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Who’s the Greatest Film Composer of All Time? Round Two

on June 20, 2014, 11:15am
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We have a tournament, folks! Last week, we kicked off our monthly tournament in search of the Greatest Film Composer of All Time, and the first round brought some major upsets. Naturally, heavy hitters like Ennio Morricone, John Williams, and Howard Shore ran away in their respective brackets, but there were some very close calls for Nino Rota, Elmer Bernstein, and Bernard Herrman who trumped Lalo Schifrin, Thomas Newman, and Henry Mancini, respectively.

What was really crazy, though, was the near-tie between Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. Tim Burton’s go-to composer squeezed by with only two votes over Zimmer, which is ridiculously close and almost unfair. Still, a vote’s a vote, and we’re sad to say that Zimmer will be the one retreating to the batcave. Very sad. Sort of.

Now, it’s time for the dreaded second round, where things are about to get a little wild. Morricone vs. Shore? Williams vs. Herrmann? John Carpenter up against Vangelis? Let’s just say, we’re not envious of your position. So, with that in mind, read on and choose wisely. It’s about to get very loud.

composerbracket2v2 Whos the Greatest Film Composer of All Time? Round Two

Deadline for Round Two voting is next Thursday, June 26th.

Ennio Morricone vs. Howard Shore

Ennio-MorriconeEnnio Morricone’s strength is in his diversity. Three specific scores back up this claim: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Untouchables, and The Mission. The score for GBU gallops at a reserved speed, just slow enough for Clint Eastwood’s Blondie to ride off into the sunset with some swagger. The main theme from The Untouchables and its opening credit score are as different as night and day; the former with sweeping strings and horns, the latter with its mysterious piano atop a rat-tat-tat drumbeat. Morricone’s so good that even the great John Carpenter let him score one of his films (The Thing). But at the end of the day, Morricone’s greatest achievement is the go-jus “Gabriel’s Oboe” from the so-so film The Mission. The show’s about to begin… –Justin Gerber

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The Hobbit scoring sessions - Howard Shore / Abbey Road 9&10 SepTry and find a song that’s as heartwarming as “Concerning Hobbits”. It’s a brief, satisfying glimpse into Howard Shore’s knack for masterfully setting a scene. Since his first movie score for 1979’s The Brood, the Canadian composer has worked on a number of prominent and successful films such as The Silence of the Lambs and a number of Scorsese’s best hits, including The Departed. He’s even dipped his feet into television soundtracks, working with John Lurie to create the theme song for Late Night with Conan O’Brien. However, few will ever forget his awe-inspiring work behind The Lord of the Rings, a trilogy that brought him Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes. –Edward Dunbar

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Elmer Bernstein vs. Danny Elfman

elmer bernstein Whos the Greatest Film Composer of All Time? Round TwoOh, the late Elmer Bernstein. During his 51 years of work, the New York composer wrote the theme songs and scores for over 200 films and TV shows, including an odd mix that went from The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and To Kill a Mockingbird to The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters, and Airplane!. In between, he also delivered the timeless theme to National Geographic‘s television series. Having studied composition under Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, and Stefan Wolpe, Bernstein also worked as a concert pianist, penning many of his own suites and compositions. He passed away in 2004, but his music continues to make filmgoers laugh, cry, and cower in fear. Sometimes all three. –Michael Roffman

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danny elfman Whos the Greatest Film Composer of All Time? Round TwoAs the vocalist for Oingo Boingo, a band known for their raucous Halloween concerts, it only makes sense that Danny Elfman would click with Tim Burton, the king of macabre comedies and dramas. Elfman provided the compositions for all of the classic films Burton either produced or directed: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (his first score, which he created without any formal training), Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman, Batman Returns, and Edward Scissorhands. (Fun fact: He also lent his voice for Jack Skellington’s singing parts.) Elfman’s and Burton’s styles seem effortlessly intertwined — the sounds of these films captured both gothic grandeur and a more whimsical sense of wonder. Although he has never won an Academy Award, Elfman has been nominated four times for doing the scores for Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Big Fish, and Milk. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also responsible for the theme to The Simpsons. Aye carumba. –Killian Young

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Nino Rota vs. Clint Mansell

Nino RotaIn adapting Mario Puzo’s novel about an Italian-American crime family, Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t have found a better candidate for the score than Nino Rota. As the unofficial personal composer for legendary filmmaker Federico Fellini, the Italian composer had combined traditional Italian music with American pop and jazz on gems like 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita, and La Strada. But (at least in America) none matches his scores from The Godfather films, from which the main theme went on to be one of the most iconic in film history. –Adam Kivel

