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The Naughts: The Final Score

The Naughts: The Final Score (photo)

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One last list for the decade, and the hardest one – best film scores. Failures are easy, they reek and stand out like huge, fly-covered steaming piles in the sun. Soundtracks are tough to sort out but the greats are memorable because good songs with lyrics tend to be, and they enter the wider cultural landscape more readily than film scores through radio, ipods and the greatest monuments to our civilization, retail stores.

Where only some films have a real soundtrack to consider, every film has a score and usually it’s doing most of the work, even though a hot song may take the glory. You know right away if you like a song or not, but that’s not always the case with a composition for film, indeed it’s often irrelevant. More to the point, you must ask, how well does the score serve the film? And then, does it transcend that? These 10 scores do just that, and of course, they elevate the films they were made for to new heights. The Danny Elfman’s, Hans Zimmer’s and Trevor Rabin’s of the world occaisionally compose something that doesn’t utterly ruin a film, but I won’t waste any characters talking about them.

1. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. “The Proposition” (2005)

“The Rider #1” – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

“Moan Thing” – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Westerns lend themselves well to great scores, as composers like Ennio Morricone proved time and again. With “The Proposition” the genius Nick Cave and brilliant Warren Ellis have taken the western film score to new psychedelic heights and the result is completely mind blowing. The crazy trip Cave and Ellis were on fit like a favorite old hat on the mad, greasy head of this wild film. Gruff voices whisper of violence and betrayal over unnerving bass, a wicked droning blotted out by bloodshed, the sudden wattage of guitars timed with the hoof falls of riders on horseback cutting through the desert… unforgettable.

2. Jonny Greenwood. “There Will Be Blood” (2007)

At the moment the film opens, Greenwood’s orchestration sets fire to the screen, torches you and inflames the parched western landscape you find yourself in. He uses an array of strings to strike an incredibly enormous, unsettling chord – the effect of which is to fuse you, Daniel Plainview and that broken landscape all together – as it builds into an alarming cacophony. And just when it subsides and there’s a moment’s respite, he brings it back again, this time with a percussive barrage that sounds like all the bones of all the people maimed and displaced by Plainview’s oil company cracking together.

3. Phillip Glass. “The Fog of War” (2003)

Phillip Glass can sometimes veer to far off into repetitive psychosis land, but when he balances that tendency with his inherent musical brilliance the results are unparalleled. Just as Errol Morris set a new standard for documentaries, with “The Fog of War,” so did Phillip Glass with his spiraling, haunting score. For the first time, I actually felt for poor McNamara. This score will forever be the sound of his crimes and failures.

4. Yann Tiersen. “Amélie” (2001)

The wily Jean-Pierre Jeunet sure picked the right composer in Yann Tiersen who few outside of France had ever heard of before he composed all those wonderful pieces for “Amélie.” They so perfectly accompany the whimsy and nostalgia of the adorable miss Poulain that I can hardly comprehend her without them.

5. John Murphy. “Sunshine” (2007)

When I was in college there was a brand of acid going around called sunshine, and everyone who took it lost their goddamn mind, permanently. If I wanted to score that last moment of sanity before blasting a mind into the sun this would be it. Murphy’s intense score for Danny Boyle’s partially amazing “Sunshine” lent so much gravity to the proceedings sometimes it felt like it was crushing me in my chair. I am convinced that the moment the absurd villain was revealed the movie turned into a joke but I couldn’t get perspective on it with that score pulling all my emotional strings. It truly hits some kind of primal, universal chord.

6. John Williams. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

John Williams has been churning out great scores since the 1950’s and is responsible for the most infamous compositions: “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “E.T.,” “Jaws,” the “Indiana Jones” series and the first few Potter films. Echos and snippets of his themes remain in all of them, but it started with the twinkly, gossamer, “Hedwig’s Theme.”

7. Shigeru Umebayashi and Michael Galasso. “In the Mood for Love” (2000)

The music throughout Wong Kar-Wai’s sultry love story is top shelf as is typical of his films. The Nate King Cole bits are of course incredible, but it was the compositions that got me all bothered. When the piece called “Yumeji’s Theme” came on, who was not completely swept away? Certainly on my list of the best uses of music in film of all time.

8. Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet. “Requiem For A Dream” (2000)

You know the score, you’ve heard it a thousand times before. Clint Mansell’s creeped out “Requiem For A Dream” score performed by the Kronos Quartet has been copied, remixed, reused and abused many times over since 2000. In particular the piece “Lux Aeterna” was redone and used for “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “The Da Vinci Code,” and “300” trailers among who knows how many others. It was once a powerful piece of music.

9. Howard Shore. “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (2001 – 2003)

I am one of those people who thinks that Peter Jackson should have grown a pair to match the size of his now conspicuously missing girth and scored this amazing trilogy with the works of the mighty Led Zeppelin as a basis. What wonders could have been achieved with “Ramble On,” and “Misty Mountain Hop?” Certainly the only Tolkien approved rock and roll. Alas, he used Howard Shore and it’s clear he didn’t jam out to “Battle of Evermore” while writing these sweeping pieces. Well done nonetheless and forever part of popular culture.

10. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Yes, two for Cave and Ellis, geniuses that they are. This score is entirely different from the maniacal work they did on “The Proposition,” more conventional, pastoral, infinitely somber, but it is utterly gorgeous. I yield the decade to these fine sirs.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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