Music is, in some ways, my favorite element of filmmaking. Just to show that garnering an Academy Award nomination isn’t everything, here is a list (part one in a three-part series) of some of my favorite scores that never even had a chance at the gold. You’ll see a nice cross-section of the kinds of movies I love, too.
It would be easy for me to make a case for Bernard Herrmann as the all-time greatest film composer. From Citizen Kane to Cape Fear to Taxi Driver to his pairings with Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho, among others), Herrmann crafted some of the most unforgettable film scores of all time. My personal favorite of his, however, is the score for Jane Eyre (1943). It evokes all the right moods, from tentative romance to danger to the windswept mysteries of the moonlit moors.
There was never any chance for Takanobu Saito’s exquisite score to Tokyo Story (1953) to be Oscar-nominated since director Yasujirô Ozu was not appreciated in America until years after his death in 1963. Still, the music remains as sentimental and moving as the film it goes with.
Nino Rota is unquestionably best known by most film fans as the composer of the music for the first two Godfather films, but his collaborations with Federico Fellini are equally deserving of appreciation. This mini-suite of themes from La Strada (1954) demonstrates all the joys and sorrows of life on “la strada” – the road of life. The theme starting at 1:24 is the best and most haunting part.
I was torn between picking this (The Face of Another, 1966) or the fittingly epic themes from Ran (1985) as my favorite Tôru Takemitsu score, but ultimately Face won out because this waltz and song are just endlessly fascinating. The music forms a beautiful pair with the extremely disturbing story of a badly scarred man (Tatsuya Nakadai) who wears a lifelike mask that gives him a new identity.
I’m not sure how many people remember Dudley Moore as a composer besides being an actor, comedian, general excellent entertainer. I quite enjoy his score for Bedazzled (1967), which is a weird movie but one with terrific music. (Note: the clip here plays the same theme twice, restarting around 2:16 – but I guess if you like it, feel free to listen again.)
Lalo Schifrin’s score for Dirty Harry (1971) is cool, no doubt about it. I love the hip, jazzy inflections.
Jerry Goldsmith was a master of dramatic film scores (Chinatown, The Omen, L.A. Confidential) but Alien (1979) ranks among them as one of his finest works. As you listen to this track, “The Landing,” you can feel all the tension that would naturally accompany an extraterrestrial invasion of a spaceship.
Ah, the sizzling score for Body Heat (1981) by master composer John Barry. This track, “I’m Weak,” sums up the protagonists’ wildfire-type lust, so film noir-like (both in sound and image) despite the movie being filmed in color. The music fits the mood like a glove.