Film

The Best Film Scores of the 2000s

From contemplative science fiction to macabre stop-motion, the 2000s brought forth some excellent film scores that are worth listening to long after the credits have rolled. With this year's Academy Awards just behind us, Sound Affects looks at the top movie scores from the 21 century so far.

The 2000s were a fine decade for film, and correspondingly a great decade for musical scores. Certain trends in film soundtracks became quite popular, notably Zach Braff’s indie mixtape formula so perfected in the music for Garden State and The Last Kiss (though most tout the former as his best, I prefer the latter). While mixtape soundtracks grew in prominence, certain composers rose to legendary status, notably Hans Zimmer, who by the decade’s conclusion had a prodigious body of work. In a world of increasing musical diversity, much is available to filmmakers in creating sonic backgrounds to their moving pictures.

The following list represents what I found to be the best in cinematic scores over the past decade. I’ve decided to narrow down my list specifically to scores, as comparing a soundtrack comprised of multiple songs by various artists to a body of music composed by one artist specifically for a film wouldn’t make for a fair list. Some of these soundtracks do feature a song that wasn’t written specifically for the movie, but all of the scores represented here are analyzed for their merit as pieces of music composed specifically for film.

 
10. Danny Elfman
Corpse Bride (2005)

As one of Tim Burton’s go-to collaborators, Danny Elfman has demonstrated his skill in the macabre. Elfman, along with Burton, had a great decade, but his best moment came in the minor masterpiece Corpse Bride, which for my money is Burton’s best foray into stop-motion animation. The soundtrack does feature original songs, such as the jazz-lounge ditty “Remains of the Day”, but the film’s instrumental score is equally good, and a further testament to the excellence of the Burton/Elfman collaboration. Elfman remains one of the most consistent composers in film music today, and Corpse Bride is but one of many reasons why directors have such an affinity for his talent.

Runner-Up: Big Fish (2003)

 
9. Javier Navarrete
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro’s magical realism masterpiece is well-known for its scenes of shocking brutality, but one of the most memorable things about the film is not its horrific violence, but instead its delicate score. The hummed melody that becomes the main motif of the film (“A Long, Long Time Ago”) is both haunting and gorgeous, its soft quality serving as a sharp contrast to the darker elements of the film. One of the central conflicts of Pan’s Labyrinth is Ofelia’s innocence being pitted against the evils of war and the darkness of the underworld from which she came, and Navarrete captures that struggle with the grace of a studied composer. The score to Pan’s Labyrinth is a subtle yet powerful evocation of the tenderness of youth as it faces the harsh realities of a world that has come to dismiss the value of childhood naïveté.

 
8. Philip Glass
Cassandra’s Dream (2007)

Philip Glass’ most lauded score came in 2006’s Notes on a Scandal, but I maintain that his overlooked contribution to Woody Allen’s equally overlooked 2007 film Cassandra’s Dream was where he truly shined. Though Glass has yet to clear the bar set by his 1980s masterpiece Koyaanisqatsi, Cassandra’s Dream still reveals Glass as a master of his craft. While not as minimalistic as most of his other work, Cassandra’s Dream does find the composer at his most thrilling; “The Pursuit & Murder in the Park”, which serves as background to one of the film’s most important moments, is a masterclass in building tension, just as “Death on the Boat” is a masterclass in capturing anguish. It’s amazing how brilliant scores by legendary composers can slip through the cracks of the critical gaze, but hopefully Cassandra’s Dream won’t succumb to that fate. Not everyone can handle Glass’ repetitive minimalism, but for those looking for a good introduction to the director that doesn’t have that many arpeggios, this score does the trick.

 
7. Hans Zimmer
King Arthur (2004)

Because of Zimmer’s vast output over the 2000s, any one of his excellent soundtracks could stand in here. Most would point to Gladiator as the director’s shining moment, but for me King Arthur’s soundtrack stands even above that exemplary score. Despite being critically derided, I enjoyed Antoine Fuqua’s take on the Arthurian legend, due in large part to how the film turned the tale into a moody, contemplative exploration of destiny and freedom. Zimmer’s brilliant score captured that mood throughout, particularly on the ethereal “Tell Me Now (What You See)”, a collaboration with Irish singer Moya Brennan. Given the breadth of scores in Zimmer’s oeuvre from the last decade alone, it’s hard to pick a favorite, so this one is winning out by a slim margin. That fact alone is a testament to Zimmer’s skill as a composer and his importance to cinema as a whole.

Runners-Up: Gladiator (2000) and Sherlock Holmes (2009)

 
6. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
The Dark Knight (2008)

Zimmer and Howard crafted a moody, atmospheric score to the first of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films (2005’s Batman Begins), and they pulled something of a 180 in the score for the 2008 sequel The Dark Knight. The score’s opening track, “Why So Serious?”, sets not just the overall tone for the soundtrack, but for the film as well. Beginning tensely with the sound of an atonal, shrill cello, the song then builds into bursts of frenetic electronics, capturing the mood of escalation that pervades the movie. The soundtrack varies from there, ranging from dramatic strings (“Harvey Two-Face”) to brooding, dark pieces (“Always a Catch”). With The Dark Knight, Zimmer and Howard proved that sometimes two heads are better than one, as they crafted one of the decade’s most jarring soundtrack experiences.

Next Page
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.