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"The Good, The Best & The Most Disappointing Movie Soundtracks of 2013"

"The Book Thief" Soundtrack Music By John Williams (Best of 2013)
"The Book Thief" Soundtrack Music By John Williams (Best of 2013)
Courtesy of Getty Images

2013 was a rather interesting, but disappointing year for soundtracks for contemporary films that ranged from great like "The Book Thief" and to just down right disappointing without looking any further than "Man Of Steel". This year wasn't exactly stellar in terms of the films that were released and one would make the case that it played a major part in why the scores this year weren't as strong or memorable as they could've been because of the post-production schedules and release dates that are already predetermined that any delay would just add insult to injury thus throwing the poor composer on the project into a major tailspin. Just ask James Horner!

On the other hand, it was a grand year for vintage soundtracks with many making their long awaited debuts or expansions that pretty much trumped the new soundtracks that came out this year theatrically. Those are the ones that soundtrack collectors and fans were really excited about and the ones that they went for in droves. It also comes to show how film music has really taken a serious dip when it comes big budget films today with the likes of "The Lone Ranger" and "Pacific Rim" along with "Man Of Steel" that really didn't put any thought or energy into what the soundtrack should really be conceived and executed.

Another positive this year was the fact that smaller soundtracks and films did get attention and those were nice gems like "The Butterfly's Dream" and "Crooked Arrows" that wouldn't have stood out any other year if the music was so weak. It also shows an interesting trend in that the bigger film's budget doesn't necessarily translate to a great, memorable score as the smaller films really do utilize the full extent of what they're given in both in budget and how the money should be invested in the music. That's why those films really stood out significantly because of its' lean efficency and that makes them the best of 2013.

In trying to compile a list of the Best of 2013 and the Disappointments of 2013, it wasn't too hard to come up with the latter because there weren't many from the former that I really got excited about, but I did manage to come up with positive ones for sure. So with that in mind here we go:

The Best of 2013 (Regular Releases)

  1. The Book Thief (John Williams)
  2. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (Howard Shore)
  3. Frozen (Christophe Beck)
  4. Iron Man 3 (Brian Tyler)
  5. Star Trek Into Darkness (Michael Giacchino)
  6. Thor: The Dark World (Brian Tyler)
  7. Philomena (Alexandre Desplat)
  8. The Lone Ranger (Hans Zimmer)
  9. The Butterfly's Dream (Rahman Altin)
  10. A Good Day To Die Hard (Marco Beltrami)
  11. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (James Newton Howard)
  12. The Croods (Alan Silvestri)
  13. The Counselor (Daniel Pemberton)
  14. Pacific Rim (Ramin Djawadi)
  15. The Last Stand (Mowg)
  16. Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)
  17. Runner Runner (Christophe Beck)
  18. Crooked Arrows (Brian Ralston)
  19. Elysium (Ryan Amon)
  20. Rush by Hans Zimmer

Clearly John Williams' magnificent and melodic score to the little seen film ("The Book Thief") was easily the score that really touched me most for this year while Howard Shore's epic "Hobbit" music is still at the top of his form and a score that comes very close to being a favorite as the no.1 choice. Christophe Beck's score for "Frozen" which aside from the songs made the film as great success and definitely merits being on this list. Powerhouse action scores "Iron Man 3", "A Good Day To Die Hard", "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Thor: The Dark World" made this list because they weren't just blockbuster scores but they were excellent and epic in their own way except for "Die Hard" which is easily the weakest film of this list, but Marco Beltrami's score easily one his best for 2013. "The Butterfly's Dream" was quite a surprise because the score was just that good and full of positive musical energy that was just infectious like Williams' music for "The Book Thief" was. "Philomena" was just so much fun that it couldn't be left off this list. "The Lone Ranger" was unjustly lambasted filmwise, but it definitely produced one of Hans Zimmer's best scores in quite sometime which was purely orchestrial and it was a shame that this score couldn't have traded places with "Man Of Steel".

