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Movie soundtracks of 2009

We take a look at some of the year's most prominent soundtracks and scores.


Avatarb James Cameron's "Avatar" succeeds in introducing filmgoers to a new world; James Horner's score follows the filmmaker's lead. It's mood-setting music, at times full of wonder. Iridescent synths mix with woodwind instruments, and "The Bioluminescence of the Night" is New Age glitter. Horner avoids sci-fi and fantasy clichés -- choirs and sound effects whiz by, and orchestral flourishes descend into tribal nuances without warning. Still, though it's obvious that there's something important going on here, the music suffers when it's divorced from Cameron's eye-popping images.

-- Todd Martens

James Horner
Atlantic Records
Two and a half stars (out of four)

"The Princess and the Frog"

Priincess Composer-songwriter Randy Newman channels the rich musical history of New Orleans through a fairy tale lens on the soundtrack to Disney's latest animated entry. There are flashes of gospel ("Dig a Little Deeper"), a swift Cajun waltz ("Gonna Take You There") and feather-light takes on early jazz ("When We're Human"). Newman even channels pianist Jelly Roll Morton on "Down in New Orleans," with Dr. John providing the vocals for added authenticity.

-- Todd Martens

Various artists
Three stars (out of four)

"Black Dynamite"

Blackdyna So it doesn't have Curtis Mayfield, but this modern blaxploitation spoof is teeming with music. Adrian Younge's 15-track score largely transcends silliness by lovingly recreating a vintage funk feel, one full of bluesy, funky vibraphones and analog sounds. A second disc, sold separately, is a treasure trove of 1970s temp music. A collection of library funk, commissioned for now-forgotten films and television programs, it's more than just a time warp. It's a trip.

-- Todd Martens

Adrian Younge
(Wax Poetics)
Two and a half stars (out of four)

Various artists
(Wax Poetics)
Three stars (out of four)

"Fantastic Mr. Fox"

Mrfox Director Wes Anderson's whimsical style is just as present musically as it is visually, and "Fox" is one of his finest showcases on both fronts. Anchored by tender but sprightly sketches from Alexandre Desplat, the soundtrack veers into familiar but still fruitful territory with a version of "Ol' Man River" from the Beach Boys and a few charmers from Burl Ives. In this playful mix, Jarvis Cocker's twangy banjo ditty fits right in.

-- Margaret Wappler

Various artists
Three and a half stars (out of four)


Katea "Nine" is a perfumed love letter to Italian cinema -- namely Fellini's "8 1/2" -- so the soundtrack can get a little cloying. But surrender to all the breathless vamping, drippy strings and faux Italian accents and the next thing you know, you'll be tempted to stand up in the middle of the office and sing about your inner Roman fantasy. Hopefully that guy from HR will come running in with a spotlight so you'll be properly lit. The highlights: Fergie attacks "Be Italian" with gusto and Marion Cotillard reminds us of her brilliance.

-- Margaret Wappler

Various artists
Geffen Records
Three stars (out of four)

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Precious Co-executive produced by Mary J. Blige and released in part by her Matriarch Records, the soundtrack for "Precious" is an upbeat collection of self-discovery songs, modern-day gospel for the therapy crowd (Blige practically has the market cornered on that kind of thing). "Precious" visits many of her inspiration points, including songwriter extraordinaires Gamble and Huff, Queen Latifah and LaBelle.

-- Margaret Wappler

Various artists
Matriarch/Geffen Records
Three stars (out of four)

"Sherlock Holmes"

Sherlock Hans Zimmer doesn't give this holiday blockbuster a canny, heroic theme. Instead, like his score for "The Dark Knight," which he composed with James Newton Howard, Zimmer goes for something more challenging. There are plenty of short, furious violin notes, and there's also some devilish good fun, as instruments twist, screech and take unexpected left turns. And just when one is comfortable with the bouncy accordions, Zimmer offers a jolt of klezmer. At 50-plus minutes, it's not always zany, but Zimmer makes the best of his moments.

-- Todd Martens

Hans Zimmer
(Watertower Music)
Three stars (out of four)

"Up in the Air"

Upinair Largely comprising entries from singer-songwriters, this souvenir from Jason Reitman's recession-friendly film breaks its reflective mood with two selections from Rolfe Kent's fine score -- his "Security Ballet" is an intoxicating mix of rhythms. There are more choice finds here, namely a smoldering R&B turn on "This Land Is Your Land" from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Kevin Renick's title cut will melt hearts, and Sad Brad Smith's "Help Yourself" is a winning nod to Simon & Garfunkel.

