What Is the Best Original Movie Score of the Century So Far?

Tonight at the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Stuart Staples-fronted Tindersticks will make a rare live appearance to perform music they’ve scored for films by Claire Denis. Those Tendersticks-Denis soundtracks rank among the most memorable movie music of recent years.

The occasion of the newly released compilation compilation of highlights from those scores had us wondering: What are the best original movie scores of the century so far? We polled Fandor contributors and some special friends for their expert opinions. What is your favorite original score of the past 12 years?

If I had to pick one, I’d choose the OST for Sogo Ishii’s Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts. Guitar!
– Simon Abrams

Requiem for a Dream (Clint Mansell) –  so influential. Also Birth (Alexandre Desplat).
Dan Callahan

I’m a big fan of those Tindersticks Denis soundtracks (if I remember correctly, White Material was my choice for best score of 2010).  But I’m going to go with Carter Burwell’s score for the Coens’ A Serious Man.  First, there’s the exhilarating musical transition from a snowy night in a 19th Century Eastern European shtetl to the earphone of a suburban Minneapolis Hebrew school student’s transistor radio playing the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” in 1967.  And then there’s the main theme — a harp and a piano playing in two different time signatures, so that everything feels just a little off-kilter…
Jim Emerson

Thomas Bangalter’s score for Irreversible. It really enhances the queasiness and oppressive atmosphere of the film.
Steve Erickson

The Billy Nayer Show’s score to Cory McAbee’s Stingray Sam (2009). A fittingly eccentric and innovative–not to mention catchy–score to an equally bizarre and original musical that combines western and sci-fi in a sing-songy avant-garde serial.
Cullen Gallagher

I vote for whoever does the scores for the Dardennes. But seriously, folks: Johnny Greenwood for There Will Be Blood, Alexandre Desplat for The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Tindersticks for L’IntrusJames Newton Howard for Signs and The Village.
– Adam Nayman

O Brother Where Art Thou (produced by T-Bone Burnett). Makes the whole freaking movie.
Farran Smith Nehme

Daft Punk, Tron: Legacy, hands down. What’s particularly weird about it is that I’m not a big fan of anything besides Discovery; Homework, Human After All and Alive 2007 all seem pretty academic to me. But I listened to that soundtrack for about two weeks solid before going to see the movie (the first of two times!), and had it thoroughly internalized, and it guided me through a lot of what could’ve been pretty chaotic. Now I listen to it a lot, and it always gets me pumped.
Vadim Rizov

Mulholland Drive (Angelo Badalamenti). All I can say about it is that it is astoundingly haunting.
Michael Joshua Rowin

Alexandre Desplat, Birth.  Because it’s as mysterious and magnificent as the film itself, and because it teases out everything operatic in the story and foregrounds it and kind of holds everything together.
– Matt Zoller Seitz

Like all great satire, Bamboozled, Spike Lee’s absurdist portrayal of African American images in the media laughs to keep from crying. And when the movie pointedly drops the jokes for pathos (the characters wearily applying blackface for a guffawing TV audience, the film’s final devastating montage of blackface images), it’s Terrence Blanchard’s Miles Davis-meets-Aaron Copland score that wearily swells up and turns this bold, ridiculous film into something emotionally devastating.
Brandon Soderberg

1) Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood probably paved the way for artists like Trent Reznor (The Social Network), Daft Punk (Tron: Legacy) and Chemical Brothers (Hanna) to try their hand at Hollywood movie composing. (I love all those scores, by the by).
2) My MVP for scoring post-2000 is Alexandre Desplat, whose work on films like the latest Harry Potter, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and others is inspiring.
3) But for my single choice, I’ll have to go The Social Network. I’m a NIN fanboy to the end. And it’s the best, most distinctive part of a movie I find highly overrated.
Keith Uhlich

Eyes Wide Shut, The New World, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream (even if it’s since been played to death in other movies), There Will Be Blood, Big Fish, Black Snake Moan, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Dancer in the Dark, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I’m sure I’m forgetting about fifty more.
Nick Schager

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