Other Notables From 2013: "Hours" By Benjamin Wallfisch, "Ender's Game" by Steve Jablonsky, "Gravity" by Steven Price, "The Wolverine" by Marco Beltrami, "Planes" by Mark Mancina, "42" by Mark Isham, "Epic" by Danny Elfman, "Olympus Has Fallen" by Trevor Morris, "Evil Dead" by Roque Banos

The Disappointing Soundtrack Sinners of 2013

  1. Man Of Steel (Hans Zimmer)
  2. All Is Lost (Alexander Ebert)
  3. Pain & Gain (Steve Jablonsky)
  4. After Earth (James Newton Howard)
  5. Monsters University (Randy Newman)
  6. The Conjuring (Joseph Bishara)
  7. Getaway (Justin Burnett)
  8. The Call (John Debney)
  9. Scary Movie 5 (James L. Venable)
  10. The Place Beyond The Pines (Mike Patton)

For this list I could easily pick on lower end scores that well really made the mistake of just being bad all around or didn't fit the bill as just being good in anyway. Like Gene Siskel once said "It's no fun picking on small fry!" This list really irks me because all of the scores here had the potential of being good and completely dropped the ball entirely. The biggest criminal act easily goes to "Man Of Steel" and that's not because Hans Zimmer made the cardinal sin of not using John Williams' memorable theme, but because he wrote a completely original work devoid of what made the other Superman scores so good in their own way even if they had their flaws. This was a jumbled mess of noise and ambiance with a great potential theme buried somewhere underneath it and that's why fans were just appalled by it. Equally noisy and bad was "All Is Lost" which made the cardinal sin of not utilizing a completely memorable original orchestrial score to back the great Robert Redford like Alan Silvestri did with Tom Hanks on "Cast Away". What came out was a forgettable drevel of noise that after three listens made me long for the entire bottle of Advil. I was expecting great things from both "After Earth" and "Monsters University" and I was severely let down by both and the reason is of how big the projects were. "Monsters U" just plain suffered from trying to top the original score and the much beloved original film which was brilliant and memorable and instead, we were treated to a bland and watered down version of that. "After Earth's" biggest sin was that while the film was a total piece of garbage, the score would've easily outclassed it and instead we get a retread of JNH's work from M. Night Shamalyan's films jumbled together which was not a good thing. This score could've been "The Postman: Redux" featuring a memorable score that would surely outlast the film's terrible legacy but really failed all the way. "The Conjuring" was a great success story all around and a major hit at the box office, but the score is not very memorable and unfortunately falls into the category of other horror scores that just sat there for atmosphere rather than being a memorable force to be wreckoned with. Jerry Goldsmith's "Poltergiest" this ain't!

Other notable disappointments: "Identity Thief" by Christopher Lennertz, "Antiviral" by E.C. Woodley, "Don Jon" by Nathan Johnson, "Evidence" by Atli Orvarsson

The Best Limited Editions of 2013

  1. I, The Jury by Bill Conti
  2. Heaven Can't Wait/Racing With The Moon by Dave Grusin
  3. The Hunt For Red October by Basil Poledouris
  4. Wyatt Earp by James Newton Howard
  5. Days Of Thunder by Hans Zimmer
  6. Rising Sun by Toru Takemitsu
  7. The Fury by John Williams
  8. Cocoon by James Horner
  9. Days Of Wine And Roses by Henry Mancini
  10. Into The West by Geoff Zanelli
  11. The Missouri Breaks by John Williams
  12. Fandango by Alan Silvestri
  13. Dressed To Kill by Pino Donaggio
  14. Police Academy by Robert Folk
  15. The Challenge by Jerry Goldsmith
  16. Riddle by Scott Glasgow
  17. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine by Dennis McCarthy, Jay Chattaway & Various
  18. In Country by James Horner
  19. The Warriors by Barry DeVorzon
  20. The Beastmaster by Lee Holdridge
  21. Heidi by John Williams
  22. Gladiator (1992) (Unused Score) by Jerry Goldsmith
  23. Clean Slate/The Perez Family by Alan Silvestri
  24. Blown Away by Alan Silvestri
  25. Superman Returns by John Ottman

