Music Break: Ten Favorite Oscar-Winning Film Scores


The Oscars is just a week away, folks! Well, a week ago, as I was listening to 99.5 Classical MPR they were playing my favorite score from Titanic and I knew I had to make a post of it. For this post I’m focusing more on the instrumental themes instead of the songs, hence my exclusion of Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, etc. Y’know, I’m still surprised that some of my all time fave scores did NOT win an Oscar, i.e. Gone with the Wind, Superman, Indiana Jones, Gladiator, The Hours, and The Passion of the Christ, just to name a few. Heck, the one I considered one of the greatest scores ever, Somewhere in Time, wasn’t even nominated! But its composer John Barry had been nominated six times. John Williams, the reigning champion of the most-nominated composer ever with 44 (he beat Alfred Newman who had 43 noms) have made some truly iconic scores, but my faves did not win, so I only included the one I love the most.

Thanks to Wikipedia for making it easy for me to see the winners all the way from the 1930s. Now, I’ve seen most of the films the scores appear in, with a couple of exceptions (Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves). So in any case, here are my Top 10 Fave Oscar-Winning Scores, in order of release:

BEN-HUR – Miklós Rózsa

Ever since I saw this as a young girl with my late mother, few films have touched me as much as Ben-Hur did and Rozsa’s score is one of the reasons it’s such an enduring epic.


Lawrence of Arabia – Maurice Jarre

I actually just saw this film two years ago but I’ve heard the soundtrack years before and it’s remained one of my favorites!


Out of Africa – John Barry

Ahhh John Barry… nobody could create a more lush and devastatingly gorgeous music that pierces your soul. I haven’t seen the film yet but I’m actually afraid the music would actually eclipse the film itself.


The Little Mermaid – Alan Menken

I grew up listening to all Disney Princess songs and I somehow identified with Ariel’s loneliness and her yearning to belong in someone else’s world. Mr. Menken is an absolute musical genius in that he somehow could capture the sentiment of her character.

I also have a special fondness for the Caribbean-influenced style of Under the Sea. I LOVE the little crab Sebastian so much I actually bought the tiny stuffed animal, and I’m still using The Little Mermaid‘s beach towel to this day 😀


Schindler’s List – John Williams

Perhaps one of the most hauntingly-beautiful music ever conceived. I never NOT tear up whenever I listen to this. Itzhak Perlman‘s violin solo adds so much to the piece, making it ever so unforgettable.


Beauty & The Beast – Alan Menken

I was just listening to this the other day and out of all the music in the wonderful album, this has to be my favorite. Yes, it even beats the more popular Tale as old as time. The scene itself of the Beast’s transformation is beautifully-done and it always packs such an emotional punch.


Dances with Wolves – John Barry

Another one by John Barry, can’t you tell I absolute LOVE this man’s work? I really should see this film already, as I’ve listened to the soundtrack more often than I can count.


Titanic – James Horner

THIS is the piece that was played in Classical MPR on my way home from work last week. I’m glad they chose to play Take Her to Sea Mr Murdock instead of the massively popular My Heart Will Go On. I always remember the first time I beheld the majestic ocean liner on the big screen and there’s a lump in my throat when that music came on. There’s such an energy to it, a joyful optimism of that day that’s so infectious, which makes the doom fate of Titanic later on in the film even more heart-wrenching.


The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – Howard Shore

I really think the soundtrack of the entire trilogy is simply exceptional. It’s just as epic as Peter Jackson’s creation and it really transport you into the realm of Middle Earth!


The Artist – Ludovic Bource

The strength of a lot of silent films is the soundtrack and The Artist is no exception. I love most of the tracks but this waltz is my absolute favorite. I LOVE Bérénice Bejo in the role, this music is as pretty and playful as Peppy herself, there’s such a wistful nostalgic vibe that takes you back to those Chaplin classics.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s music break! Which of these Oscar-winning score(s) is your favorite?

Music Break: Top 10 Favorite John Williams Scores

I’ve been meaning to write a tribute for one of my favorite composers for a while and since February 8th is his 80th Birthday, it seems like a good a time as any.

As I’ve mentioned several times on my blog, my two all time favorite music genres are classical and movie soundtracks, so naturally I have a soft spot for John Williams’ Neoromanticism style of music. They’re not only iconic but also beautiful to listen to.

Just a brief history on Mr. Williams courtesy of Wikipedia:

John Towner Williams was born in Long Island, New York. His father was a jazz percussionist who played with the Raymond Scott Quintet. In 1948, the Williams family moved to Los Angeles where he went to school and later attended UCLA, studying privately with the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In 1952, Williams was drafted into the U.S. Air Force, where he conducted and arranged music for the Air Force Band as part of his assignments. After that he moved to New York City and entered the Juilliard School. During this time, Williams worked as a jazz pianist in New York’s many clubs and eventually studios, most notably for composer Henry Mancini.

Williams’s first major film composition was for the B movie Daddy-O in 1958, and his first screen credit came two years later in Because They’re Young. Williams received his first nomination for an Academy Award for his film score for Valley of the Dolls (1967), and then was nominated again for his score for Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969). With his double Oscar nominations this year for War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin, he is now officially the most Oscar-nominated film composers of all time. Previously he tied the record with Randy Newman’s uncle Alfred Newman with 45 nominations! Williams is not only a prolific movie composer but he also spent over a decade as the Principal Conductor for Boston Pops Orchestra, as well as write music for various TV programs and high-profile events such as the Olympic games.

