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Filmtracks Awards: 2009
Decorative Nonsense
After a relatively weak period of a year or two in the international film music scene, 2009 was overloaded with strong scores by composers of many nationalities. Much of the best work in this genre continues to come from composers operating outside of America, though most of these efforts go largely unnoticed in the mainstream. A well-rounded group of top flight works created a fantastic base from which to debate the merits of the awards season this year.

Dominating the major awards for 2009 was Michael Giacchino's Up. The small handful of scores that have won the clean sweep of a Grammy, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Oscar are clear classics, and Giacchino managed to accomplish that rare feat this year. Unfortunately, despite being a fine score and very functional in the film, Up does not deserve to stand alongside Star Wars and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as an unquestioned classic. Not even Schindler's List or Titanic joined this elite group, and to see Up, a score not even afforded a CD release by the usually awards-hawkish Disney, unanimously placed on the highest pedestal possible is clear evidence of the overwhelming dysfunction in the processes and habits of those awarding bodies. When the International Film Music Critics Association also voted Up the top score of the year, the score's mainstream over-performance was unfortunately confirmed. Giacchino is a top, ascending talent in the industry, and he has many great scores ahead of him, but Up is, despite easily residing in the top 10 of 2009, definitely not the dominant, industry-altering score that all of its award wins suggest.

Leading in the number of Filmtracks' award nominations in 2009 (with four) is Christopher Young, whose year was as accomplished as any in his career. Five composers earned three nominations each, including Dario Marianelli, Debbie Wiseman, A.R. Rahman, Marcel Barsotti, and Giacchino. James Horner and Alexandre Desplat both achieved two nominations.
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 •Agora (Dario Marianelli) ** using Canadian release year
 •Avatar (James Horner)
 •Couples Retreat (A.R. Rahman)
 •Drag Me to Hell (Christopher Young)
Lesbian Vampire Killers (Debbie Wiseman)
 •Pope Joan (Die Päpstin) (Marcel Barsotti) **** using European release year

Despite popular notions that James Horner's monumental Avatar, after its senseless neglect at all of the major awards, would automatically receive Filmtracks' top nod this year, the race came down to Dario Marianelli's textured epic Agora and Debbie Wiseman's robust parody Lesbian Vampire Killers. Sneaking into the final position in the group with its sense of humor and overachieving heart is A.R. Rahman's Couples Retreat. The biggest surprise from the ranks of the obscure continues to be Marcel Barsotti's lovely Pope Joan (Die Päpstin), which competes favorably with Avatar for third place. Both Marianelli and Wiseman were nominated for Filmtracks' primary award earlier in the decade, while Horner has won it several times.

The runner-up this year is The Informant! by Marvin Hamlisch, a surprisingly infectious, snazzy tribute to yesteryear. Rounding out the top ten are Michael Giacchino's wildly overrated Up, Alexandre Desplat's arguably inappropriate but still gorgeous The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and John Ottman's underappreciated Astro Boy.
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 •Alexandre Desplat
 •Michael Giacchino
Christopher Young

Despite the accolades showered upon Michael Giacchino for Up and Star Trek, two other composers enjoyed more prolific years in terms of balancing quality and quantity. Christopher Young tops the field with not only his continued mastery of the horror genre, but a solid venture into drama as well. Collectors of Alexandre Deplat's music were treated to an incredible magnitude of music consistent to his trademark styles as well.
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 •Agora (Dario Marianelli)  "The Rule of the Parabalani"
 •Agora (Dario Marianelli)  "A Boat Experiment"
 •Astro Boy (John Ottman)  "Theme from Astro Boy"
Avatar (James Horner)  "Becoming One of 'The People'
/Becoming One With Neytiri"
 •Couples Retreat (A.R. Rahman)  "Jason and Cynthia Suite"
 •Couples Retreat (A.R. Rahman)  "Animal Spirits"
 •Creation (Christopher Young)  "Humility and Love"
 •District 9 (Clinton Shorter)  "District 9"
 •Drag Me to Hell (Christopher Young)  "Concerto to Hell"
 •The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Mychael Danna/Jeff Danna)  "Tango Amongst the Lilies"
 •The Informant! (Marvin Hamlisch)  "The Raid"
 •Knowing (Marco Beltrami)  "Caleb Leaves"
 •Lesbian Vampire Killers (Debbie Wiseman)  "Centuries Ago..."
 •Lesbian Vampire Killers (Debbie Wiseman)  "Lesbian Vampire Killers"
 •Pope Joan (Die Päpstin) (Marcel Barsotti)  "Pilgrimage to Rome"
 •Pope Joan (Die Päpstin) (Marcel Barsotti)  "Liber Pontificalis"
 •The Red Canvas (James Peterson)  "Ballet for Brawlers"
 •Star Trek (Michael Giacchino)  "That New Car Smell"
 •The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Alexandre Desplat)  "New Moon"
 •Up (Michael Giacchino)  "Married Life"

The strength of 2009 translated directly into a very wide field of contenders for "best cue" consideration this year, including multiple cues nominated from some of the best overall works. While James Horner wins for the highlight of development in his romance and Na'vi culture themes for Avatar, that score's competitors tended to land multiple cues on this list due to their greater overall consistency. The notable lesser-known gems of the year include Mychael and Jeff Danna's tango material from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, John Ottman's rousing concert suite from Astro Boy, the stunning beauty of the conclusion to Christopher Young's Creation, the rowdy force of newcomer James Peterson's concert suite from The Red Canvas, Clinton Shorter's hybrid highlight from District 9, and the devastatingly emotional farewell cue from Marco Beltrami's Knowing.

Coming in a close second his year is Christopher Young's monumental horror opus "Concerto to Hell" from Drag Me to Hell, a summary of some of the composer's most impressive trademark sounds in the genre. Despite getting shut out of Filmtracks' awards this year, Michael Giacchino does need due recognition for his heartbreaking "Married Life" cue from Up (likely the main reason for his awards) and the truly haunting, eerie beauty of his Vulcan theme from Star Trek.
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