This was a great year for limited editions and reissues. Many of them making their long awaited debuts that included the likes of "I, The Jury", "Days of Wine And Roses", "Police Academy", "Racing With The Moon" amongst many others that fans have clammored for years along with great reissues and expansions such as "The Missouri Breaks", "The Warriors", "Wyatt Earp", and "The Hunt For Red October" that really needed them and with improvements in terms of sound quality and artwork. This list wasn't too hard to put together, but it was a chore because there was so many to choose from and the ones I chose were the ones that really made a major impact on me as a reviewer because of the quality of the music and not how limited the CD was. This one was an easy flip flop as to my number one because both albums were just flat brilliant as were the scores.

Other important notables: "Clear And Present Danger" by James Horner, "Da Vinci's Demons" by Bear McCreary, "The X-Files Vol.2" by Mark Snow, "Bad Boys (1983)" by Bill Conti, "Bandolero" by Jerry Goldsmith, "Dave" by James Newton Howard, "First Love" by John Barry, "The Relic" by John Debney, "Grand Canyon" by James Newton Howard, "Turbulence" by Shirley Walker, "True Grit" by Elmer Bernstein.

Most awesome TV Soundtrack of 2013:

"Mad Men On The Rocks" by David Carbonara. Classy, elegant and first class just like the hit AMC series a soaring soundtrack by Carbonara that really deserves another set of CD's just to get all the music which is tremendous.

Other notable TV soundtracks:

"Revenge" by Fil Eisler (iZLER), "Once Upon A Time Vol. 2" by Mark Isham, "Da Vinci's Demons" by Bear McCreary

Best Original Soundtrack Reissues (non-original score related):

"Sharky's Machine" by Varese Sarabande. A thrilling soundtrack to the 1981 Burt Reynolds crime-thriller that featured a lot of great jazz vocals by Randy Crawford and Sarah Vaughn and tracks that made it one of the more desirable and collectable albums issued by Warner Bros. Records.

"Pennies From Heaven" by Perseverance Records. Another out of print LP album for the 1981 Musical starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters finally makes its' CD debut to triumphant results as those memorable classic songs brought Dennis Potter's dark BBC mini-series to life on the big screen with classic tunes of the era which are brought to life by the performances of Martin, Peters and the scene stealing cameo by Oscar Winner Christopher Walken in a brilliant tap dance performance.

Best Soundtrack discoveries of 2013:

  1. The Butterfly's Dream by Rahman Altin
  2. Riddle by Scott Glasgow
  3. Crooked Arrows by Brian Ralston
  4. Elysium by Ryan Amon
  5. The Last Stand by Mowg

I hadn't heard of Rahman Altin until this score and this one surprisingly impressed me and a very touching melodic score that indeed was a real gem. Another such score was "Crooked Arrows" thanks to Perseverance Records' Robin Esterhammer's high recommendation and he was right all the way. "Elysium" is a unique score that is highly original and is as entertaining as the film is and "The Last Stand" turned to be alot of fun and really played out like a pure Western orchestrial score only bigger. "Riddle" is simply a polished and engaging suspense score that Scott Glasgow just nailed perfectly and will thrill fans of Bernard Herrmann's work.

Other notiable discoveries: "Badland" by Ludek Drizhal, "Restless" by Danny Elfman, "Love Is All You Need" by Johan Soderqvist

Best Unreleased Score of 2013:

"Now You See Me" By Brian Tyler. Yes, this got a digital release, but that doesn't count as this hip and jazzy score really deserved a real (and longer score) CD release of its' own.

Other Unreleased Notable Score (Not On CD or otherwise):

"Escape Plan" by Alex Heffes

Best Re-Recording Restoration of 2013:

"The Salamander" by Jerry Goldsmith. Leigh Phillips, James Fitzpatrick and Tadlow Records did a fantastic and brilliant job recreating a score that is now completely lost to time and proves that Goldsmith is still one of the more popular composers to re-record and restore his brilliant works for.

