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Filmtracks Awards: 2011
Decorative Nonsense
Familiar names in unfamiliar places defined the best of film music in 2011, the year's top efforts submitted by well known composers for mainstream projects met with critical disdain or audience indifference. It's always pleasing to discover great film music from respected, favorite "underdog" composers of the scoring business, especially in unexpected contexts, and 2011 exhibited many such artists striving for excellence at the top of their game for obscure titles.

There is no doubt that 2011 was an outstanding year for film music, with a healthy selection of five-star scores and very competitive four-star alternatives from which to choose for these awards. In the mainstream, audiences and awards bodies were captivated by newcomer Ludovic Bource's remarkable resurrection of silent era style for The Artist, though that score's sweep through the awards season owes much to Bernard Herrmann and the music's obviously prominent role in the picture. While placing in Filmtracks' top ten for 2011, The Artist was ultimately surpassed by several more conventional scores, including two from the returning maestro, John Williams.

As in 2010, three composers lead the nomination count with four apiece. Along with the remarkable return of Williams, Patrick Doyle and Marco Beltrami both enjoyed impressive years of productivity, and although not with the same quantity of output, Danny Elfman earns three nominations. Collecting multiple nominations this year are perennial contenders Alexandre Desplat and John Powell, as well as fan favorites Christopher Young and Mark McKenzie.
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 •The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (John Williams)
 •The Greatest Miracle (Mark McKenzie)
La Ligne Droite (The Straight Line) (Patrick Doyle)
 •Priest (Christopher Young)
 •Real Steel (Danny Elfman)
 •Soul Surfer (Marco Beltrami)

The nominees this year were relatively easy to determine, the strength of the field demanding the sixth nomination slot that Filmtracks reserves for abnormally solid years. Selecting the winner was extremely challenging, however, only The Greatest Miracle not competing with its peers. To break the tie, all of these films were viewed carefully to account for the impact of the music in context. After this process was completed, it became clear that Doyle's La Ligne Droite and Elfman's Real Steel had the most substantial impact on their films, the former slightly edging the latter because of its remarkable efficiency given such a small ensemble.

All of the composers included in this field have previously received a "Top Film Score" nomination at Filmtracks, but this is the first win for Doyle. It has been six years since Williams' last nomination (due to his inactivity from feature films) and sixteen years since the previous recognition for McKenzie. The others have received top nominations within the last four years.

The field of runner-ups for 2011 include four exceptional scores that easily could have been nominated in a weaker year. Naoki Sato's Gaku (Peak: The Rescuers) and James Horner's Black Gold both barely missed the cut, followed by Williams' War Horse and Bource's The Artist rounding out the top ten. Honorable mentions this year include Desplat's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, Howard Shore's Hugo, Doyle's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Abel Korzeniowski's W.E..
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 •Marco Beltrami
 •Alexandre Desplat
Patrick Doyle
 •John Powell
 •John Williams

Woefully underappreciated by many critics in 2011 was Patrick Doyle, whose year included four impressive scores that required the composer to range far outside his comfort zone. For his efforts to expand the scope of his career sound and provide uniquely creative music with limited budgets and studio interference, he breezes through the competition to win this award. Beltrami and Desplat both provided several characteristically interesting scores during the year, each with one stellar highlight. Powell's dominance of the children's genre included two particular entries in 2011, Kung Fu Panda 2 (co-written with Hans Zimmer) and especially Mars Needs Moms, that outclassed their peers. Finally, the resurgence of Williams' masterful quality of writing for two exemplary scores places him as a formidable runner-up for this award.

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 •The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (John Williams)  "Sir Francis and the Unicorn"
 •Black Gold (James Horner)  "Phantom Army"
 •Dream House (John Debney)  "Dream House End Credits"
 •The Greatest Miracle (Mark McKenzie)  "Ascension/Gloria Patri"
 •Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (Alexandre Desplat)  "Statues"
 •Hugo (Howard Shore)  "Winding It Up"
 •La Ligne Droite (The Straight Line) (Patrick Doyle)  "Stadium Memories"
 •Mars Needs Moms (John Powell)  "Gribble's Loss"
 •Peak: The Rescuers (Naoki Sato)  "Kyuushutsu"
 •Priest (Christopher Young)  "Fanfare for a Resurrected Priestess"
 •Real Steel (Danny Elfman)  "Safe With Me"
Real Steel (Danny Elfman)  "Final Round"
 •Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Patrick Doyle)  "Off You Go"
 •Soul Surfer (Marco Beltrami)  "Back in the Water"
 •Soul Surfer (Marco Beltrami)  "Half Pint Boards"
 •Super 8 (Michael Giacchino)  "Letting Go"
 •The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (Carter Burwell)  "A Wolf Stands Up"
 •War Horse (John Williams)  "Dartmoor, 1912"
 •Water for Elephants (James Newton Howard)  "The Circus Sets Up"
 •W.E. (Abel Korzeniowski)  "Dance for Me Wallis"

This category was extremely difficult to resolve for 2011, the generally high quality of the year as a whole for film music forcing a plethora of difficult choices. After viewing most of the films represented by these contenders, this award came down to three cues that had a tremendous impact upon their scenes: "Stadium Memories" from Doyle's La Ligne Droite, "Final Round" from Elfman's Real Steel, and "Kyuushutsu" ("Rescue") from Sato's Peak: The Rescuers. All three are represented by altered edits on their album releases, though "Final Round" from Real Steel is arguably superior in its film arrangement, giving it the slight advantage over the other two. Any one of these three cues could have won this award, and if a three-way tie were possible, that may have been the best choice.

Both of the nominated cues from Beltrami's Soul Surfer have a tremendous impact upon the song-riddled film, and "Safe With Me" from Elfman's Real Steel is likewise a vital and beautiful component to its bonding scene. Williams' "Sir Francis and the Unicorn" from The Adventures of Tintin and "Statues" from Desplat's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 are resounding forces to be reckoned with in their scenes. While sadly truncated in its film edit, "Fanfare for a Resurrected Priestess" from Young's Priest is among the best "guilty pleasure" moments from film music this year. Among Powell's most emotionally powerful career achievements is "Gribble's Loss" from Mars Needs Moms and "A Wolf Stands Up" from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 is impressive evidence of Carter Burwell's chops in the action genre.

Cues just missing the cut this year include "My Fist Hungers for Justice" from Powell and Zimmer's Kung Fu Panda 2, "Awaken" from Dario Marianelli's Jane Eyre, "Thor Kills the Destroyer" from Doyle's Thor, "Welcome to New Greenwich" from Craig Armstrong's In Time, and "Burgholzli" from Shore's A Dangerous Method.

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