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Best Film Soundtracks of 2012

written by: on January 11, 2013

Nominations for the 85th Annual Academy Awards were announced yesterday, and highly coveted titles such as Best Actor and Best Picture have already sparked lively pre-show debates among Oscar enthusiasts. However, many people tend to forget about the awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, honorable categories that shouldn’t go unmentioned.

This year, the Oscar for Best Original Score will probably be a toss-up between the two most legendary composers on the ballot: John Williams (Lincoln) and Alexandre Desplat (Argo). Best Original Song will likely go to Les Miserables, because the cinematic butchering of this classic musical features one original piece (a treacly ode to fatherhood called “Suddenly”) that was written specifically for the film.

While sweeping epics like Lincoln and Les Mis are hard-wired for Oscar gold, quirky indie films rarely get the accolades that they deserve. In lieu of these omissions, here’s a shortlist of the best under-the-radar soundtracks and scores that the Academy should have recognized.

21 Jump Street

Yes, really. This surprising summer hit boasts an irresistibly gangsta score from Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh, as well as a mix of classic rap (Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”), garage rock (Ty Segall’s “Caesar”) and weird forays into ’90s nostalgia (remember “Graduation” by Vitamin C?) The main theme by Rye Rye & Esthero is super catchy too.

Ruby Sparks

This modern-day fairytale about a writer and his manic-pixie-dream-girl muse also has the year’s most endearing soundtrack. Nick Urata (of the indie rock band Devotchka) spins a romantic yet curiously eccentric score, alternating between Euro-pop hits like Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca Plane Pour Moi” and tender violins that infuse every frame with the giddy magic of first love.


A smart and visually stunning thriller deserves an equally impressive soundtrack, which composer Nathan Johnson delivers in style. Pretty piano quickly morphs into dark percussive rumblings, jarring and alien to match Looper‘s bizarre plot twists and turns. This high-concept action movie thrives on Johnson’s perfectly-constructed chaos, like a tightrope walker dangling then successfully skimming across a wire.

Moonrise Kingdom

Argo nominee Alexandre Desplat also composed the music to this delightful gem, which should have received more nominations than just Best Original Screenplay for Roman Coppola and director Wes Anderson. The eclectic soundtrack ranges from Benjamin Britten to Hank Williams, while Desplat’s playful score maintains a theme of droll humor from a child’s perspective.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Although this “little-indie-that-could” received four Oscar nominations in more esteemed categories (Best Director, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress for then six-year-old star Quevanzané Wallis), the powerful and deeply moving soundtrack deserves equal credit. As composed by Dan Romer and director Benh Zeitlan, each note is a testament to one little girl’s strength and courage in the face of insurmountable odds.

Celeste and Jesse Forever

For a film about a breakup, the soundtrack to C & J is unexpectedly chill-wave. This charming tale about the tricky intimacies of love pulses with indie jam and soul, beginning with Lily Allen’s “The Littlest Things” and ending with “As For Tonight” by Sunny Levine. Other standout tracks include “Rescue Song” by Mr. Little Jeans and the Freddie Scott classic “You’re All I Need.”