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Clint MansellClint Mansell is Darren Aronofsky’s go-to composer who created all of his scores, from 1998’s Pi to this year’s Noah. Of course, Mansell’s most recognizable piece is the brilliantly haunting “Lux Aeterna”, which brings the thoroughly depressing Requiem for a Dream to a powerful end. The strings begin slowly and ominously, but build to a tempestuous forte that has to be seen with the movie’s final scene to truly be appreciated. Aronofsky has forever tackled weighty themes with visual panache in his films, and Mansell has always matched the sounds, from portraying delicates teetering on the brink of insanity in the score for Black Swan (see: “Perfection”) to the grand scale and sound of Noah. –Killian Young

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John Williams vs. Bernard Herrmann

John WilliamsI could just type in Superman, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars and call it a day, but I won’t. John Williams blows away most of his contemporaries because in his glory days, he focused not only on composing a great main theme/march for his assigned film, but the entire score of the film. Superman’s “Leaving Home” is the third best piece of music found in that film, and it’s better than anything you’ll hear in any Marvel or DC film today. The Empire Strikes Back’s “The Imperial March”, aka Darth Vader’s theme, is as iconic as the Star Wars theme itself. Oh, and Jaws, which has a piece of music that deters you from ever dipping your toes in the ocean. The best. –Justin Gerber

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Bernard HerrmannMany credit Bernard Herrmann with inventing a new American style of film score through his work on the inimitable Citizen Kane, one that relied less on lush orchestration and more on evocative, moody passages that gave nuance to the scenes portrayed on the screen. This attention to tension played perfectly into the eight films in which Herrmann worked with Alfred Hitchcock, including the dizzying spirals of Vertigo and the thrilling chases of North by Northwest. Those shrieking string stabs at the climax of Psycho, though, exemplify Herrmann’s amazing ability to turn the score into a crucial element of the film, rather than incidental accompaniment. –Adam Kivel

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John Carpenter vs. Vangelis

John CarpenterThere’s a strange underlying theme of masculinity to many of John Carpenter’s film scores. The brooding bass line of Assault on Precinct 13 comes to mind. So does the stalking piano of Halloween, and especially the post-apocalyptic blues of Escape from New York. Then again, the guy’s responsible for bringing manly men like Jack Burton, MacReady, and Snake Plissken to the silver screen. Judging from his resume, it would appear that Carpenter, the former purveyor of reliable B-movie fluff, could write iconic scores in his sleep. In addition to the aforementioned, he penned remarkable work for The Fog, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Christine, and Big Trouble in Little China, all in under a decade. What’s more, he even “bested” the likes of Ennio Morricone when he crafted his own theme for his 1981 remake, The Thing. Although he’s been rather reclusive for the past two decades, his influence is paramount. Go ahead and ask Italians Do It Better labelhead Johnny Jewel. –Michael Roffman

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VangelisIf you’ve ever participated in a marathon, or watched one, you’ve heard Vangelis. Then again, if you’re a self-respected science fiction freak, you’ve also obsessed over the guy’s score for Blade Runner, without a doubt the greatest film for the genre, rivaled only by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey. Admittedly, Vangelis, or Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, doesn’t exactly have the broadest resume in film, but everything he has accomplished has either nabbed awards (Chariots of Fire) or become all-time favorites (Blade Runner). To date, no composer has been able to capture the Greek wunderkind’s fantastical electronica, and his influence continues to soak up any soul that’s ever connected with a synthesizer, which by our count is a lot. Too many, in fact. –Michael Roffman

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Philip Glass vs. Trent Reznor

phillip glass Whos the Greatest Film Composer of All Time? Round TwoIt’s not easy to find fissure in the quintessential American composer Philip Glass, but in theory the classical minimalism he reflects through repetition can crack your brain like a hammer to a glass pain. His music requires undivided attention, causing profound cognitive transportation. For years, we’ve been writing fictional stories about time travel, concocting complex clusters of theories analogous to the feelings of wonder, excitement, and fantasy, but as the overture of time unfurls in Glass’s music, you’re able to travel, in real time, to an entirely new dimension of listening. From his operatic victory, Einstein on the Beach, to his 50+ film scores (e.g., The Thin Blue Line, The Truman Show, The Hours) to his many Academy Award nominations, it’s easy to call Philip Glass one of the most influential composers of all time. –Lior Phillips

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Trent-ReznorHere’s the thing. Most of the composers in this tournament — musical geniuses one and all — spent years honing their respective crafts of matching music to moving images before they were recognized for their achievements. And then there’s Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor, who went from soundtracking our disgruntled adolescences to scoring our favorite films practically overnight. Though Reznor had dabbled in a couple film projects over the years, his work alongside Atticus Ross on director David Fincher’s The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo took Hollywood by complete surprise. The duo have already racked up Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy wins together, and Fincher has been so impressed that he’s already signed Reznor and Ross to work on another film of his, Gone Girl. –Matt Melis

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