The Best Double Dip Albums Worth Upgrading To of 2013:

Without question this category is easily dominated by "The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug - Deluxe Edition" by Howard Shore because of the quality of the music and the extra music really does make a huge difference all the way around. Even though it's an extra 13 minutes that were added to this version of the soundtrack, but they're a damn good 13 minutes that should've been included in the standard soundtrack release.

The second goes to "Frozen: The Deluxe Edition" in which its' 2 disc edition does feature alot of nice extra material aside from the original album in a disc full of intriguing demos of Christophe Beck's amazing score and the songs written for the film which were ultimately performed by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel in the film. A solid release seeking out for this intriguing second disc that gives you an idea of what the process that composers/songwriters go through to get to the final polished, finished product.

The Biggest Double Dip "rip-off" Jobs of 2013:

The first in this rather doubious category goes to "Man Of Steel: The Deluxe Edition" by Hans Zimmer. This one gets another doubious honor in that a 2 disc standard edition had come out on top of what seemed to have all of the score and a bonus demo track featuring a 28 minute suite of music that sounded alot better than the final score itself! The Limited EdItion D.E. (also issued at Target in a red steelbook and the regular one being blue) featured a few extra tracks that really didn't amount to anything really special.

The second easily goes to Music Box Records in releasing "The Outsiders: 30th Anniversary Edition" a great soundtrack by the late Carmine Coppola for the great S.E. Hinton adaptation directed by the great Francis Ford Coppola and starring a great cast of rising stars that included the late Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillion, C.Thomas Howell, Emilio Estevez and Diane Lane which was a great event as a solid limited edition set complete with great liner notes and artwork. But fast forward a few months after its' rather pricey sell out, Silva Screen Records then reissues it as a standard regular release which ticked off a lot of people who got the other version, but also pleased those who missed it earlier and didn't spend all that money to acquire it eventhough writer Daniel Schweiger's exceptional liner notes are sorely missed in the process.

Stupid Trend That Continues In 2013:

"Amazon On Demand!" For the third year in a row in doing this Best and Worst round up, this is the one that really irks me most. While in Europe, soundtrack collectors are delighted in official CD releases of solid works such as "Promised Land" by Danny Elfman, "Carrie" by Marco Beltrami, "Pacific Rim" by Ramin Djawadi, "The Secret Life of Walter MItty" by Theodore Shapiro and many others and in the meantime, we're stuck with what essentially is a legalized duplicate of an original CD that probably costs about the same to produce and manufacture like a CDR. I'm sorry but this just simply stinks that one place has it available and mass produced and others have to get it from Amazon because it's the only place you could get it. A real shame.

Best Soundtrack Newcomers of 2013:

  1. Rahman Altin
  2. Ryan Amon
  3. Brian Ralston

Best Breakout Composer of 2013 (For his grand efforts on their work):

Scott Glasgow for "RIDDLE" This effective and marvellous suspense score in the mold of Bernard Herrmann really stood out for me all year long and it's a tribute to the hard work of Glasgow who really put one heck of an effort on this one.

The busy bee Composer Award for 2013:

Marco Beltrami. Hands down had a great year and a terrific output.

Best Composer of 2013:

John Williams. There was never any doubt! Gotta give a special acknowledgement to Marco Beltrami for composing no less than six scores (A Good Day To Die Hard, Warm Bodies, Carrie, World War Z, The Wolverine and Snowpiercer) and is a flat out terrific talent.

Most exciting thing to happen to film music in 2013:

John Williams composing "The Book Thief" enough said!

My Choices for Oscar Nominees For Best Original Score For 2013:

  1. The Book Thief (John Williams)
  2. Frozen (Christophe Beck)
  3. Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)
  4. Philomena (Alexandre Desplat)
  5. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (Howard Shore)

Now let's hope that 2014 will be even grander year after all films such as "Ghostbusters", "Romancing The Stone", "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Police Academy" are celebrating their 30th Anniversaries, while "Forrest Gump", "The Lion King" and "Legends Of The Fall" will be celebrating their 20th. Hopefully, we will see more expansions, more surprises and thrilling classic film scores that made their respective films that much greater!

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