-- Todd Martens

Various artists
(Rhino Records)
Three stars (out of four)

Photos, from top:
"Avatar." Credit: 20th Century Fox.
"The Princess and the Frog." Credit: Disney.
"Black Dynamite." Credit: Courtesy of Prashant Gupta
"Fantastic Mr. Fox." Credit: Fox Searchlight
"Nine." Credit: David James / Weinstein Co.
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire." Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Lionsgate
"Sherlock Holmes." Credit: Alex Bailey / Warner Bros. Pictures/MCT
"Up in the Air." Credit: Dale Robinette / Paramount Pictures


Mary J. Blige digs into the blues for ‘Precious’

Alexandre Desplat gets rootsy for 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'

Randy Newman explores the sounds of New Orleans for 'The Princess and the Frog'

Hans Zimmer on his ‘Sherlock Holmes’ score: ‘Real life takes place in pubs'

Comments () | Archives (18)

It was difficult to pay attention to the music in Sherlock b/c the movie was a complete turd; absolutely awful, I'm still mad at myself that I didn't walk out after the first ten minutes. Worst movie I've seen in a long time.

I am surprised 2012 is not listed. The soundtrack is great, but "Time For Miracles" is phenominal and the vocals by Adam Lambert are perfection. Sould definitely be included for 2009 soundtrack songs/ballads. Thanks.

"Crazy Heart" soundtrack belongs on that list.

2009? More like "Music Soundtracks of the last few weeks of 2009"?

That would explain the omission of Karen O's work on "Where The Wild Things Are"

Where the Wild Things are is a great album, Karen O did a superb job. Maybe this list is music that is better than their crappy films!

I think you could've added the soundtrack for (500)Days of Summer to the list as well. Carla Bruni's Quelqu'un M'a Dit is my personal favorite.

Horner's score does work quite well apart from the movie. I think the mistake you make is comparing the music to the visuals. The sights of AVATAR completely break --shatter-- new ground & the music does not. It has a subtle beauty that is very seductive. It doesn't have the thunderous rhythms of TITANIC (Horner's best score), but I can't get enough of it.

I second the inclusion of "Where the Wild Things Are," which also features the very understated and under-mentioned Carter Burwell (who did more work again for "A Single Man"). "Coraline" offered some really great pieces, better than anything Hans Zimmer hsa ever been able to compose -- let's face it, in terms of movie composers, he's the absolute worse, the most boring. And Michael Giacchino's turn for "Up" made that film a hundred times more heartbreaking.

Duplat's work on "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is really the only one here that deserves mention.

I don't want to come off as a teeny bopper, but the soundtrack for "New Moon" is really stellar.

Have to agree with previous post, there are no films from before October even mentioned here.

I think this has been a horrible year for scores. The movies I thought would have some big, nice scores were all major let downs. For example, I found Star Trek very weak and after a wonderful score for Wall-E by Newman, Giacchino's score for UP was poor (and I usually enjoy his scores). Avatar's score was pretty average for Horner's talents. District 9 was a decent effort from a rookie composer, but still not outstanding. Only a handful of films had scores I truely enjoyed. Where the Wild Things Are as others mentioned was nice. Coraline had a nice diverse, quirky score. And, my favorite was probably Earth, which was just recycled from the full Planet Earth mini-series, so not sure that even counts.

I agree that (500) Days of Summer deserved a mention. The music in the film really stood out to me, much more than it did when I watched some of the films on this list (like Precious for instance). Also, I have to reiterate previous posters and mention Where the Wild Things Are. That was a glaring omission on this list, since the soundtrack was really great.

New Moon was a great movie soundtrack as well. It may be too emo for some though!

Can't believe EVERYONE seems to be forgetting A Single Man's haunting score.

DUPLICITY was hands down the best score i heard and or bought this past year.

I'm sorry it didn't get a mention but its pretty great---funky, silky, retro, and just lovely all around. I knew i wanted to give it a serious listen as soon as i saw the film.

Best compilation soundtrack album would have to be Adventureland--which had a lovely mix of tunes all of which had nice moments prominently featured in the film as well.

i'd be quite curious to hear the black dynamite soundtrack as well as a serious man soundtrack as carter burwell usually does incredible work with the coens. (one of my favorites ever is his score to adaptation--which i know wasn't the coens but its still a fantastic score--)

The soundtrack to "Moon" was haunting, minimalist, and memorable. The pulsing riff stuck to me for weeks.

(500) Days of Summer had one of the bet soundtracks of the year. Shame on you for not including it on this list.

I am definitely not a Twilight fan but the soundtrack for New Moon is one of the best this year for sure! And what about 500 days of Summer or Where the Wild things are? Too many great soundtracks that didn't make the list. I can't take this seriously.

I agree with you, the (500) Days Soundtrack was one of the best if not THE best in my opinion,
But then again who's going to pay attention to movies with actors that no one knows right??
Shame on the person who made this list.


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