfman’s oohing choirs and sentimental themes.

Notable Works: (in no particular order)

Priceless (Naoki Sato)

Tsunagu (Naoki Sato)

Miel de Naranjas (Nuno Malo)

Mirror, Mirror (Alan Menken)

Dark Shadows (Danny Elfman)

Journey (Austin Wintory)

Dans La Maison  (Philippe Rombi)

Wreck It Ralph (Henry Jackman)

Skyfall (Thomas Newman)

Lo Imposible (Fernando Velázquez)

Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2 (Carter Burwell)


Composer of the Year

1)      Danny Elfman

His scores may not have made the top 10 list, but boy it’s been a prolific year for Mr. Elfman! He’s scored no less than 6 scores this year, and many of them being very competent works. Elfman succeeds where Desplat doesn’t fare too well (whose score about 8 films this year) as he takes many projects but strives to maintain quality. Dark Shadows, Frankenweenie, Hitchock and Men in Black III are all engaging works. And while he hasn’t produced any top shelf material for his career this year, his consistent output in such a busy year is quite impressive.

2)      Naoki Sato

Sato has been rather productive this year as well, although many of his 2012 scores are not likely to be heard. But if the two scores that are available to the mainstream are any indication, then I believe it’s safe to assume he’s been doing quite well. Priceless, while a bit over-the-top, is a ridiculously engaging work. And the more lightweight alternative, Tsunagu, has pleasant material to offer. Sato continues to impress with his output over the years.

3)      James Horner

He may not have been as prolific as the previous two on the list, but his two 2012 entries are damn great scores. The Amazing Spider-man was a hopeful sign of Horner spreading his wings a bit and For Greater Glory, despite its lack or originality, was very entertaining. 2012 came to show me that despite all his faults, the world of film music would be a rather sad place without Horner around.

4)      Andrew Lockington

Just one score from him, but what a score it was! Journey 2 shows off Lockington’s growth as a composer. The composer’s residence with the natives of Papa New Guinea just goes to show his dedication to his trade. Here’s to hoping his career lifts off soon!


Themes of the Year

1)      Main Theme (Lo Imposible)

It’s a gorgeous melody; it’s as simple as that. Written in the vein of Ennio Morricone’s classic tear-jerking themes, Velázquez beautifully renders this theme to appropriately reflect the tragedy of the Boxing Day Tsunami. It’s a shame the rest of the score is rather conservative and doesn’t amount to much, but that takes nothing away from this feat.

2)      Bilbo’s Theme (The Hobbit)

I’m sure many will prefer the Misty Mountains Theme (which really is a great theme), but I prefer the sweeter tones of Bilbo’s Theme. Carefully constructed around the pitches of the Shire Theme, the theme brings both nostalgia and excitement for the possibilities ahead.

3)      With Malice Towards None (Lincoln)

It’s a simple but lyrical tune written in the vein of folk music. It both appropriately reflects the time period and the character. Like many of the themes in the score, I found myself attracted to the hymn-like setting of the melody and found its solo violin performances particularly endearing.

4)      Main Theme (Miel de Naranjas)

The theme can be heard in “La Era de la Oscuridad”.  Graced with a beautiful performance by cellist Tina Guo, the melancholic melody has a certain attractive longing to it. Dark, poignant and beautiful.

5)      Spider-man Theme (James Horner)

Peter Parker’s duality is addressed by two themes, one for his superhero character and the other for his own personal human journey. The former is a bold and surprisingly old-school musical idea, which is what makes it one of the most enjoyable themes of the year.


Surprises of the Year

1)      The Amazing Spider-man (James Horner)

I’ve used the word “refreshing” many times to describe this score and for good reason. Not only is it refreshing to hear in the superhero film genre, but in Horner’s career, especially at this time. When every score he produces is either a regurgitation of an 80s classic of his or heavily dependent on the danger motif, you can imagine my surprise to hear what is a relatively original score, and a good one at that! Both a surprise and a breath of fresh air!

2)      Skyfall (Thomas Newman)

Fans were at a rage when Newman was announced to replace David Arnold in the Bond franchise. Scores like the Adjustment Bureau told us Newman was not the best with the action/thriller genre. But with Skyfall, he proved that he certainly had the chops to produce some cool action material. Skyfall despite its flaws, turned out to be a solid entertaining score and very effective in context.

3)      Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2 (Carter Burwell)

Not so much a surprise considering Burwell already showed that he was willing to move past his conservative approach to Twilight and accept a more orchestral fantasy angle to scoring these films in Breaking Dawn Part 1. It’s just that everything is a lot bigger here in scale. Full with larger orchestral writing and choral accompaniment, the score is an entertaining one. Not to mention Burwell’s decision to pay thematic homage to the contributions of Alexandre Desplat and Howard Shore in “Twilight Overture” is one of the best film music moments of the year!

4)      Priceless (Naoki Sato)

For what seemed like a typical Japanese comedic television show, Sato delivered an incredibly dramatic and even over-the-top tv series. I’d be quite curious to see how it works in context, but as stand-alone music, it’s great stuff.

5)      Metsän Tarina (Panu Aaltio)

Foreign composers often come up with surprise entries each year. Finnish Panu Aaltio is no exception with his vibrant and diverse score for the nature documentary Metsän Tarina. I will certainly be on the lookout for this composer’s work.


