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Filmtracks Awards: 2010
Decorative Nonsense
Whereas the previous few years of top film scores were mostly written by composers or productions based outside of America, 2010 is a return to the years when major Hollywood films featured much of the best music to be heard. It is also, oddly, a year with several clear-cut five-star scores but a disappointing lack of truly competitive four-star alternatives. The realm of fantasy dominates in 2010, too, with the seven Filmtracks contenders for the top award all belonging in that genre or its close relatives.

In the mainstream, there exists an intriguing battle between the enthusiasts of Alexandre Desplat and Nine Inch Nails, the former busy as always and lending his services to high profile films in ways that enthrall his typically more intellectual fanbase. The latter representes the influx of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross faithful into the soundtrack genre with The Social Network, a score praised widely for being different despite proving the fallacy of "different" scores always equaling "superior" scores. Lost in the hype generated by these two factions are the true winners of 2010, composers mostly familiar to soundtrack collectors but often under-recognized in the blitz of mainstream popularity contests.

Three composers tie for the lead in the nomination count with four apiece. John Powell, Danny Elfman, and James Newton Howard all had strong years, as did Harry Gregson-Williams, who flew under the radar but collects three nominations. Also with three, all in the "best cue" category, is Alexandre Desplat. Rounding out the field with multiple nominations are David Arnold, Christopher Lennertz, and Naoki Sato.
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 •Alice in Wonderland (Danny Elfman)
 •The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (David Arnold)
 •How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell)
 •The Last Airbender (James Newton Howard)
Space Battleship Yamato (Naoki Sato)

The favorites in this category for much of the year were Danny Elfman's Alice in Wonderland and John Powell's How to Train Your Dragon, but the emergence late in December of Naoki Sato's resounding modernization of the franchise sound for the first live-action Space Battleship Yamato ultimately prevails over Elfman in a razor-thin decision. Sneaking into the final slot is David Arnold, whose The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader remains a delight for fans of his seldom-heard fantasy mode. Arnold, Elfman, and James Newton Howard have all been nominated multiple times for the top award in previous years at Filmtracks, but this is the first such recognition for Powell and Sato.

The runner-up position for 2010 is a tie between newcomer Arnau Bataller's highly impressive opening entry in the Spanish franchise of La Herencia Valdemar and Christopher Lennertz's continued mastery of the parody genre in Vampires Suck, an arguably better score for its target franchise than anything actually written for it. Rounding out the top ten are Daft Punk's hybrid debut score for Tron: Legacy, Henry Jackman's dynamic Gulliver's Travels, and Harry Gregson-Williams's surprisingly satisfying franchise extension in Shrek Forever After. If that's too much comedy for you, then also competitive for a top ten position in 2010 is Armand Amar's striking Ao, le Dernier Neandertal.
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 •Danny Elfman
 •Harry Gregson-Williams
 •James Newton Howard
 •Christopher Lennertz
John Powell

Several composers had standout years in 2010, filling this award field to its capacity. Solid production during the summer from John Powell, culminating in an extremely enjoyable, widely recognized score for How to Train Your Dragon, earns him the award, and Christopher Lennertz's likewise robust production in the summer, albeit in lighter genres, yields a nomination for the largely unheralded industry workhorse. Danny Elfman's solid trio of releases (despite the fact that The Wolfman was actually written long before) and James Newton Howard's lesser trio both kept them at the forefront. Harry Gregson-Williams' pair of guilty pleasures in the summer, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Shrek Forever After, well compensated for less memorable scores later on. Omitted this year is Alexandre Desplat, whose quantity of music consistent with his style is notable but whose quality seemed stuck in the three-star range despite memorable individual highlights in the majority of his scores.
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Alice in Wonderland (Danny Elfman)  "Alice's Theme"
 •Ao, le Dernier Neandertal (Armand Amar)  "Retour a la Vie"
 •The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (David Arnold)  "The Painting"
 •The Ghost Writer (Alexandre Desplat)  "The Truth About Ruth"
 •Gulliver's Travels (Henry Jackman)  "Persona Non Grata"
 •Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (Alexandre Desplat)  "Obliviate"
 •La Herencia Valdemar (Arnau Bataller)  "Leonor y Lazaro"
 •How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell)  "This is Berk"
 •How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell)  "Forbidden Friendship"
 •The King's Speech (Alexandre Desplat)  "The Rehearsal"
 •The Last Airbender (James Newton Howard)  "Flow Like Water"
 •The Next Three Days (Danny Elfman)  "The Truth"
 •Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Harry Gregson-Williams)  "The Prince of Persia"
 •Salt (James Newton Howard)  "Chase Across DC"
 •Shrek Forever After (Harry Gregson-Williams)  "Rumpel's Kingdom"
 •Space Battleship Yamato (Naoki Sato)  "A New History"
 •Su Qi-Er (True Legend) (Shigeru Umebayashi)  "Drunken Master"
 •Toy Story 3 (Randy Newman)  "So Long"
 •Tron: Legacy (Daft Punk)  "Adagio for Tron"
 •Vampires Suck (Christopher Lennertz)  "I'm a Killer"

It's difficult to argue with the merit of "Alice's Theme" from Alice in Wonderland, a return to the spirit of vintage Danny Elfman and one of the catchiest soundtrack melodies to exist in years. Of many highlights is How to Train Your Dragon, the only score represented by multiple cues this year. Otherwise, the field includes one cue from each of Filmtracks' next ten top scores, including perhaps the biggest guilty pleasure of the year, "I'm a Killer," from Vampires Suck. Howard's "Chase Across DC" from Salt is a strong contender from the action genre this year as well.

For those seeking cues of intrigue from outside the usual Hollywood sphere, the highlights from Ao, le Dernier Neandertal, Su Qi-Er (True Legend), and La Herencia Valdemar are all worth the exploration, with several cues from the Arnau Bataller score competing for this category. The same could be said of Henry Jackman's Gulliver's Travels, with two or three cues necessary in any substantial compilation of the year's best film music. Finally, Alexandre Desplat proves once again that he can frustrate some listeners by writing fantastic sequences in scores that otherwise fail to connect; in this case, his three top scores of 2010 all have undisputed highlights regardless of the difficulties that some do experience with the entirety of those scores.
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