It’s difficult to quantify one’s appreciation of a particular piece of music; One’s Spotify Wrapped or Apple Music Recap makes an attempt by virtue of ranking minutes listened, top genres and other metrics. Global charts fulfill the same need, presenting listeners with a specific country or the world’s most listened-to songs. A simple issue, however, arises when discussing the “best” music, as often the songs we listen to the most often do not always correlate with the songs we think are the most musical, complex or emotional.
A similar issue is that songs created for cinema or Broadway seldom find themselves on these charts. Aside from some historical outliers, most of the songs on these charts or in our annual recaps tend to be radio hits or songs from albums produced independently from any other creative project. Hence, this article. Below is my list of what I think are the five most compelling movie soundtracks, and I hope that I may introduce you to some new, Owen-approved soundtracks that I believe subsist as stand-alone albums.
“La Planète Sauvage,” Alain Goraguer
Backing the peculiar, psychedelic 1973 French animated film, “La Planète Sauvage,” or “Fantastic Planet,” the Cannes winner is filled with plucky French-style guitar, eerie choir vocals and an arachnid harpsichord. Lovers of Françoise Hardy, Cortex or any well-produced French artists are likely to find themselves entranced by the album’s sinister strings and dissonant flute atop classic jazz-inspired basslines and brief saxophone solos. Songs such as “Deshominisation (I)” and “Ten et Tiwa dorment” introduce the album’s almost supernatural motif—a melody which was later sampled by Mac Miller on his infamous “Faces” EP on the song “Insomniac,” feat. Rick Ross. Yet, where the early half of the album includes calmer, transient melodies, songs in the latter half such as “Mort De Draag” and “L’Oiseau” descend the project into chaos, aligning with the plot of the film. I can’t speak highly enough of this album, or film at that, and I highly recommend both.
“A Virgem de Saint Tropez,” Hareton Salvanini
Salvanini’s album serves as the background to another rather — well — strange 1974 French film that is “A Virgem de Saint Tropez,” later released in 1975 under the title “The Awakening of Annie.” Movie aside — I cannot in good faith recommend you watch it, as it’s essentially softcore pornography — the soundtrack is a masterpiece. Songs such as “Espairecendo” and “Perseguição” draw clear inspiration from Salvanini’s Brazilian identity, offering the French film a taste of Gilberto-esque samba intermixed with more typical French-inspired jazz tracks like “Saint Tropez.” The album utilizes perhaps every instrument under the sun, with the romantic strings on “Panorama” juxtaposing with the Latin-influenced recorder melody on “Amazônia,” it’s succeeding song. It’s somewhat sad to see such a moving project left behind as the background of a brutally forced, poorly made film; However, I will not let it disappear into the depths of history.
“Tron Legacy,” Daft Punk
To switch the mood and prevent myself from giving too much credit to the French, Daft Punk’s “Tron Legacy” stands out amongst the crowd — God dammit not again. Scratching almost every inch of a music lovers’ brain, the album is comprised of horn-forward, symphonic pieces such as the opening “Overture,” “Rinzler” and “Adagio for TRON” all while intermixing aspects of techno, house and EDM elements in traditional Daft Punk fashion. Then suddenly, transitioning from “Nocturne” to “End of Line,” the album blossoms into the lead-synth program fans expected once Daft Punk was announced as the composers of the film’s soundtrack, establishing a launching ground for tracks like “Derezzed,” which holds up in the worlds of cinema and underground clubbing. The album ends on a grand note, with “Outlands, Pt. II,” which in my opinion encapsulates the entirety of the project: a profound, kick-ass amalgam of classical and hyper-contemporary sounds.
“Howl’s Moving Castle,” Joe Hisaishi
Although it was nearly impossible to pick from any of the Studio Ghibli films, especially with the likes of “Spirited Away,” the soundtrack to “Howl’s Moving Castle” ranks slightly above the rest. The album presents the movie’s well-known leitmotif in such a diverse array of colors, from the staccato violins in “A Walk in the Skies” to the stunningly beautiful, unfortunately brief “Heartbeat.” It’s difficult to even pick songs to talk about here; they’re all brilliant. “The Flower Garden” unleashes Hisaishi’s true potential, once again re-introducing the listener to yet another form of the aforementioned motif, though now supported by an ensemble of strings and almost miniscule chimes. From the opening “Merry-Go-Round of Life” to the closing rendition of the same title, uplifted by an ambient vocal performance from Chieko Baisho, the album is perfect top-to-bottom.
“Call Me by Your Name,” Various Artists
I’ll admit this is the only film on this list that I haven’t watched, though I think this truth only aids argument, as this soundtrack is breathtaking. The arpeggiating notes in “Une barque sur l’océan” offers up a flowing piano performance that falls somewhere between Satie and Rachmaninoff — as Ravel typically did. And before you say, “sure, there’s plenty of soundtracks that serve as powerful collections of classical music,” I raise you this album’s trump card: Sufjan Stevens. With a touching remix of “Futile Devices” situated between two piano movements, the album truly covers all bases. Steven delivers a heart-rending addition to the project with songs reminiscent of “Carrie and Lowell,” with the song “Visions of Gideon” furnishing the soundtrack with an ethereal closing piece. It’s remarkable, really.
Honorable mentions include “A Star is Born,” “Ratatouille” and the “Yves Saint Laurent” soundtrack — thanks Grace. While it pains me to limit this list to just five, I am willing to die on the pretentious hill that the albums mentioned above are the best five soundtracks in cinema. I’d happily listen to them for the rest of my musical lifetime with no hesitation or regret.