His longtime collaboration with Steven Spielberg began in 1974 for Spielberg’s feature directorial debut,The Sugarland Express. But it’s their second collaboration in Spielberg’s second film Jaws that perhaps remained his greatest work of all time. That two-note motif is perhaps the most instantly-recognizable score ever conceived and you can’t listen to it without thinking of shark or danger in the water!

I’ve always wondered about the secret of his method, churning out amazing score one after another for the past five decades! This site has a glimpse of insight into his process of writing music for the movies:

My choice always is not to read scripts. I’d rather go into a projection room and look at a film to have that same pristine, unprepared reaction that the audience will have, however special effects (added later) complicate that process.

I’ll run the scene several times and have a timing cue sheet that’s been prepared for the scene, and then I’ll write three or four bars and go back and look at it and then write four bars more and look at it again. And it’s a constant process of writing, looking, checking, running it in my mind’s ear against the film, even conducting with a stopwatch against the action of the film. It’s driven almost measure by measure by the film itself.

Now, though I have quite a few favorite movie composers, I’d be typically hard pressed to name even just five favorite scores from most of them, but the thing with John Williams is, it’s actually more difficult to narrow down to just 10! In any case, here are my top five favorite work that still moves me every time I listen to it. Now, I’m going to be running out of adjectives before I’m even done with my list! 🙂

In any case, here they are in random order:


This glorious main theme definitely echoes the theme of truth, justice and the American way. The rousing score always evokes childhood nostalgia every time I hear it and never fail to lift my spirits. But it’s this love theme is what gets me every time… there’s something so ethereal and otherworldly about it yet sooo romantic. No matter how many superhero movies they’ve made since Superman: The Movie, there’s still no scene that can hold a candle to that ‘can you read my mind?’ scene.


I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this score. I know there is nothing romantic about flesh-eating T-Rex but somehow the music gets me feeling warm and fuzzy. I guess the only word I could find to describe it is majestic… it somehow captures the wonderment the characters feel when they first arrive on the island. There is a hint of something enigmatic and even menacing amidst such a lush sounding arrangement.


Just like the movie, this score awakens your spirit of adventure. It’s so full of energy and sense of fun all around, but towards the middle of the score it gets a bit serious and majestic-sounding, only to start again with another rousing fanfare to finish it off. I always picture Harrison Ford’s crooked smile in his sweaty disheveled glory every time this theme is playing.


Movie music doesn’t get more heartbreaking than this. Itzhak Perlman’s masterful violin solo just touches you right down to your core. If this music doesn’t move you in some way even without having seen the film, you might want to check your pulse. Sometimes music can convey certain expression no words ever could… such as the horror of the Holocaust. Yet no matter how dire life gets, there is always a glimmer of hope, and this haunting score reflects that.


This score is perhaps not as well-known as the others he’s done but I remember really liking it when I saw the film just last year (check out my review). At times it’s jubilant and full of wonder like the young Christian Bale’s character, but at times it depicts the grim and gloomy-ness of the war.

STAR WARS – Duel of the Fates

I know that the main Star Wars theme is the most celebrated and I do agree it’s one of the best and most identifiable of all his work, but I love this one in particular from the prequel trilogy. It takes place during the epic battle scene between two Jedi masters Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Per WikiWilliams stated the chorus was introduced to give a religious, temple-like feel to the epic lightsaber duel. Williams compared the setting of the battle to a pagan altar, and that the duel itself “seems like a dance or a ballet, a religious ceremony of some kind, probably ending in the death of one of the combatants.” I actually love this score so much that I used it as the accompaniment to a trailer for Face/Off I did in a video class.


Oh the nostalgia this music brings. The first time I saw this movie I was a wee kid, but the music always brings back my memory of the most famous extra-terrestrial being ever put on film. It’s so wholesome and sweet, nothing science-fiction-y about it, simply a marvelously magical relationship between a boy and his weird-but-friendly-looking alien friend.

HARRY POTTER – Hedwig’s Theme

Now that I’ve listened to this theme again, somehow it reminds me a bit of the Home Alone score he did years before. Hey there’s nothing wrong with recycling one’s own music. Hans Zimmer does it all the time and I’m sure so do other famous composers. Again, the second you hear the twinkling sound of this score, you instantly know it’s about that boy who lived. The magical-sounding tune is just gorgeous and it has that aura of mystery yet innocent feel about it.


If I could only bring ONE score of John Williams to a desert island, I’d easily take this one. I adore the movie and fell in love with the soundtrack. In fact, for quite a while the CD is a staple listening every night for me, it’s so dreamy and romantic. Like the protagonist, there’s something so inherently graceful about this music… and when she is in Paris and La vie en Rose is playing, I just want to be transported to Paris right then and there. The two songs in the soundtrack, How Can I Remember and Sting’s In The Moonlight are absolutely breathtaking as well.


Part of what I love about Spielberg’s movie is John Williams’ energetic and whimsical score! I don’t know if Mr. Williams actually read the comics as part of his research… he must have as he somehow just nailed that adventurous spirit of the Belgian journalist and his quirky relationship with the mercurial Captain Haddock. It’s also the score that doesn’t  bear too much of Williams’ signature style, making it sound fresh and even youthful.

Well, those are my top ten favorite… now join me in paying tribute to this great composer by sharing some of your favorites from his prolific work.