Disappointments of the Year

1)      Wrath of the Titans (Javier Navarette)

The idea of Javier Navarette scoring a big Greek epic was huge on fans’ mind. Unfortunately, the talented composer was asked by the producers to adjust his style to befit modern Hollywood blockbuster trends, aka Zimmer style. The result produced an average score with an adequate theme and some pleasant moments, but was awfully disappointing.

2)      Snow White and the Huntsman (James Newton Howard)

Howard had several promising projects this year and they all ended up disappointing on some level. The greatest of these disappointments is Snow White, which is little more than features of the composer’s past work loosely stitched together. The result did have some nice material dragged down by some painful synths. If only the composer had channeled the kind of fantasy writing he did in his earlier years, this could have been so much more.

3)      Brave (Patrick Doyle)

The samples for this score promised so much, but what we got in the end was rather underwhelming. The overuse of bagpipes and the weak suspense/action material really bogs the score down. It’s also a shame that the strong themes are also woefully underused and underdeveloped.

4)      The Hunger Games (James Newton Howard)

Again, the concept promised so much from the composer, but the product ended up disappointing. It’s a largely atmospheric work that offers some pleasant harmonic highlights though not enough to warrant revisits throughout the year. The director could be to blame for this, but we can only wait and see where the composers chooses to take the music in the sequels to come.

5)      The Avengers (Alan Silvestri)

The Silvestri of yesteryear hasn’t quite returned in some time. So perhaps expectations should have been tapered for The Avengers. It’s strange that his score for Captain America offered solid entertainment where The Avengers sounds like uninspired, wearisome standard action.


Best Cues of the Year

2012 may not have been a very strong year overall, but it did have many highlights in individual compositions. Picking just one was very difficult. Howard Shore’s The Hobbit offered several strong cues to consider. Phillppe Rombi didn’t quite deliver the romantic heights of his best, but his enthusiastic (if simple) title theme for Dans La Maison was enjoyable. Danny Elfman, James Horner and John Williams expectedly add on to the highlights of the year.  Among the more surprising cues is “Twilight Overture” where Carter Burwell incorporates themes and motifs used throughout the whole franchise, including the love theme by Alexandre Desplat and an action motif by Howard Shore. Ultimately, the final decision was between Velázquez’s “The Impossible Main Title” and Malo’s “La Era de Oscuridad”. Both succeed based on their emotional sustenance. The latter features Tina Guo’s powerful heart-wrenching performance of the main theme while the former takes on a more inspirational, optimistic approach to reflect tragedy. Ultimately Lo Imposible wins the award thanks to its stunning main theme.

Calling the Guardians – Rise of the Guardians (Alexandre Desplat)

Mysterious Island Main Titles – Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Andrew Lockington)

Apotheosis – Journey (Austin Wintory)

Mehmet’s Theme – Conquest 1453 (Benjamin Wallfisch)

Twilight Overture – Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2 (Carter Burwell)

The End? (Uncut) – Dark Shadows (Danny Elfman)

Re-Animation – Frankenweenie (Danny Elfman)

Overture – Anna Karenina (Dario Marianelli)

The Impossible Main Title – Lo Imposible (Fernando Velázquez)

My Dear Frodo – The Hobbit (Howard Shore)

Radagast the Brown – The Hobbit (Howard Shore)

Out of the Frying-Pan – The Hobbit (Howard Shore)

Saving New York – The Amazing Spider-man (James Horner)

The Death of Padre Christopher  – For Greater Glory (James Horner)

Jose’s Martyrdom  – For Greater Glory (James Horner)

Sanctuary  – Snow White and the Huntsman (James Newton Howard)

The People’s House  – Lincoln (John Williams)

Freedom’s Call  – Lincoln (John Williams)

Sab Than Pursues the Princess – John Carter (Michael Giacchino)

The Prize is Barsoom – John Carter (Michael Giacchino)

Pi’s Lullaby – Life of Pi (Mychael Danna)

Tsimtsum – Life of Pi (Mychael Danna)

La Era de la Oscuridad – Miel de Naranjas (Nuno Malo)

Dans La Maison (thème) – Dans La Maison (Mychael Danna)

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul – Skyfall (Thomas Newman)


4 Comments on “Music Muse Awards 2012”

  1. Fantastic work! Love all the categorical break-down and your insights into these scores. My Top 10 was a little different, but certainly all those scores are very deserving, and I was very split on most of my ranking.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Craig Richard Lysy says:

    A great read, and really appreciated. You are a trusted voice in the filmscore community. I really liked 2012 and we have significant common ground with our choices. May I offer that there seems to be an overlooked genre – game scores. You may wish to consider these as several provided just outstanding thematic scores, surely strong enough to hold their ground, if not exceed many of the film scores listed here. Here are some to explore;
    1. WORLD OF WARCRAFT: MISTS OF PANDARIA, music by Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Sam
    Cardon, Edo Guidotti and Jeremy Soule
    2. RESISTANCE: BURNING SKIES, music by Jason Graves and Kevin Riepl
    3. DARKNESS II, music by Timothy Wynn
    4. TRINE 2, music by Ari Pulkkinen
    5. KINGDOMS OF AMALUR: RECKONING, music by Grant Kirkhope
    6. JOURNEY, music by Austin Wintory

    All the best!

  3. Sander says:

    Nice list, though personally I think Alexandre Desplat’s score for Moonrise Kingdom should have been included 🙂

  4. Awesome things here. I am very satisfied to see your post.
    Thanks a lot and I am taking a look ahead to contact you.
    Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

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